ADULTERY by Louise DeSalvo


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As the nation emerges from its obsession with the Monica Lewinsky affair, DeSalvo reflects on adultery’s positive and negative effects on marriage. Given her obvious narrative and literary drive, her academic interests, and her personal history, DeSalvo (Writing as a Way of Healing, 1999; Breathless: An Asthma Journal, 1997) seems destined to have written a book on adultery. An advocate of creative writing as a means of recovering from trauma, a memoirist, a Virginia Woolf scholar, and a wife whose husband, Ernie, committed adultery in the days following the birth of their first child, DeSalvo brings the right stuff to her latest book. Adultery is more of an extended essay on the subject, from the perspective of literature and from personal experience. Literary examples of how adultery drives both an author’s relationships and writing dominate the book’s beginning—with ample but not especially revealing references to Virginia Woolf, Henry James, Edith Wharton, and D. H. Lawrence. Soon the tone turns chatty and intimate, with breathy passages like this: “You feel caged. You feel suffocated. You need to find a way to get out of this cage. Soon. Now . . . “ Shifting from one story to another, DeSalvo fleshes out her different perspectives on adultery—her childhood fantasies of her grandfather’s mysterious solo trips back to Italy, her own adolescent form of adultery, and her husband’s adultery. By the book’s end, the source of DeSalvo’s irrepressible enthusiasm for the subject grows clearer. Rather than remain bitter—forever a victim of another’s transgression’she performs a Hegelian twist and turns her husband’s adultery into a positive growth experience for herself. With decades of hindsight, DeSalvo concludes that Ernie’s affair was in part exhilarating and liberating for her, allowing her to think about herself and her life in a fresher and more meaningful way. A compassionate and level-headed book. Given DeSalvo’s unbending belief that adultery is the critical experience in many people’s lives, it might resonate most with those who have a personal stake in the subject.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8070-6224-3
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Beacon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1999


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