Two married couples deal with the destructive effects of infidelity in Clerge’s (End of the World: The Beginning, 2016, etc.) novel.
Chelsea Hall has never quite recovered from her husband Garrett’s past dalliances with other women, and now she’s sure that he’s cheating yet again. He works impossibly long hours, shows no sexual interest in her, and buys her lavish gifts that seem to be the product of a guilty conscience. Her self-esteem is already battered by the fact that she abandoned her career for motherhood, as well as by weight gain from her pregnancy. She finds some support from a therapist who wrote a book on cheating—a New York Times best-seller, in fact—and in the emotionally sensitive fiction of a self-published author, Luke Thompson, who waits tables part time to make up for his lack of commercial success. His own first marriage was destroyed by betrayal—his wife cheated on him, and he subsequently cheated on her in retaliation. Now he’s wed to another woman named Brandi, but he regrets being rushed into the marriage; meanwhile, Brandi’s frustration mounts as he doggedly pursues a financially floundering writing career. Luke’s and Chelsea’s lives collide when she sends him a flattering note online; the two agree to meet and soon begin a torrid affair. Their tender union, however, begets a grim series of catastrophes involving murder, suicide, and imprisonment. Author Clerge intelligently plumbs the corrosive aspects of adultery, as well as the many ways that matrimonial duplicity can haunt a relationship, even after apologies have been grudgingly accepted. However, Garrett and Brandi come off more like monsters than real people, as they’re both infinitely shallow and cruel to their respective partners. Also, the story eventually spirals into soap-operatic melodrama, eschewing narrative nuance on its way to a cinematic, hyperventilating ending. Clerge has a flair for unexpected plot twists and shows skill at depicting complex character entanglements. However, both of these strengths come at the expense of narrative plausibility.
A thoughtful but unfortunately overwrought study of romantic perfidy.