'Carelessness is the handmaiden to tragedy. Cataclysmic events often have their origins in the mundane. We turn left when we had meant to go right, and the world changes forever.'
Harry and Madeleine (Maddy) Winslow are a beautiful, charming couple in their forties living an enviable and very comfortable life. Harry is a successful, award-winning writer and Madeleine is his charismatic, warm and admired wife, and attentive mother to their fragile son, Johnny. We meet them in their home in the Hamptons, but they also spend time abroad in Rome and at their home in Manhattan. Everything speaks of ease, wealth, and a good life. They attract others who enjoy being in their company and basking in the glow that seems to emanate around them. One weekend, a woman in her twenties named Claire travels over from New York City to the Hamptons, invited by a boyfriend, and meets Harry and Maddy whilst there. Having met them, she is entranced by the couple and their lives and world. 'It's hard not be caught up in the beauty of life from a summer lawn in the Hamptons', we are told. It is when this attraction and excitement becomes a stronger sort of desire that danger starts to loom on the horizon, and then one night, there is a conversation, nothing more, but Walter warns us that the 'wax seal of a secret letter has been broken. Nothing can make it whole again.'
There are four main characters here though, and the fourth of them is the one who is telling this story. Walter Gervais grew up next door to Maddy and has always loved her; to Maddy they are the best of friends but nothing more.
'Every story has a narrator. Someone who writes it down after it's all over. Why am I the narrator of this story? I am because it is the story of my life - and of the people I love most. I have tried to be as scrupulous as possible in my telling of it. I wasn't a participant in everything that happened, but after I knew the ending, I had to fill in the missing pieces...'
In Walter, a very memorable narrator has been created. He guides us through the story that he himself is so intricately involved in. For me, he made it a compelling read. Despite his words above though, I was reminded of the words of the novel's prologue, how we can be guilty of 'casting a roseate glow over our memories. Some memories burn brighter, whether because they meant more or because they have assumed greater importance in our minds...' and he goes on to advise that 'I have forgotten so much ...and to fill in the gaps, I conflate the past or make it up entirely...After a while it becomes real.'
This distinctive, involved and biased omniscient narrator had my attention throughout, and had my belief despite my reasons to doubt his reliability sometimes. It's been mentioned that 'the narrator is akin to Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby', and I feel this is a fair comparison in some ways.
The author sets the scene, illustrating the established friendships and allowing the newcomer Claire to gradually become part of their lives. As the narrative progresses, the suspense increases and I began to feel an impending sense of the sadness that was surely to come as a result of what happens, but like a voyeur I couldn't look away; I was too engrossed by this tangle of lives which was becoming increasingly, inextricably messy.
I formed pictures of the main four characters in my mind's eye from the rich way they were described; they became fully formed, human and deeply flawed. At times I found these creations attractive and enviable, but I also despaired of them and judged them harshly. Through them the writer cleverly spins an entrancing yet cautionary tale of the different ways in which humans love.
It's an emotional read, with lives that are ostensibly full, with much wealth and successful careers, a feeling of looking in, via Walter, on how the other half lives (including him), yet in Walter's case there is such emotional emptiness. For Claire there is the eagerness of youth seeking out new experiences; the author really captures the urge to be part of something, and the sense that feelings and desire are everything, dominating the life and thoughts of someone at that stage of their life, with no responsibilities and only a short-term outlook. There is a marriage between two golden people, and a friendship and trust that seems so strong. Their marriage is at the heart of this tale throughout. There are passionate, sexy episodes that were convincing; human desire that rises above all sensible, rational reason.
The novel speaks of the contentment that we think we have in life, or even actually have, and yet that element of human nature, the flaw that means we experience a nagging greed for something else that seems to be missing, that is different and appealing, and yet it often leaves us unhappy even if we reach for it, and we realise the true value and worth of what we already had; 'We want what we want. The bitter truth is that it rarely makes us happy once we get it.' I can't write about what happens here without including a spoiler, but you'll see, when you read.
I read this story very quickly, gulping down the story and swiftly turning the pages. I had to know how it would all end. I was sad at how it all ended, in fact I felt quite drained after all the emotion. Part of me wonders at a different ending but perhaps what happened was what had to happen.
I thought this was a brilliant, captivating and addictive debut novel, about beautiful people with seemingly perfect lives, and what results when an outsider breaks in on all this and exposes the weakness, changing it irrevocably. It made me think a lot about people and how they behave. It's about love and families, contentment versus temptation, friendship and unrequited love, wealth and envy, greed and lust, fate, guilt and tragedy. I enjoyed it very much indeed.
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks*
Thanks to the tour host and publisher for sending a copy of this novel to read and give an honest review.
About the author:
Charles Dubow was born in New York City and spent his summers at his family’s house on Georgica Pond in East Hampton. He was educated at Wesleyan University and New York University. He has worked as a roustabout, a lumberjack, a sheepherder in New Zealand, and a congressional aide, and was a founding editor of Forbes.com and later an editor at Businessweek.com. He lives in New York City with his wife, Melinda; children, William and Lally; and Labrador retriever, Luke. This is his first novel.
You can find the author on twitter @CharlesDubow
*UK readers, please note - this novel is published in the UK too, by Blue Door, but I have featured the US cover and publisher as this is the edition I have read in this instance and the edition featured in the book tour I am taking part in.
This will be in my top ten this year (if it's not knocked off by December!). Lovely review, Lins, glad you enjoyed this too.ReplyDelete
Thanks Treez, it was your fab review of this one that made me want to read it!Delete
Brilliant, captivating and addictive - a great recommendation, I'll be sure to keep a look out for this one.ReplyDelete
Thanks for commenting Tracy, it's a real page-turner.Delete
So happy to hear you liked this one! I read it a few months ago and adored it. I agree that the narration adds so much to the story, and the characterization (more so than the plot action) is central to the awesomeness of the story.ReplyDelete
Thanks for commenting Kelly. I'm glad you loved it too.Delete
The fact that you could so clearly imagine the characters and that they garnered such strong emotions in you says a great deal about the author's skill. Sounds like a very compelling read!ReplyDelete
Thanks for being on the tour.
You gulped it down?! Now that's my kind of book! I love books that explore relationships and people -- it's something that I really find fascinating. In fact, books that do just that are some of my favorites.ReplyDelete
As Heather said, thanks for being on this tour!
Thank you, your article is very goodReplyDelete
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