Saturday, March 23, 2013

Book Review: "Indiscretion" by Charles Dubow

Boy, did I love this book. I actually finished it days ago but haven't had time to write a review until now, and I've not been able to get it out of my mind.

Madeleine and Harry Winslow have been together since they were students at Yale some 20 years earlier. They have it all—charm, looks, money, and talent, as Harry is a National Book Award-winning author just on the verge of becoming a household name. They are always surrounded by friends and acquaintances, whether they're at their summer home in the Hamptons, their apartment in New York City, or even in a rented apartment in Rome, where they travel so Harry can finish his next book. As Walter, the Nick Carraway-esque narrator says, "I can think of no heroes of literature who would fit their paradigm. Their story lacks the obstacles to passion. They met and fell in love. It is one of the simplest and, at the same time, most difficult things to do. The drama of their lives is that they know how to keep love alive."

One summer, the Winslows meet Claire, who is in the Hamptons with a boorish man she is dating. Claire is immediately drawn to the appeal of both Winslows, and her intelligence, beauty, and admiration of the couple quickly wins her a place in their crowd. But by the end of the summer, Claire's admiration turns to a strong desire for Harry, which he easily rebuffs, as he is deeply in love with Maddy. As Walter remarks, "It is easy to tempt, but only the truly strong can resist." When the Winslows leave for Rome, it seems as though Claire's desire will pass, yet when circumstances bring Harry and Claire together unexpectedly, he finds himself unable to resist her. He falls deeply for Claire, yet he never falls out of love or desire for his wife. And then, of course, Maddy discovers the betrayal, which leads to both expected and unexpected outcomes.

This is a book about lifelong friendships, love, devotion, passion, and desire. Can you truly love two people at once? Can you spend your entire life loving someone from a distance and be happy only with their proximity? Does betrayal truly kill long-time love? All four main characters—Maddy, Harry, Claire, and Walter—each are touched in some way by these questions. Indiscretion is so beautifully written, so emotionally satisfying, that I was even able to deal with the fact that I found Claire's character unappealing, and not simply because of her role in the story.

The world of literature is full of books about infidelity, so you may wonder what makes this superlative debut novel so good when there are so many books out there that tell similar stories. The fact is, while the story may not be unique, Dubow draws you into his characters' lives and gets you so fully immersed that you can't help but be hooked by what happens to them. And even if you can predict what might happen, the journey to those incidents is so worthwhile it doesn't matter if you've seen it all before. That is a true testament to his enormous talent as a writer, and the story he has created. I hope it moves and affects you as much as it did me.

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