Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Book Review: "The Affairs of Others" by Amy Grace Loyd

Celia Cassill is a widow whose husband died far too young five years ago. Although the money she received from her husband's estate allowed her to move out of their Brooklyn neighborhood into another, and purchase an apartment building in which she lives and rents space to others, she didn't move far, and she hasn't been able to let go.

"Grief carried on too long is a self-indulgence. George had said that to me once...We don't always have a choice, I told him in reply then."

Celia's life is lonely and empty, save for mourning her husband and holding tight to his memories. She keeps a respectable distance from most of her tenants, although she pays special attention to the elderly Mr. Coughlan, a former ferry captain. But when one of her tenants, George, sublets his apartment to his friend, Hope, her arrival cracks Celia's solitary world open. Hope is exotic, mercurial, searching for refuge following her husband's affair. As she becomes involved in a passionate, sometimes violent relationship with a man from her past, Hope's actions draw Celia in, and for the first time in a long time, Celia starts to feel something other than loneliness.

Hope's presence changes Celia. Suddenly this woman always so mindful about keeping distance from her tenants finds herself getting more involved in their lives, sometimes surreptitiously. Her actions move from careful and quiet to more reckless and flighty. But will these be permanent changes, or will she find herself drawn back to her previous existence?

The Affairs of Others tells a familiar story of a woman who has so distanced herself from any emotions to avoid the pain they cause that she cuts herself off from relationships with anyone. Yet as she finds herself suddenly awakened to possibilities she hadn't considered in some time, she is unsure whether she is ultimately capable of changing, or whether she'll always be grounded back to the life she's made for herself.

Amy Grace Loyd, the former literary editor of Playboy, is a very talented writer. I love her use of language which took on almost poetic qualities at times, describing love, loss, longing, loneliness, and grief. But I was never able to warm up to the characters—it's almost as if the wall that Celia built around herself to keep others out kept me out as well, and Hope's behavior, which troubled and intrigued Celia so near the start of the book, made her a character that was difficult to like.

There have been other books which have their narrator playing the part of voyeur, but this gives that theme an interesting twist. I just wish I had the opportunity to get to know Celia more and understand her actions and motivations better, because that would have given the book additional depth I missed. But Amy Grace Loyd's writing deserves to be read.

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