Which is exactly what happens here.
Indiscretion by Charles Dubow
“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. . . .”
Harry and Madeleine Winslow have been blessed with talent, money, and charm. Harry is a National Book Award–winning author on the cusp of greatness. Madeleine is a woman of sublime beauty and grace whose elemental goodness and serenity belie a privileged upbringing. Bonded by deep devotion, they share a love that is both envied and admired. The Winslows play host to a coterie of close friends and acolytes eager to bask in their golden radiance, whether they are in their bucolic East Hampton cottage, abroad in Rome thanks to Harry’s writing grant, or in their comfortable Manhattan brownstone.
One weekend at the start of the summer season, Harry and Maddy, who are in their early forties, meet Claire and cannot help but be enchanted by her winsome youth, quiet intelligence, and disarming naivete. Drawn by the Winslows’ inscrutable magnetism, Claire eagerly falls into their welcoming orbit. But over the course of the summer, her reverence transforms into a dangerous desire. By Labor Day, it is no longer enough to remain one of their hangers-on.
A story of love, lust, deception, and betrayal as seen through the omniscient eyes of Maddy’s childhood friend Walter, a narrator akin to Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, Indiscretion is a juicy, richly textured novel filled with fascinating, true-to-life characters—an irresistibly sensual page-turner that explores having it all and the consequences of wanting more.
I don't know what is more astounding, the fact that this book started out so slowly that I almost gave up, the fact that in the end, I was so emotionally invested I actually cried at the end, or the fact that this is a literary debut for Charles. He writes with such authority, emotion, intelligence, and a real craft that it's normally something you see in the last works of what turns out to be a literary icon- someone we read for years beyond their time.
The book is narrated by Walter, a dear friend of Maddy but also a friend to Harry. Maddy is the love of Walter's life though it's not reciprocated because she really has found her magnetic match in Harry. Nobody can compete with the relationship Maddy and Harry have because it's perfect. They are basically the best matches for each other in every way and everyone around them recognizes it- they are a pillar to their friends, a goal you'd like to reach in your own relationship.
You know it's coming but when the affair between Harry and Claire begins you are stunned. It's like you know these people personally. It's a train wreck you can't turn from because it's horrible yet salacious and you can't stop yourself. I almost felt sorry for Claire in the beginning- she's taken in to a world she only wishes she could be a permanent fixture of yet she'll never be. She'll also be the occasional friend of the Winslows and she struggles with it.
But then I grow to hate Claire. She's naive, she's young, she's selfish, and in the end it almost feels psychotic. I can't tell you what happens in the very end, and though we don't get any real answers- the way she questions Walter about what happens (I'm not even giving you hints, it would ruin it), it feels like it was a confession of sorts. It feels very much like, "I know I can't win but I refuse to lose"/"If I can't have him, nobody will" type thing? Maybe it's not. Maybe I watch too many crime dramas.
The story takes you on the emotional ups and downs that an affair causes a relationship and it's heartbreaking. I will tell you that as I finished this book I was feeling so hopeful. My heart was so happy for Harry and Maddy and then... it's a crushing blow. I had to re-read the final sentence in one chapter because it rocked me to my core. There are two endings, one is real, one is not, and when you find out which is which? It's like a hot knife to the gut. I cried. I'm not even going to pretend I didn't, I cried. I cried for Harry and Johnny (their son) but I also cried for Maddy. It was so heartbreaking. I didn't want that ending, but it's what was needed. Because as Charles writes in the book, sometimes we need to go left, but we end up going right and changes the course of our lives forever. Here is a passage of the book that really resonated with me and Charles nails it,
"There is an innate greediness that is part of the human condition. It drove Eve to eat the apple; it impelled Bonaparte to invade Russia and caused Scott to die in the frozen wastes of the Antarctic. We have different names for it. What is curiosity other than greed for experience, for recognition, for glory? For activity to distract ourselves from ourselves? We hate the idea that we have come as far as we are going to go. And we are not content with what we have or how far we have come. We want more, whether it is food, knowledge, respect, power, or love. And that lack of contentment pushes us to try new things, to brave the unknown, to alter our lives and risk losing everything we already had."
Charles is on Twitter and I invite you to follow him there. If you are looking for a book that is incredibly well written and pulls you in, this is it. Read him now so when he becomes this huge author you can say you've followed him from the beginning. I know I will.