What’s with the adultery?

Hey, kittens, a few of the romance bloggers have raised the, “Ok, so you’re saying ‘adultery’ and ‘adultery triggers’–is this a cheating story cause if it is I want no part of it” question. Here’s an answer I’ve written in response to one of the queries. It does contain spoilers… but should explicitly explain what the novel’s stance on fidelity & adultery is:

So it’s a very fair question with a very complex answer. I’m going to assume you’re not going to read the book or if you do, you’re willing to deal with the spoilers, ok?

The story opens NOW, with the heroine, Elizabeth, and her nameless “lover of the moment,” in a hotel room. He sees a family picture fall out of her purse and demands to know who is in it… and the story behind the picture. She starts to tell the story, very reluctantly, and the novel proper is really THAT story–but what weaves it together is Elizabeth telling the story to her lover, who challenges her interpretations of it pretty much along every step of the way (while also, to quote a reviewer “doing loverly things” to her).

So, the cheating aspect of Elizabeth’s story–15 years ago before NOW, she has an affair with her law school professor. They’re caught–his marriage ends–she marries him out of guilt not love. Five years into the marriage–and on the day she finds out she’s pregnant with their child–she finds out he’s cheating on her. She goes a little mad. She’s already seen over the past five years how tough divorce has been on her new stepdaughter–she herself comes from a very unstable, broken home–and she strikes a deal with the devil, so to speak. She will not leave her husband. She will give their child a stable home. She demands from him “discretion.” And she embarks on a series of affairs (the ‘defensive adultery’ of the title) to keep her sanity.

This is a terrible, terrible idea–as pretty much anyone except for Elizabeth in her madness and pain can see–and ever her cynical lover calls her on it repeatedly (his role, btw role evolves through the story from cynical lover who’s titilated by the illicit sex to father confessor to detached analyst and, finally, to someone who clearly loves Elizabeth deeply–I think he’s my favourite character in the book).

Three key subplots in the story involve Elizabeth’s relationship with her husband’s ex-wife, Elizabeth’s relationship with her step-daughter, and Elizabeth’s relationship with her sister-in-law, Annie.

Annie is married to Elizabeth’s husband’s brother–and, at the opening of the story, Elizabeth starts to suspect Annie is having an affair. … The way that plot line ends is very complicated–this is a total, awful spoiler and if you read the book, forgive me, and try to look surprised: it turns out Annie’s husband, anxious and guilty over her unhappiness in their marriage (caused by his illness and depression) effectively engineered the cyber-affair. And, when he needs to pull the plug on it, and Annie falls apart as a result, he comes to Elizabeth for help in trying to fix it and save Annie. At the end of the story–Annie and her husband are together and expecting their first child.

In the story of her “tragedy” as she details it to her lover, Elizabeth slowly realizes that two wrongs don’t make a right. She asks herself–and then her husband–whether he still loves his first wife and whether she loves him. What is the right thing to do here? In the end, she decides that the right thing–for Elizabeth–is to end a marriage that’s destroying her. Stepping out of it gives her a chance at happiness… and gives her husband a chance at forgiveness and absolution (it’s left open, but the door to making things up to his first wife, who still loves him and is suffering terribly, is now available).

Finally, at the end of the story, it is made clear that this “lover of the moment” to whom Elizabeth is telling her story is someone she met after she ended her marriage. And that the process of telling him the story and his reactions to it was her absolution, really, and now frees her to actually love him and be loved by him. And it is clear to the reader–if perhaps not to Elizabeth, because she’s… well, she’s Elizabeth–that he loves her. And he’s going to be around.

It’s a very, very unique story and structure. To sum it up: the adultery that happens is never painted as justifiable or desired, which I think is really the big deal for romance readers. At the same time, no one is vilified for doing it–not even the serial cheating husband–because they act out of really broken hearts and out of pain. And at the end, the resolution is achieved by… well, love and commitment. What else? I’m a romance writer at heart, even tho I follow a torturous path to the happy ending.

Hope that helps?