As a member of the Writers Book Club on Twitter, I’m required to read a book or story each month.
It’s a bit of fun, and apart from providing sales and reviews for struggling authors*, it gives me a chance to read things I normally wouldn’t.
Author Ash Fitzsimmons maintains a spreadsheet on Google Docs, and members choose an author and then a title, promising to read and review.
I have a Kindle Unlimited subscription, so I choose titles available on KU, and it doesn’t cost me anything extra.
For November I picked a title that looked interesting: The Adulterer’s Handbook by Sam Anthony – (interview with the author here) – first of a series which appears polished and professional.
Adultery is a theme which comes with two built-in attractions for writers (and readers). Sex and tension. As an erotica fan, I always like to see how others handle this sometimes difficult subject. Does it excite without being too crude? Is it easy to keep track of the action? What new words for the interesting bits are employed? Is it straight into the good stuff, or is there some teasing and buildup going on?
Sex is always fascinating; it represents interaction between characters, and even if the writer doesn’t describe what’s going on in clinical detail, there’s always the fun and tension and two personalities to rub up against each other. And the opportunity for conflict, the unfailing foundation of a good story.
Add in the need to conceal what’s going on from the uninvolved partners, and the tension ramps up. Most marriages, particularly if they involve children, represent a significant investment in emotion, finance, and time. If your marriage goes south, it’s hard to see it as anything other than a disaster. Families are divided, friends take sides, the lawyers jump in for their fat share of the proceeds, the children are thrown into an emotional whirlpool…
The participants in an affair are torn. On one hand, they are doing something incredibly exciting, something which leaves its own traces on the soul. You ever see someone in the first stages of a hot love affair? They glow.
On the other hand, everything needs to be kept super-secret from the spouse(s), lest they file for divorce, or worse, come after you with a big sharp knife and start removing your anatomy.
So a handbook on how to do the thing is always a handy guide, right? You research the topic on the internet, and if you don’t remove your search history from a shared computer, you could be sunk before you start.
Well, this book is and isn’t. There’s a whole bunch of rules outlined, and a lot of practical advice, mostly in the form of “avoid this massive error committed by the hapless protagonist”. But it’s also fiction, and a fabulous story.
Sam Anthony balances sex, secrecy, betrayal and bastardy over the course of the novel. It’s tightly written, with every page pushing the plot along, and a lot of the action is happening inside the head of the main character. The reader shares in the choices, weighing options that need to be decided in a hurry.
I was literally on the edge of my seat as Lee, the main character, navigated the rapids of the affair. Consumed by passion on a regular basis, equally regularly he’d make some horrific mistake and have to think up an explanation. Usually with a chapter intervening before the poor reader got to find out what happened. Thanks Sam, for the deliberately choppy way you provide several different time streams in the early part of the book.
Without giving too much away, the affair ignites, blazes, and is extinguished. There is tension all the way along, with intervals of relief, such as the married couple heading off on holiday, where we get to see the bones of that relationship.
There is a climax, a twist at the end, and an unresolved plot strand or two that has sent me scurrying into the next book in the series to see what happens.
The writing is beautifully controlled. Not a spelling error or a grammar lapse in the whole thing. Each character is an individual, with their own personalities, flaws and strengths.
We spend most of the time in the head of Lee, one of the (three) husbands in what turns out to be an “It’s Complicated” sort of way, and I love the way that author Sam contrasted Lee’s largely positive inner view with the perceptions of the other characters. Some positive, some not so much.
Much like real life.
In real life, men don’t have a huge amount of emotional intelligence, I find. Keeping an affair a secret from co-workers in a mixed environment is a lot harder than we are led to believe here. Women notice the details, the glances, the smiles, the smells of perfume and arousal. They gossip. Everyone gossips, but where men might talk about football and cars, women pull personalities and relationships apart to chew on the interesting stuff.
So I found the notion that the office didn’t know what was going on, especially when the two went missing every Friday lunch hour, a little hard to swallow.
The twist at the end wasn’t that hard to see. We’re given perhaps a few too many hints along the way. Very clever, some of them, and they all add up in hindsight, but they tended to channel supposition along a certain line. Enough doubt that I kept on reading to see what would happen and whether anyone would meet a grisly end – Lee, it must be said, worries entirely too much about his testicles being neatly done away with a swipe of a kitchen knife – and as the secrets came spilling out I found that Lee and I had both been misled.
At least one of Lee’s choices turned out to be lamentably wrong, and the psychological torture as he realises his mistake is excruciating.
I enjoyed The Adulterer’s Handbook. Tension and drama all the way through, an arresting climax, and a resolution that paves the way for the next in the series. Once I had been drawn into the affair, what kept me going was to find out what happened next.
Well written, well plotted, well worth my time.
*How to generate your “Struggling Writer Name”:
1. Write down your first name in block letters.
2. Write down your surname.