Thinking about having an affair? Just kidding. Interested in stories about marriage and infidelity? Here are a couple of new possibilities you might like. Very different from each other.
Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro (2018)
The thing that makes Fire Sermon unique is that the couple having the affair are both religious. They feel guilt and shame, not so much because of their spouses, but because of their faith in God. When God comes into it, there’s a whole other entity to worry about, and another perspective in which to view the situation.
I loved the structure of this book (Kirkus Reviews did not, but that just goes to show that we don’t all share the same taste). The story starts off with Maggie and James on their way to Maggie’s hotel to consummate their affair. They have known each other for three years by now, mostly through letters. They have discussed poetry, literature, religion, and their spouses. Their affair goes far beyond physical attraction.
The rest of the story skips around in time and is told through an array of narratives; first person, third person, letters, e-mails, and therapy sessions.
Both Maggie and James have families at home that they love; that they’ve worked over the last 23 years to create. Maggie does not wish to throw it all away, despite the fact that her marriage isn’t filled with the joy it used to be. And she does not want to risk losing her faith in God that has been so important to her. How do you choose to be happy at the risk of losing everything you’ve always believed in? (“God wants your holiness, not your happiness.”) What do you do when you’re filled with longing for a life you can’t have?
My mind is a hell. It replays, on endless loop, a single night in Chicago, then punishes itself for doing so.
No matter which ending I choose, all ends in loss.
Even if you don’t share Maggie’s religious views, her internal thoughts and emotions are compelling.
Thank you to House of Anansi for sending me an ARC of this book!
The Change Room by Karen Connelly (2017)
I read The Change Room over the holidays. I kept seeing it whenever I was at the library, and I finally decided it must want me to read it, so I brought it home. I wasn’t planning to write about this one, so I just read it without any note-taking (which has actually become hard for me to do, so I’m not sure anymore how much of a “treat” it really is). I found it entertaining, thought-provoking, and clever; I couldn’t let it go without a mention.
The best thing about this book, I think, is its discussion value. There is more going on here than just an affair. Eliza and Andrew have a good marriage and are still in love after many years together and two young sons. They both have fulfilling careers, and although Eliza sometimes feels like she does the lion’s share around the house, Andrew is very involved with his sons. In fact, now that he’s older, he admits to sometimes preferring to hang out with them than to have sex with his wife. And here’s the sore spot in their marriage… Andrew is more than a decade older than Eliza, and is no match for her continued interest in sex.
But she’s happy, and knows how fortunate she is to be so. Until she meets Shar in the change room at the local pool. They immediately feel attracted to each other, and Eliza finds herself thinking about her and hoping to run into her again.
This is not a spoiler (it’s very plain on the jacket cover)… Eliza and Shar begin an affair. Eliza feels overwhelmingly guilty when she thinks about Andrew and the boys, but she can’t stop herself from going to Shar’s place.
To add a little more interest to the plot, Shar’s background is in sex work. She’s studying to be a sex therapist, but she pays the bills (still) with sex work. She usually tells her partners about what she does (she’s not ashamed of it), but finds herself hiding it from Eliza. However, she does suggest to Eliza that Andrew might not be totally against her affair if he knew it was with a woman; a woman who is willing to help spice up their marriage (as she has done in her work with other couples).
What will Eliza do? Tell Andrew? End it with Shar? Propose to Andrew that they invite Shar to join them on a date?
You might find the ending comes as a surprise… you might even call it frustrating… but it’s perfect for a book group discussion.
A head’s up… The Change Room can get pretty steamy.
But we’re made of openings. The world comes in.
Have you read any books about marriage and infidelity lately that you’d like to share? Do you like reading about it, or do you avoid it if you can?
36 thoughts on “Two Recent Novels About Infidelity”
Fire Sermon has a very interesting premise. I’ve spotted a lot of social media brouhaha about it which has put me off but I think I’ll give it a try, now. I also have my eye on Lena Andersson’s Acts of Infidelity, due out here later in the year.
When I received Fire Sermon from the publisher, it was the first I had heard of it. But I trusted their opinion of it, and it worked out well! I know some people don’t like reading about infidelity, but if you do, I think it’s a good one. Thought-provoking with an interesting structure.
Mmmmmm great reviews, I am going to put The Change Room on hold right now, sounds interesting for sure!
I especially liked reading it with a couple of other relationship books I still had swirling around in my head – Next Year For Sure being one of them. So I think you’ll like it!
I enjoyed The Change Room. Thanks for the link to Connelly’s website. I had no idea she was so prolific. I’ve already ordered another one of her books.
I had no idea, either. The Lizard Cage sounds good!
I usually try to avoid books about infidelity, but Fire Sermon has me intrigued.
I got on a little unintentional infidelity/open relationship streak. I just happened to read a few similar-themed books in row. I found it interesting to compare them! I also think they could be good candidates for Literary Wives.
I think you are right; it would be a good topic for Literary Wives.
I am really interested in Fire Sermon and have it on my Kindle to pick up soon. I actually thought it didn’t come out until next month. Must be earlier in US/Canada?
It seems impossible to avoid adultery plots in modern fiction. The most recent one I can think of that I read was Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney, which I loved but others didn’t.
Like last year, I’m toying with doing a “Love” special for Valentine’s Day where all the titles have ‘love’ in them somewhere. But I thought I also might throw in Pamela Druckerman’s Lust in Translation, which is a nonfiction study of infidelity as it is practiced in different countries. I think I’d get sideways glances if I read that book in public!
My ARC of Fire Sermon says that the publication date here is January 13th. Looking forward to your thoughts on it!
Lust in Translation sounds good. Have you read it yet? I think I’ll add it to my list *before* reading your review of it. 🙂
Nope, I haven’t read it yet. Within the next few weeks will be the plan! 🙂 By chance, I’ve recently started another book about infidelity that would be perfect for your Literary Wives club if you haven’t already read it: Loving Frank by Nancy Horan.
I read that years ago, but we haven’t read it for LW. Good suggestion – I had forgotten all about it!
Did you write anything about The Change Room before? I’ve heard about the plot somewhere before, but now I can’t remember if it was one of our other book blog friends, or an article I read, or what. I like the idea of challenging our stereotypes about sex workers and how one might actually benefit a monogamous relationship rather than be the cause of a relationship falling apart.
Now that you mention it, I think Anne reviewed it on her blog a little while ago. Yes! Here’s the link (and there are some good comments): https://ivereadthis.com/2017/08/10/book-review-the-change-room-by-karen-connelly/
Also, a link to Casey’s review: https://caseythecanadianlesbrarian.com/2017/07/14/sacred-sex-bisexuality-and-the-failings-of-monogamy-a-review-of-karen-connellys-the-change-room/
That would be it! I read Anne regularly, and I’ve been to Casey’s blog several times. Glad you bought this book to my attention again.
I’ve got a proof of Fire Sermon which looks absolutely amazing, and though I’ve heard of Karen Connelly, I didn’t know she had a new book coming out—the premise is fantastic.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on both!
I think the religious aspect of infidelity guilt is an interesting strand to follow. I read E M Forster’s Maurice some years ago, and it traces the same theme in a way… it’s religious guilt that Maurice feels when he falls in love with another man. Not being religious myself, I found it quite sad that on top of everything else, Maurice was tormented by his fear of eternal damnation, and that would be part of the problem for the lovers in Fire Sermon too…
I thought the same thing while reading Fire Sermon. How awful to feel guilt/shame/fear over your religious views on top of all the other complicated feelings! And in Maggie’s case, her religious views about sex before marriage resulted in a hasty marriage.
I have Fire Sermon on my shelf right now, which I’m dying to read. And I read The Change Room in the summer and really liked it-in fact I think there’s going to be a sequel? I saw Karen Connelly read from it actually, and she read some sexy bits in public, which just goes to show the author ain’t shy either 🙂
A sequel! We might get to find out what happened at the end! 🙂
yes, that is quite the cliffhanger isn’t it?
The Fire Sermon sounds really interesting. I don’t have a faith but exploring an affair with this additional aspect is different.
It’s something that doesn’t seem to be explored much (in the books I’ve read, anyway), but I bet it’s a pretty common struggle for people.
Sounds like the Change Room could make for a really interesting book club book. Or a really hard one depending on the group! I’m definitely intrigued by both. I feel like I’ve read too much about infidelity lately so I will have to check them out later this year
Books about marriage and/or affairs are usually pretty good material for book club discussion!
I think it’s been a few months since I read anything dedicated to the subject, but one that stands out in my mind as being wickedly good was Anne Enright’s The Forgotten Waltz. And, more recently, but only a peek at the question of infidelity, we have Angie Abdou’s In Case I Go to consider; I found Eli’s observations of his parents’ relationship fascinating (he’s 10, just at that between-age which is so tricky) and the conversations he overhears (or, nearly overhears) are so revealing (not just between the parents, but between Lucy and her friend, too). I’m intrigued by Karen Connolly’s book and it’s been ages since I read something of hers. Hmmm.
You should read it… I know you want to! 😉
Yes! I’m so glad you reminded me about the parts in In Case I Go when Eli listens in on his parents’ conversations late at night. And to Lucy and her friend. I read someone’s review that thought Eli knew too much for his age and it didn’t seem realistic, but I didn’t think that at all. I would have been riveted by my parents’ conversations if I had been able to hear them.
The Forgotten Waltz has been on my list for a while – thanks for reminding me!
Maybe you can read it in March? (I don’t know what excuse I’ll use for the KC book!)
That judgement of Eli seems unfair. Setting aside the question of whether or not he was accessing information by some mystical means AND another plot spoiler regarding his mother’s behaviour with him, I don’t think he is your average 10-year-old kid for a couple of reasons. He’s an only child, so his presence is possibly felt differently by his parents (i.e. they might be more likely to include him in – or not overtly exclude him from – conversations which other parents of multiple children would not think to share with/hide from their kids) than if he’d had siblings. And, he’s been unwell for much of his life, so he is nearly always around the house compared to other kids, so he’s going to be present physically much more and that would also affect his capacity to pick up on patterns and information. Let alone the simple curiosity of a ten-year-old, which you’ve pointed out…and I know you come from a larger family, so clearly not only Eli had, what my grandmother would have called, “big ears”! (Having said that, it *really* bugs me when a child narrator doesn’t ring true! You?)
I think it would, but I don’t think I’ve come across that much. I’ve lucked out so far with child narrators!
LOL at the opening line to this post.
Here I was, just thinking, what is a fun and, uh, *steamy* book I can read when my husband and I go on our anniversary getaway next weekend? Although perhaps I won’t tell him about the premise!! (I’m thinking of the Change Room)
Does the Fire Sermon have some dirty bits? 🙂
You’d be disappointed in the Fire Sermon for your anniversary, but The Change Room should do very well. Have fun!
I find books on difficult marriages fascinating, in part because they feel like a break from your typical romance in a novel, even if they are still focused on the relationship between a couple. The Change Room sounds especially interesting.
Sometimes I wonder why I like reading about marriages so much (not always involving infidelity). But I guess it’s just that fascination in other people’s stories. And they’re usually very character-driven, which I really enjoy reading.