Have you ever thought about your first love? Or maybe you’ve never gotten over him/her, despite the fact that you appear to have moved on? Or maybe, like Tessa, you know without a doubt you’d go back to him if you got the chance? (“Do we ever stop wanting what we desired so ardently at the age of twenty?”)
Tessa has a successful marriage, and three children. But Tessa isn’t happy. She questions the decisions she’s made in her life. Her memories and her grief over events of the past have a strong hold on her. So when she runs into her old flame one day, after 17 years, she feels as though the course is set.
… whatever the cost, I need something to relieve the grief I’ve been drunk on for years now. Hasn’t Francis resurfaced to sober me up? Knowing as much, how can I deprive myself?
The one sentence playing over and over in my mind, devastating, inadmissible, inevitable, ‘Jim will suffer, and I’m going to do it anyway’.
Jim, her husband, who she seems to adore. Jim with the big “bear paw” hands, the hands whose “wild desire they inspire in me has never faltered”, his hands that “have never been stingy”.
And yet. It seems to me that death from sorrow is a distinct possibility.
What I think the author does so well in this book is show the doubt and the questioning and the conflicting thoughts that can run through a person’s mind, making them question themselves and every decision they’ve ever made. Making them susceptible to want to go back and fix things, or try them again. She shows how strong and powerful our memories of something can be, but also how unreliable. Which leads to the questions… How can we be happy if we’re always doubting ourselves and our past decisions? And how do we curb this tendency to put greater weight on the past than it deserves so we can enjoy the life we have now?
As much as this story is about the big question of infidelity and all the things that lead up to it, it also has motherhood moments that I appreciated. And humour to keep it from becoming as depressing as Hausfrau.
These two passages are favourites:
At the pool, the contact between our cold feet and the ceramic tile doesn’t take our mind off the looming need to get undressed. Wearing our coats, our spring boots, our earrings, and, for a few of us, our tailored suits bestowing a semblance of importance, a desire for elegance, in no time we find ourselves confined to badly locked stalls where we wriggle into our bathing suits, relics of our disappointment, while trying not to let our clothes get wet on the floor. At the same time, we must keep our children from opening the door to the stall before we’re ready since the one thing worse than having to wriggle into a swimsuit one April evening is doing so in full view. Elastics snapping on thighs. Straps digging into flesh. Repositioning, leveling of breasts, creating symmetry.
Everyone on their way out the door in the mornings…
The minute the door closes is usually one I cherish. It’s like when you wave a tea towel under a smoke detector and, after all the chaos and running around, the alarm finally stops. You’re left alone in the silence, your hair a mess.
Review at Pickle Me This: “But then Britt is that kind of writer, I think. The writer who makes you feel as though you’re privy to some incredible intimacy, or even that she’s written her book with the most uncanny regard for the contents of your soul. I am sure I’m not the only reader who’s come away from Hunting Houses imagining that Britt and I have some kind of spiritual connection, that in some actual kitchen we could be terrific friends.”
Montreal Review of Books: “Her humorous self-deprecation saves what could otherwise skirt melodrama. Britt has a keen eye for unveiling the perceived daily domestic failures and mounting guilt of a woman trying to juggle career, motherhood, marriage, and, of course, the resurrected passion that threatens to destabilize it all.”