When the book began, I was stunned by the extent of filthy language and graphic sexual descriptions used. I almost stopped listening, but instead, I decided to look up some of the reviews to see if there was a warning about language or if the book had been received well, so far. There were no warnings, and the reviews seemed to indicate that the book was a worthwhile read, so I soldiered on. Perhaps without the crude language, I would have been able to appreciate the book more, but in the end, I still believe the trashy vocabulary diminished the literary quality of the novel and was way of the top.
The story is about the Shanleys, a family that was coming apart at the seams because of a husband’s serial infidelity. When Jack’s spurned lover sent a box of erotic emails to his home, with his wife Deb’s name scrawled across the top, the emails, unfortunately, fell into the hands of 11-year old Kay and 15-year old Simon before she got to it. Utter chaos developed. Deb was totally surprised and shocked by the content, and Jack tried, unsuccessfully, to explain the whole mess away without the appropriate seriousness. Now that the children were aware of his behavior, which was previously known to his wife, the situation was far worse than it was when his “sin” was originally uncovered.
As the marriage began to disintegrate, the author explored the thoughts and responses of each of them. Deb Shanley, 41-years old, was completely thrown and wanted to run away. Jack Shanley, 55-years old was totally off balance and couldn’t believe the way his life was falling apart. He begged Deb to forgive him, but she was no longer in a forgiving mood. Kay was too young to understand what the emails meant, but she knew enough to know that they did not have a good message. She was sad and confused. Simon understood too well; he was angry and became disrespectful. I was left with this thought, what kind of a person would send a box of smut to a home, knowing full well that it might get into the hands of children? I don’t believe the question was thoroughly examined; it felt glossed over.
The main part of the story takes place over a few days, after which the author summarizes the rest of their lives, very quickly, and when it ends, the New York condo is being sold, Jack is no longer in the picture, and the children are independent. The book was a disappointment. It was difficult to take it too seriously because of the crude language. I think the story would have been more interesting and less distracting, if the author had simply concentrated on showing how infidelity and a lack of judgment could cause the dissolution of a marriage and harm the children irrevocably. The characters, rather than the dirty sex talk, should have been better developed. The betrayal affected all of them with devastating consequences.
I found Deb’s holier than thou reaction a bit disingenuous. When she had dated Jack, he had been married. She broke up his marriage. Why then would she expect a man who had already been disloyal once, to remain loyal to her? Her rush to judgment and her complete disappointment in him seemed extreme since not only did she steal another woman’s husband, but she became pregnant, and that pregnancy worked as a further inducement for him to leave his wife. She behaved as if she was the only injured party and pretty much ignored the needs of the children. On the spur of the moment, leaving Jack behind, she decided to go to their country cabin, a place that had been unoccupied for some time. They owned it with Jack’s friend Gary, and he came up and stayed with them. Why was that appropriate to her? Meanwhile, Jack could not believe that she had left. He didn’t seem to really understand the gravity of the situation.
I thought it was incongruous for a woman who stole another woman’s husband to be shocked when someone steals hers. Both Deb and Jack defied the rules and didn’t think there would be consequences. Deb was headstrong and exhibited the same kind of poor judgment as Jack did. She tended to act without thinking first. They were both self serving, immature and irresponsible.
I did not feel that the conclusion was well drawn. It left a lot of unanswered questions about more than a decade of intervening years. Deb’s relationship with Eli was sloughed over; Jack’s illness was not explained well, Simon’s future seemed up in the air and I was not sure what Kay was going to do with the rest of her life. It felt like the incident tore the family asunder and they could not be put back together again, ever. The book seemed to imply that a mistake could, irreversibly, take on a life of its own.
The crude use of terms to describe the husband’s emails with his lover, were over the top. Perhaps in print form, it would not so objectionable because you can simply turn the page, but in an audio, you are assaulted, forced to listen to it, without any warning. I was left wondering why so many authors were lately finding it necessary to include lurid details of sex which neither enhance nor enrich their novels. There are many novels out there that hint at the same behavior without assailing the reader with it. At the end of the book I began to wonder if novels would not soon need a rating system in the same way that movies do.
The narrator read clearly but the voices of both of the male main characters and both of the female main characters seemed to be the same, regardless of the age of the character, so it became hard to differentiate between Kay and Deb and Jack and Simon. I was never sure which one was speaking. In addition, as the thoughts of each character were bared, it sometimes felt as if the story was jumping all over the place without an appropriate segueway.
There was unnecessary and excessive use of “dirty talk”. The author’s point could have been easily made without it. If you plan to read it, I strongly recommend the printed version of the book so you can skip pages!