Indiscretion by Charles Dubow
2013 HarperCollins Audio
Reader: Robert Petkoff
Finished on 5/12/13
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)
With the evocative power of The Paris Wife and the aching vulnerability of John Irving’s books, Indiscretion is a heady and addictive debut novel, set in the present day, in which the idyllic lives of a wealthy and glamorous husband and wife are upended when they meet an impressionable and ambitious young woman.
Harry and Madeleine Winslow have been blessed with talent, money, and charm. Harry is a National Book Award-winning author on the cusp of greatness. Madeleine is a woman of sublime beauty and grace whose elemental goodness and serenity belie a privileged upbringing. Bonded by deep devotion, they share a love that is both envied and adored. The Winslows play host to a coterie of close friends and acolytes eager to bask in their golden radiance, whether they are in their bucolic East Hampton cottage, living abroad in Rome thanks to Harry’s writing grant, or in their comfortable Manhattan brownstone.
One weekend at the start of the summer season, Harry and Maddy, who are in their early forties, meet Claire and cannot help but be enchanted by her winsome youth, quiet intelligence, and disarming naivete. Drawn by the Winslows’ indescribable magnetism, Claire eagerly falls into their welcoming orbit. But over the course of the summer, reverence transforms into dangerous desire. By Labor Day, it is no longer enough to just be one of their hangers-on.
A story of love, lust, deception, and betrayal told through the omniscient eyes of Maddy’s childhood friend Walter, a narrator akin to Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, Indiscretion is a juicy, deeply textured novel filled with fascinating true-to-life characters—an irresistibly sensual page-turner that explores having it all, and the consequences of wanting more.
I first discovered this book after reading Bellezza’s post last autumn. A few weeks later, the ARC arrived (unsolicited!) in my mailbox. As usual, it wound up on a stack of recently acquired ARCs where it sat for half a year. Meanwhile, the audio book appeared on my library listing, so I downloaded the book and finally decided to give it a try even though I had the ARC. I’ve come to realize that I do this quite often: I wind up with a book in which I’m mildly interested, but pass it over for others until the audio version comes along. With that said, I was happy to have both formats, as I found myself wanting to mark passages as I listened.
Bellezza was quite accurate in her assessment of this debut novel. She says,
Charles Dubow explores what happens when we find ourselves discontent with what we have, and pursuing what we think we want, through his novel Indiscretion. It is a visceral novel, compelling from start to finish, as we are unable to pull ourselves away from the relationships between the youthful Claire, the Botticelli-like Maddy and National Book Award winning writer Harry which is told through the point of view of Walt, Maddy's childhood friend.
The novel is steamy, and sexy, but not in a meaningless Shades of Grey sort of way. Every word is intentional, put there to show us the effect of our choices not only on ourselves but on those we love. As my mother has said to me more than once, "Often our lives spin on a hair." She means that one chance encounter, one swift decision, can irrevocably change our lives forever. This novel shows us just that.
Reading (or rather listening to) this novel was like watching the proverbial train-wreck. I could see what coming (or so I thought) and yet I couldn’t pull my eyes (well, ears) away from the impending disaster. I typically spend several weeks listening to a single audio book, but I couldn’t keep from grabbing my Nano, listening at every possible opportunity, and I wound up finishing this book in less than a week! The reader, Robert Petkoff, isn’t one of my favorites and his “whispery” voice for the female characters bothered me early on. Dubow’s compelling narrative, however, was able to keep me fully engaged and I was quickly able to ignore Petkoff’s flaws.
The poet A. E. Housman wrote of the “land of lost content,” and how he can never return to the place where he had once been so happy.
When I was younger, I greatly admired the poem’s sentiment because I was not old enough to realize how banal it was. The young invariably cherish their youth, incapable of imagining life past thirty. The notion that the past is more idyllic is absurd, however. What we remember is our innocence, strong limbs, physical desire. Many people are shackled by their past and are unable to look ahead with any degree of confidence because they not only don’t believe in the future, they don’t really believe in themselves.
But that doesn’t prevent us from casting a roseate glow over our memories. Some memories burn brighter, whether because they meant more or because they have assumed greater importance in our minds. Holidays blur together, snowstorms, swimming in the ocean, acts of love, holding our parents’ hands when we are very small, great sadnesses. But there is much we forget too. I have forgotten so much—names, faces, brilliant conversations, days and weeks and months, things I vowed never to forget, and to fill in the gaps, I conflate the past or make it up entirely. Did that happen to me or to someone else? Was that me who broke his leg skiing in Lech? Did I run from the carabinieri after a drunken night in Venice? Places and actions that seem so real can be entirely false, based purely on impressions of a story told at the time and then somehow subconsciously woven into the fabric of our lives.
After a while it becomes real.
On the beach:
I know most people find the beach restful and restorative, but some beaches have special healing powers. For me, this is that beach. It is a place I have explored since childhood, and I feel as comfortable here as I would in my own house. I tolerate the occasional intruder the way any host would but am always secretly glad to have the place to myself again. Put me down on a stretch of sand in the Caribbean or Maine, and I will certainly appreciate it, but it’s not quite the same thing. In some places the water’s too cold, or too warm, or too green. The shells are alien to me, the smells unfamiliar. But here it is perfect, and I will come here as happily in January as in August. There are few days I look forward to more than that first warm day when I feel brave and resolved enough to withstand the still-frigid temperatures and the only other creatures in the water are neoprene-clad surfers and the fish, and I dive into numbing, cleansing cold.
I’m surprised this novel hasn’t received as much attention as say, Gone Girl. It’s an addictive read, with a skillfully crafted plot and fully realized characters. The pacing is even, the writing is vivid, and the tension is taut. Although I thought I knew what was about to happen, I was often surprised. I am eager to see what Charles Dubow has next to share with his readers and certainly know I won’t wait so long to pick up his next endeavor. Heading to the beach? Grab a copy of Indiscretion. You won’t be disappointed.