From the outset, Alison and Charlie’s marriage seems much like any other of their class, living together in the leafy suburb of Rockwell with their two lovely young children, Noah and Annie. But when Alison decides to attend a book launch party for her best friend, Claire, she doesn’t realize the damage she will cause after she sips two blue martinis, gets behind the wheel of her car, and then contributes to the death of a three-year-old boy.
This one random error built on a tiny mistake of judgment propels Baker Kline’s sensational melodrama forward as Alison’s life suddenly cleaves into two sections along with the dawning realization that - even before the accident - her life was not what it seemed. Just like the “foggy darkness” that surrounded her before, Alison shockingly acknowledges that Charlie, her devoted husband, is “just not reflexively on her side.”
Throughout the aftermath, Charlie is polite and deferential but also panicked, impatient and accusatory. Surprisingly, Alison’s lack of judgment that night isn’t Charlie’s most troubling problem.
Since 1998, Claire and Charlie have secretly been in love and he only married Alison because he couldn’t have Claire. Charlie and Claire have been having an affair, meeting for clandestine assignations in hotels while Charlie is purportedly away on business and Claire on her book tour.
While Alison remains oblivious, wrapped up in her insular world of the stay-at-home mum, Claire’s husband, Ben, feels totally out of place. He can’t seem to control Claire’s emotional waywardness. Also unaware of the affair, Ben is confused by Claire as she drifts away from him after her miscarriage several months ago.
Intuiting their moral dilemmas as their hard-won bourgeois world threatens to crumble around them, Kline places her characters into their four disparate roles. Alison is flummoxed by her immediate crisis, the accident a catalyst for all of her and Charlie’s regret. Claire, desperate for Charlie,
is nonetheless wracked with the immensity of her own betrayal of her friend. Charlie longs to escape the suburban conventionality of his marriage. Ben yearns for the kind of life Charlie has but also aches for a larger kind of liberation and an unburdening of all that he carries within him.
As this remarkable story steamrolls toward the inevitable revelations, no character is left unharmed or unhurt. But life goes on, and Kline’s characters do their best to navigate a path through the emotional anguish.
After the dust has settled and their everyday concerns have been put to rest, the lives these four people once shared,
what they had envisioned for themselves, will never be the same.
While the novel’s themes are the cost of living a lie, the price of love, and the collateral damage of keeping one’s motives hidden from consciousness, the deep-seated power of desire has an almost palpable strength. In the end, poor Alison
is forced to carry most of the burdens of guilt and remorse, even bitterness, along with the very painful recognition that Charlie is no longer in love with her.