The true measure of a good storyteller is how long they can continue to keep the reader engaged. As I turned the pages of McKinlay’s devastatingly bleak melodrama, so compelling was the narrative that I almost finished it in one sitting. In what is simply one the most beautifully realized novels of the year, the author proves once and for all that we must be held to account for our sins.
At forty-six, Frances is terminally ill, although it is not the illness that is uppermost in her mind.
She has recently discovered a letter from her husband’s mistress. The letter, telling of clandestine meetings and promises of true love, becomes a catalyst for Francis’s discomfort, reminding her of stories past when she worked as an English teacher in Mexico in 1976 and fell into the company of a group of
attractive, wealthy, carefree Americans.
Enticed by the “practiced charm” of Sally and Mason Severance and their guests, Richard Patsy Luke and Ned and Bee Bee Newson, Francis finds her life taking on “a new kind of glamour." Caught up in the joyful undercurrent of anarchy, charm, beauty and heady entertainment,
Francis is seduced under the hot Mexican summer beating down on a lush oasis of drinking and laughing where poolside swimming is as essential as lazy afternoons spent chatting below the yellow sun umbrellas and purple
Francis is immediately enthralled by the Severance’s house, a “butter-colored palace” with high-walled, glamour-tinged privacy above a crystal sand beach. The men, “sun-burnt and bedraggled in their open-necked shirts,” are presided over by Sally with a majestic mix of grace and authority. There
are the squealing, teased children - Paige, Leslie, Jenny, and little Howie - always in constant revolt and friendly rebellion.
Moving between a rose-tinted past and an uncertain future, Francis writes these vivid recollections with a sense of urgency, willingly exposing herself to the tragic outcome
of that summer when, adrift on affection and sunshine, she embarks upon a clandestine affair. Only the bold sexual exertions of Mason can light up “a shivery state of desire" and fulfill her wildest fantasies.
Many years later in a rearranged world, Francis must decide whether to confront her husband, Phillip, and the truth behind his weekly trips to London. With her passion, blood and youth slowly draining, she must finally confront the ugly realities of her philandering husband and the ramifications of her past transgressions, so long buried deep within her soul.
Eventually dreams turn real and reality becomes distant. A thin crevice of ill will finally takes root in Francis's psyche in hideous vibrancy. McKinlay’s fluid psychological novel takes flight, showcasing one woman’s descent into a maelstrom of infidelity and a past that challenges forever her view of her marriage and of the world around her.