Monday, February 25, 2013

The Secret River

The Secret River
By Kate Grenville

About a third of the way through this book I developed a measure of regret for all the Australian literature I have not read. I admit it, I've read very little Australian literature. Furthermore, my understanding of Australian history is cursory. I know its history as a penal colony for the British Empire and I understand that, like their counterparts in North America, much of Australia's history is colored (pardon the mildly racist pun... I couldn't resist) by their relations with the indigenous populations. So it turns out that Kate Grenville's Booker Prize nominated novel The Secret River was a bit of an introduction to the particulars of Australia's earliest colonial days.

One part The Good Earth, another The Poisonwood Bible, The Secret River chronicles the life of transported felon Will Thornhill. Thornhill's story begins in late 18th-century London, where he has been born into extreme poverty. But when he marries Sal, the daughter of a local boatman, he is given the chance to make an honest go of it. However, a series of untimely events erases all of the marginal success bestowed on Will and his family and the vice-like grip of London poverty  returns. He takes one too many risks, gets caught and is condemned to hang. Sal, who is able to read and write, greases the right wheels and manages to have Will sentence lessened to life in New South Wales.

The introductory chapters about life in London serves as an exquisite preamble for the cultural collisions that follow in Sydney and, later, the Hawksbury River. It is vitally important to understand where the typical early 19th century Australian settler came from and what sort of person he was. They may have been industrious and diligent but they were also Great Britain's felonious castoffs. This is a point that cannot be ignored.

In Sydney, Will is able to earn back his freedom and works diligently to make a new life for himself and his ever expanding family. He becomes obsess with the notion of purchasing land, obviously taking to heart the old axiom "A man is nothing without land." When his eventually purchases a parcel of land in the wilds along the Hawksbury River, Will initially thinks that his life is complete. A place where he can earn an honest living off the land.

But the land of Will's hope and dreams, land that that he purchased with his own money and of which he holds title and deed  isn't his land and can never be his land. Within days of setting up a hut and planting a filed of corn, Will is confronted by a group of aboriginal people who make it clear that this land is, was and will always be their land. What follows is a escalation of tense that turns angry, the brutal, then murderous.

A lesser writer would have used this opportunity to roll out the tired "noble savage" trope whereby Will and the settlers learn a valuable lesson about living in harmony with and learning from their friendly aboriginal neighbors. In that lesser novel, the narrative would culminate in the evil settlers getting their comeuppance while the astute, forward-thinking settlers who sided with the gentle natives continue to live in peace and harmony. If said lesser novelist was truly Hollywood, there would be a big dinner at the end where all the good settlers and all the natives get together and laugh and sing and we'd all feel good about the future. Now I don't know a lot about Australian history but I do know that is exactly what never happened. And Kate Grenville is no lesser writer.

Instead Grenville paints a far more complicated image that is devoid of traditional good natives and bad settlers. We are confronted by white settlers brought to the land by force rather than choice, many of these settlers were shockingly uneducated and violent. Although driven by greed and hunger, these settlers were given the chance to reinvent themselves and make a life and they took it as would anyone else, often by forced removal of aboriginal populations. We are also introduced to the more lenient white settlers who befriend attempt to work with the aboriginals. Their plight is so ultimately marginal that despite their good intentions they seem to have blinded themselves to the very real problems surrounding them. Conversely, the aboriginal people aren't the pacific simpletons who trade their birthrights for a handful of seeds as they are often portrayed to be.  They know full well what is occurring along the river and act in retaliatory fashion all too often. 

In this context, the cultural clash that invariable follows is far more complex than simply the greedy white settler wantonly raping and pillaging the traditional lands of the indigenous populations. Grenville does an admirable job of painting life in early 19th century Australia with its escalating tensions and intensifying bloodshed. The Secret River is an extremely nuanced novel that masterfully balances the apprehensions of colonialism without resorting to traditional cliches.

It is also a reminder to me that I need to read more Australian literature.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Heroin Diaries

The Heroin Diaries
A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star
By Nikki Sixx

As I get older, I've become much more discerning about the culture I digest. I'm 37 years old and I have a family, a job and hobbies. I can't read, listen and watch everything (unless someone pays me to do so). With the seemingly bottomless amount of culture out there to peruse, you have to set parameters lest you drown in the tsunami of books, music, television and film that comes out every year. So I've become a bit picky with my culture. I maintain a strict diet of nutritious culture (a term I have not yet had time to define, but I'm hoping strikes a chord enough so that you know what I'm talking about) and try to avoid junk culture (i.e. reality television, nonsensical Hollywood blockbusters, radio friendly pop music and bad YA fiction). I do this by asking myself before hand: "will anyone remember this in 5-10 years?" If the answer is yes, then I'll give it a shot.

Some might call me a snob, and that's fine. I have no problem with that. A snob, with all its negative connotations, implies someone who is judicious and shrewd in their choices and life is too short to waste on things covered by Perez Hilton and TMZ. In fact, whenever I hear someone invoke those terms (along with other including buy not limited to Paris Hilton, Dancing with the Stars, The Bachleor, Twilight and any television show that ends in the word "Wars") I instantly think less of their culture choices and will think carefully about following up on anything they recommend. Harsh, I know, but like I said... I'm not interested in wasting my time on crap.

Which is why my lifelong love affair with glam metal makes almost zero sense. Glam metal is the very definition of junk culture. Glam metal from the 1980s is formulaic rock at its worst. If you don't believe me, go listen to every album ever recorded by Poison, Warrant, Extreme and Whitesnake and get back to me. Bet you don't get past Cherry Pie.

Oh sure, my musical tastes have expanded over the years to incorporate everything from Bluegrass to African music to minimalist techno (I even own a copy of Trout Mask Replica, though I admit that I don't get it). But come Saturday night when a couple of beers have lubricated my sense of decency I like nothing else but to crank up Cinderella, Ratt or my all-time personal favorite: Motley Crue.

Full disclosure: Motley Crue's Shout at the Devil was the very first album I ever owned, and I owned it on vinyl (yeah, I'm that cool). I got it for my 8th birthday and I played the living shit out of that record for years. I remember that the album was all matte black with a glossy black pentagram on the front (I still cannot believe that my mother bought it for an 8 year-old). The album folded out to reveal the four members of the band. I knew they were all men because their names where men's names, but they sure looked like girls. But holy fuck did they look cool with all that leather and metal. I wanted desperately to be that cool. And of all the guys in the band it was Nikki Sixx I wanted to be.

Even after I discovered Nirvana and moved on, I have remained a Motley Crue fan my entire life. I wrestle with this because despite their reputation as the dirtiest, nastiest, most reviled band in a dirty, nasty and reviled style of music (metal) and their perceived place as noting more than a musical sideshow (Vince Neil and Tommy Lee's foray into the realm of reality television didn't help matters) I still, to this day, believe that they have a canonical place in the history of music, and I'll fight anyone who says otherwise. OK, sure, they aren't the best musicians and their music is uneven but they defined what a band should look and act. Motley Crue personified metal. They were everything. And the reason for this was Nikki Sixx. Without Sixx, Motley Crue was simply Ratt, The Scorpions or (good God!) Dangerous Toys. Sixx, the bassist and primary songwriter in Motley Crue, was the man who brought the band together and was the driving force behind this rise to stardom. He seemed to drag the band, whose exploits seemed to indicate an ambivalence to fame and fortune, kicking and screaming into the limelight and held them there even while his physical, personal and psychological life crumbled.

Say what you will, but for a seven year stretch between 1983 and 1990 Motley Crue was arguably the biggest band in the world. Sure, they are/were misogynistic, drug-addled maniacs, but they were the logical extension of trashy, glam rock established by the likes of The New York Dolls (and if you've never listened to The New York Dolls, do yourself a favor). But in that span, they recorded four multi-platinum albums (Shout at the Devil, Theater of Pain, Girls Girls Girls and Dr. Feelgood) even though their primary songwriter (Sixx) was descending deeper and deeper into heroin addiction, an addiction that would take him to the brink of death on a fateful evening in late 1987 when he ODed and was declared dead.

The Heroin Diaries is essentially Sixx's diaries from Christmas 1986 through Christmas 1987 which coincides with the recording of Girls, Girls, Girls (Motley's sleaziest album by far), the subsequent tour and the worst days of Sixx's addiction and depression. It's a diary, and one written by a guy who was either freebasing or recovering from a night of freebasing almost 300 of those 365 days so I'm not really going to discuss the caliber of the writing. It was a personal journal for God sakes. The subject matter however, is dark, repetitive and downright scary. The Heroin Diaries takes you into the deepest recesses of six's mind at a time when he himself thought he was losing it. As an added bonus, there is commentary from the primary players (Nikki, his bandmates, various record execs, friends, family and his then girlfriend, Vanity) after most of the entries to provide context.

I know that rock and roll biographies and autobiographies always seem so indistinguishable one from the next what with their expectedly lurid tales of sexual and narcotic one-upmanship but this one is different in that it was written first hand and largely under the influence of the substances that musicians tend to glorify once they sober up and look back. The Heroin Diaries deserves recognition for its brutal honesty, not about music or the industry but rather about Sixx himself and the way in which he deals with his addictions day in and day out (and the way in which he hides his addictions). It is the most candid look into the psychotic mind of a junkie that I have ever read (this includes Naked Lunch and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas).

On thing, however, troubled me about The Heroin Diaries. It's a shame that either the publisher (MTV Books?) or Sixx himself thought so little of these diaries that they were packaged as a full color book with photos and graphics on every page. The paper itself is magazine glossy and the entire package unfortunately takes away from the gravity of subject matter. These are the intensely personal ramblings of a rock and roll junkie and deserved better than a pseudo-magazine. I would have liked to have seen this published correctly, by a more literary press who might have given the diaries the treatment they deserved as an insight into the mind of a rock and roll junkie and as a piece of pop culture history.

Motley Crue may look the part of junk culture, but they most certainly are not. It's high time we all owned up to the fact that they played an important role in the evolution of rock and roll, glam and metal and stop selling them short by taking their output and treating it like an article in Metal Edge Magazine. Nikki Sixx may not be a musical genius but he's done enough by now to garner some serious respect.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


By A.D. Miller

When I first moved to Taiwan in 2003, I read Alex Garland's novel, The Beach, almost fresh off the plane. Although The Beach focused primarily on the backpacker's mythological search for that one last undiscovered corner of the whorl in which to call their own, it did touch upon the notion of expats living overseas for extended periods. At the time, I expected my experiences in Taiwan to, if not parallel Garland's novel, provide for a working model. How completely wrong I was. Expat life is far more mundane than Garland's vision (obviously).

It is with this in mind that we meet Nick Platt, a Briton who has recently returned from nearly a decade living and working in Russia. Snowdrops proceeds as a tell-all from Platt to his unnamed fiancé as a way of airing out all his dirty laundry before settling down. A clearing of his conscience. And there is plenty here that needs clearing. It is a stark and honesty confession of a man who spent a decade living in a post-Soviet Russia replete with corruption, crime and hedonism and the way in which Russia altered the Platt's moral fiber.His story begins in his eighth year and concerns snowdrops.

It is telling that Muscovites have a slang term for the dead bodies that appear throughout the city following the spring thaw. These bodies, which have been buried under the deep freeze throughout the winter reveal themselves in the spring run-off like early blooming spring flowers of the same name. The metaphor is apt not only for the severity of Moscow winters but also for the moral ambiguity and crippling social problems that define post-communist, post-globalized Russia.

Platt is a lawyer and lives alone, his work is less than diligent and his social life is sleazier than he would like to believe. Like so many expatriates, time away from home has guided his moral compass in the direction of his adopted home. He is more likely to believe the shifty business practices of rich Cossack investors and cannot resist the allure of two beautiful Russian women (Masha and Katya) he meets on the Metro.

The women slowly creep into his life, first as a distraction from the monotony of life then as an obsession bordering on psychosis. While the depressing truth of the women's intentions becomes clear to the reader and their web of lies unfurls like, Platt continues to delude himself that everything is on the level and his relationship with Masha when, deep down, we know he knows exactly how it will all play out. I mean, it's right there in the title of the book isn't it? The tragedy of this novel is its complete lack of suspense as Platt continues to fall for the women's scam. One might assume that the allure of a leggy Russian woman in a short skirt and tall boots has a lot to do with it (and of course, it does) but A.D. Miller is insistent that the real culprit in this dupe was not the women so much as Moscow itself.

Like the work of Jeffery Eugenides, A.D. Miller has the ability to write his setting as a character of its own. In Snowdrops the Moscow of 2005 breathes with vodka-soaked life. Miller's Moscow is populated with Dagestani taxi drivers, Turkmeni road workers, Scandinavian shysters and sweaty Hungarian businessmen cursing in a dozen languages. The Moscow of Snowdrops reeks of cigar smoke and cheap perfume. What's not to love? Miller depicts the multi-cultural cash-grab, the winner-takes-all-and-damn-the-loser mentality that has come to personify modern Russia. The Moscow in Snowdrops pulses with perfect balance of kitsch, sleaze and bling. It is no wonder that Platt is ever bit as seduced by the city as he is by Masha and Katya.

It is often said that the longer you stay away from the country of your birth, the more difficult it becomes to go back. Platt's morally suspect friend Steve calls it long-term expat syndrome and I can vouch for the existence of such a disorder. As a long term resident of Taiwan (and one is in the planning stages of a return to Canada), I can relate to Platt's ordeal and his plight. It is easy to lose sight of oneself whilst living within another culture and I have met dozens of foreigners who have lived and worked in Taiwan for twenty, sometimes thirty years and it is difficult to imagine them living anywhere else. The ideas and morals you came with flake off like skin cells as you begin the slow transformation into something other. In Platt's case, he is not Russian, but he is no longer British either. He effectively belongs nowhere. So where do one's morals come from when one comes from nowhere?

Snowdrops was shortlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize and it is not terribly difficult to see why. I've often thought that a well-written novel that cuts to the heart of expat life would receive the right kind of attention. I figured the eventual novel would be about living and working in China, but Russia seems to work all the same. By focusing on a long-term expat, it cuts the culture shock factor in half and presents the cultural and moral differences in a more apologetic, less judgmental fashion. In this repeat, Snowdrops is everything that Alex Garland's The Beach was not. Gritty, sordid and pathetic but ultimately believable. Nick Platt could be anyone living and working overseas.

Hell, Nick Platt could be me.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


By Daniel Quinn

OK, look. Before I even begin to tell you why this book sucks, I'm going to flat out tell you: Read this book at your first possible convenience. Read that first sentence again if you have to. I didn't make any grammar mistakes. It reads as it should. I know, that doesn't make sense, but bear with me, I'll explain.

If someone were to ask me to summarize Ishmael, the pseudo-philosophical 1992 novel by Daniel Quinn in one sentence I would say:

Sanctimonious gorilla teaches dim-witted man why humanity is doomed.

"Could you expand on that a little?" you might ask.

"Sure," I'd respond. "Ishmael is the name of a telepathic and hyper-intelligent (for a non-homonoid primate) gorilla. His name is apt because he represents the natural world which is like Ishmael, Abraham's first son, in the Old Testament. See, he's named Ishmael because Ishmael lost his birthright and nature also.... oh never mind, you get it.

Anyway, Ishmael is a condescending ape who teaches this really fat-headed man (who remains unnamed throughout the novel) via metaphor, myth and parable about the way in which humanity is hurtling itself off a proverbial cliff and seems to be mistaking the sensation of falling for the sensation of flying (see, metaphor. I can't escape the style even in review). The nameless man takes so long to understand the simple reasoning of the gorilla that this 75 page book concludes about 200 pages later than it should. Seriously, this novel should be called Asshole Gorilla Talks to an Idiot.

Ishmael is not a good book. Not even remotely. It is didactic pablum at its worst (OK, not at its worst... I did read The Shack, but it's still pretty bad). It at times skirts dangerously close to the realm of new age tribalism (think The Alchemist) and really bad science fiction (think L. Ron Hubbard). The writing is at time almost unbearable and, as I mentioned before, it takes 260 pages (and two sequels, apparently) to get to the crux of Ishmael's argument. Furthermore, its love affair with primitivism is nothing short of hypocrisy and its dismissal of the "noble savage" archetype is irresponsible. Its neo-hippy tone is more than a little irritating and it supposes that prehistoric people were psychic vegetarians living in harmony with nature (as if). Lastly its quasi-religious and pseudo-scientific babble seems to be lifted right out of a Paulo Coelho book. Strike three, four, five, six......

That being said, Ishmael is not without its merits, specifically on the subject of mythology.

Ishmael is not so much a novel but a Socratic dialogue on the nature and history human supremacy on Earth, the way that supremacy is woven into the fabric of our ancient and modern mythologies and how we are all doomed if we do not soon alter our worldview. In fact, despite its multitude of deficiencies Ishmael is the sort of book that I would recommend everyone read. And when I say everyone, I don't mean everyone who likes new age books or everyone who is interested in anthropology or everyone interested in the social behavior of gorillas but everyone, without caveat. 

You might think it strange that I am universally recommending a book I ultimately detested. True, it's a bit of a stretch. But for all its shortcomings, Ishmael raises a lot of interesting topics for debate concerning the nature of man, the implications of the agricultural revolution and the notion of sustainable development. Unlike so many better books about the ecological and environmental degradation of the Earth, Quinn offers up very real and very plausible historical, mythological and anthropological reasonings for our destructive behavior. By dividing our culture into two defining categories (Takers and Leavers) he is able to define the exact moment in history in which we started down the path of global annihilation. I'm not saying he's right, but it's a pretty interesting guess, and one that deserves attention.

Of particular note in this novel is the deconstruction of the creation myth as found in Genesis and the way in which it chronicles the literal history of mankind in a way that was both shocking and decidedly obvious at the same time. I found myself harkening back to my university lectures on mythology and wondered what Joseph Campbell would have to say about Quinn's assertions about the mythological reasonings for Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel and how their story is metaphorically intertwined into the fabric of human history.

As I said, there are better books, both in the genre of fiction and non-fiction, that deal with the issues discussed in Ishmael, but none have presented the material in such a way as to show how deep the idea of destruction is imbedded into our very culture via mythology and history. For no other reason, I would recommend everyone read this novel. It deserves conversation.

What are some other bad books that really deserve to be read?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Sense of an Ending

The Sense of an Ending
By Julian Barnes

"History isn't the lies of the victors ... It's more the memories of the survivors, most of whom are neither victorious nor defeated." -- Julian Barnes, A Sense of an Ending.

From a reviewers standpoint, it's probably not a good idea to read an author for the first time if the book you choose to read has won the Booker Prize. Most importantly, it sets the reviewer up for possible disappointment should they reach into said author's back catalog to find other titles (I say possible disappointment because, as we all know, just because a novel wins a Booker Prize does not mean it is the best novel ever written by that author... but it's probably a good bet). But only slightly less important is the manner in which the reviewer is able to accurately review the novel in relation to their work prior.  Of course, even the most voracious reviewers can't possibly read everything by everyone, so these things have to be taken with a grain of salt.

A Sense of an Ending is Julian Barne's 11th novel. It won the Man Booker Prize in 2011. It is the first novel that I have ever read by Julian Barnes. I have read exactly zero titles from the 2011 Booker shortlist (though I've had Half Blood Blues on my shelf for a dogs age). How exactly do I express myself about this novel? It's good. Really good. Of course it is. It won the Booker Prize. Did I mention that? You don't get nominated for the Booker Prize unless your novel has some artistic merit (and I'm going to ignore the hairsplitting nonsense coming from the literati in their dusty offices. Put them in a room full of Cathy Lamb novels for a year and see what they think of Julian Barnes after that). So I'm going to try and make sense of his novel as a stand alone novel as opposed to a piece in a larger body of work or as a nominee for the award that it won. I am trying, but I haven't read everything.... yet.

The Sense of an Ending is a deeply introspective look into the past of Tony Webster, a retired man living alone somewhere in London. He has lead a relatively mediocre life (what is it with me and novels about mediocrity lately? I'm going to steer away from that theme this time around. Promise). Job, marriage, child, divorce.  He has a past, and spends a good deal of the novel recalling the trivial moments of youth in the days leading up to his life's one great tragedy.

The novel is divided into two parts. The first part chronicles Webster's past as he remembers it, among a clique of three other boys, one of which is a precocious boy named Adrian who fancies himself a bit of a philosopher (actually they all do, but Adrian seems more devoted to the craft). Webster recalls his first years at the University of Bristol where he begins dating a woman by the name of Veronica whom he neither marries nor harbors particular fondness for in his old age, an excruciatingly awkward visit to Veronica's family house and the eventual tragedy that becomes the vortex of the entire narrative. None of these things are particularly related.

But of course they are.

Part Two turns the entire first half of the book on its head when Tony, now in his early sixties, receives a bequeathment of five hundred pounds from Veronica's mother upon her death, despite the fact that he has only met her the one time (at the aforementioned awkward visit) and has neither communicated with her nor Veronica in almost half a century. What follows is a stunning meditation on the nature of history and memory, how one man's recollections can be entirely different (almost polarized in some circumstances) from what others recall. Those that have hitherto been viewed as manipulators or instigators. The events of his past that seemed so trivia in retrospect become the groundwork for the great tragedy in Tony's life.

The novel is essentially a discourse on perspective and perception, neither of which are qualities found in Tony. In fact, as we read, it becomes apparent that Tony is not even remotely capable of seeing the forest for the trees. So much so that the enigmatic (and often frustrating) Veronica is reduced to trite Hollywood-isms ("You just don't get it, do you?) by the end of the novel as she bangs her head against the wall trying to get Tony to see what he will not see. In this respect, Tony is outed for the manifestly ordinary man he has spend his life trying to disguise.

Barnes is trying to tell us something. What, exactly, is never precisely laid out for the reader, but it's all in there, more or less. from the cryptic equations in Adrian's diary to the long, slow (almost painfully so) reveal over the last 20 pages, Barnes warps with perception and recollection in a way that would confound most writers. However, by keeping the story on an arrow-straight trajectory he gives the reader ample opportunity to flip back and compare notes with earlier passages much in the same way a repeat viewer of the Sixth Sense might pick through the plot with a fine toothed comb. I haven't had the chance to do that myself, but I can imagine it would be a great deal of fun to do so.

But for all its philosophical acrobatics, The Sense of an Ending is an engaging and extremely readable novel. At exactly 150 pages, I read the entire book in a single sitting, something my attention span and two month old daughter let me do too often these days. I can't resist books that strike deep into philosophical territory without sacrificing character and story. It is a mark of truly excellent book if the writer can walk that line between meaningful human discourse and solid entertainment value. Julian Barnes does it with skill and style. I can't wait to read his novels that haven't won the Booker Prize.

Friday, February 8, 2013


By Charles Dubow

Note: This review also appears over at I Read a Book Once. Go there. It's where all the cool kids hang out

Adultery is boring. I think one gets to a certain age and realizes that the entire idea of adultery as an offense is as predictable as it is hurtful. The entire affair tends to happen in a prescribed order of events and rarely strays from that order. As a narrative theme in literature, it's as dull as dishwater. As a subject for a novel, it is the proverbial dead horse. If an author chooses to go down this path, tread carefully lest thou fall victim to cliche.

That's not to say that authors should not explore the subject, but one has to be careful. There are only so many ways in which to make infidelity an interesting topic. As a backdrop for other narrative streams for instance or as a plot twist. But as the central focus of a novel? Egads! No! Adultery as the central action of a novel is nothing short of banal.

Which makes Charles Dubow's new novel Indiscretion somewhat of a surprise. Rather than try to reinvent the wheel, Indiscretion is banal to its very core. It revels in its banality. It glories in cliches and predictable outcomes: the carelessly ignored credit card bills, the thinly veiled web of lies. The banality of adultery is the part of the point. The predictable outcomes are as much part of the theme of the novel as the adulterous action. Indiscretion is banal by design but dull it is not.

Well played Mr. Dubow.

The novel explores the relationship between Harry and Maddie Winslow, a couple who have everything they could possibly want. Harry is a former college athlete and a successful novelist. Maddie is independently wealthy and fills her days learning the culinary arts and taking care of their nine-year old son. Together that have an apartment in Manhattan, a house the Hamptons and a jet set lifestyle that enables them to spend winters in Rome and weekends in Paris. In their spare time they enjoy long walks on the beach and taking Harry's Cessna for a spin. Life has been good to Harry and Maddie. As Jack Donaghy once put it, the Winslows are living in "the bubble." They are the 1%. We should all be so lucky.

But twenty years of (more or less) blissful 1%-style marriage is apparently not enough for Harry. Like everyman who has it all (including an airplane for Chrissake!), he doesn't. Enter Claire, stage right. Through a series of chance meetings over the course of a summer, Claire, a tried and true 99%-er, ingratiates herself with the Winslows and is instantly welcomed into Harry and Maddie's world of martinis, slacks and chèvre. Claire is dazzled by the unbuttoned wealth of old money and Harry's tractor beam personality. It's only a matter of time.

You've read this story before. Thousands of times. And don't expect any surprises. The reader is acutely aware of the direction of the narrative at every turn. And why shouldn't we be? Dubow is intelligent enough to understand that he is not going to surprise us when Harry and Claire invariably end up in bed together or how the affair progresses to its logical and painful end or the fallout and aftermath. The emotions involved are nothing new. It's all been said and done before. In books and movies and television. There's no reason to attempt to trick the readers when there are no tricks forthcoming.

But Dubow is a craftsman. Even though we all know where this novel is heading, his characterization and pacing make even the most telegraphed action interesting. Dubow stops to savor the moments, relish in the tension or passion or tragedy. In that respect, Indiscretion is a thorough examination not only of the adultery theme but of adultery itself. Dubow mulls over the age old adage: we don't really know what we want until we've already lost it. We are all inherently selfish. We can blame it on youth, middle-age, old age, sex or even tragedy but selfishness is the driving force in how we interact with the world.

But I don't want to imply that this novel is a cliche simply because it explores a cliche. Indiscretion is something more, something different from the piles of other novels on the subject. What sets this novel apart is the quality of the narration. Indiscretion is told from the perspective of Walter, a Manhattan lawyer and a man who is secretly and hopelessly in love with Maddie, which, by my count, makes four in this increasingly mis-named love triangle, though Walter remains a discreet outsider to the event unfolding though out the book, or so he says.

The lawyer in him gives the novel an objective, almost clinical tone. There is an emotionless quality to the narrative in its present tense and straightforward sentences. He neither vilified nor victimizes any of the players in the drama. He is reticent about laying blame on any particular person or event. Rather he lays out the narrative in such a way as there are no good guys or bad guys.

Indiscretion works as a novel about adultery precisely because it is banal. These sorts of stories rarely, if ever, culminate in boiled rabbits and attempted murder in the bathroom. The reality is far more protracted and mundane. It is a testament to Charles Dubow that he has written a decidedly readable novel on the subject of adultery in a manner that mirrors reality as opposed to a Hollywood fiction.