*I received this book from the publisher Soho Press in exchange for an honest review.
I was a blonde eating an avocado, in a country where avocados were plentiful and blondes were rare, on a hot night over half my lifetime ago.
That evening the restaurant was busy, but I heard American voices and I looked up. They were a dozen or so, adults and children, and people watched as they sat at several tables pushed together, on the open side of the room. One of the women fanned herself with a menu.
The children, who had been noisy, settled suddenly, and it was just as the gabble dipped and a quick, engulfing quiet fell that a voice, still party-pitched, announced: “Sally, I have never slept with your husband.”
A measured, cooler tone answered, “I couldn’t care less, darling. Everybody else has.”
It may be 1976 when Frances meets the privileged, devastatingly desperate couples in Mexico, but the lifestyle they seek is much more reminiscent of the 20s. Booze flows freely. Husbands and wives act nonchalantly while nursing grave hurts, and the sexual energy is tangible. Newly single, young, and unassuming, Frances is enveloped by the group, useful both as entertainment and pawn. Heedless of the barely concealed tensions and anger that exist within the group, she observes each closely, but lacking full understanding, she swiftly gets caught up with one of the women’s husbands, and as she says,
The proximity of my lover’s wife should have deflated the moony bubble of my desire for him. I am aware of that, was aware of it even then, but it did not. There were things that contributed to this, things that are somewhat hard to convey. The times, for instance. It seems feeble now, but there was then, and especially in that detaching, sensual heat, an atmosphere of general disregard, for practicality, for convention.
Older and wiser, Frances begins writing because she is terminally ill, but the acute pain she feels has more to do with the letter she finds that leaves no doubt her husband is in love with another woman. The realization comes shortly before her diagnosis, and Frances watches her husband for subtle changes. At heart, she is an observer, and, wanting to know more, she follows her husband when she knows he will be meeting his lover. She watches them embrace and sees he is obviously explaining he can’t see his lover anymore. She watches as the young woman sits in her car weeping, not altogether unsympathetic, noting she will eventually drive home because “at some point we do those things even when the circumstances constrict us so much that all movement is impossible.”
The View From Here by Deborah McKinlay is a novel of characters, and the character development is so thorough and observant that even when dealing with a tough subject like adultery, McKinlay lends her characters a humanity that is astonishing. Particularly in the character of Phillip, her husband, there is an intricacy to his love for his wife and that of his lover that is heartbreaking even while abject.
However, this is not a book full of well-written characters alone, for Frances’ summer in Mexico ended traumatically, and it is her guilt that needs assuaging. As she comes to terms with her own culpability, both in her youth and in her marriage, Frances welcomes the release and finally allows herself clarity because, as she says:
…day-to-day life has that quality, muddy, while you are still in the process of swimming through it. It is the stored accounts that get polished, tossing about all those years inside the mind.
The View From Here is a remarkably quiet but impactful novel, and oddly enough, I’d recommend it for lovers of The Great Gatsby or Rules of Civility.
Add it to your Goodreads shelf.