I heard about Showtime’s new drama, The Affair, like I hear about most new television shows–from buzz on the Internet. It seemed everywhere I looked there was more praise. I’ve recently gotten hooked on Masters of Sex and I loved Homeland when it first came out, so it seemed like I should at least give this new show a shot.
The premise is simple enough. Noah Solloway (played by The Wire‘s McNulty, Dominic West) is a writer living in a well-appointed Brooklyn brownstone with his wife and four children. His first novel has just been published, with middling reviews. The series opens on the morning of his family’s annual departure to Montauk, where they will spend the summer at his wife’s parents’ ginormous beachfront mansion. As the show goes on, we learn that his wife’s (Helen) father is a famous writer himself–who also happens to be a jerk.
The Solloways stop (a little inexplicably) at a local restaurant in town called The Lobster Roll before they get to their final destination, where they meet Alison, a beautiful young waitress with a haunted face and tousled hair. This, as all the previews and ads tell us, is to be Noah’s mistress in “the affair” from the title. While the family orders lunch, their youngest daughter chokes on a marble and Noah must save her, pounding frantically on her back while everyone else panics. Afterwards, he finds Alison coming out of the women’s room, crying and upset.
Later that night, after yet another attempt to have sex with his wife is foiled by one of their children, Noah wanders down to the beach, where he finds Alison, sitting by the shore in a skimpy sundress. She offers him a cigarette and asks him to walk her home, where she has something she wants to show him. He follows, feigning reluctance. Turns out, she wants to show him her outdoor shower, which he seems really excited about. This part is weird, because who doesn’t have an outdoor shower in a beach town? Anyway, it gets weirder, as Alison invites him to “try it out,” stepping brazenly out of her dress and stripping down to nothing. Flustered, Noah says he’s married, and has to leave. But before he gets too far, he hears a scuffle and goes back, only to witness an awkward scene between Alison and a man in her driveway.
Actually, this man is Alison’s husband, Cole, and he’s played by Joshua Jackson, nee Pacey Witter, of Dawson’s Creek fame.
So, the premise is sort of generic: “happily” married family man goes on vacation, is sexually frustrated and perhaps suffering something of a mid-life crisis, becomes infatuated with a beautiful local and proceeds to cheat on his wife with her. All kinds of hi-jinks ensue.
But here’s where The Affair goes from relatively mundane to fascinating: in the middle of the first episode, the point of view shifts from Noah to Alison. Similar to True Detective (another show I love), we learn that the two main characters (Noah and Alison) are narrating their accounts of events to a police detective. They speak obliquely about a crime, but we don’t know what it is quite yet. By the end of the episode, when they flash to present-day Alison, it becomes clear that a good amount of time has passed between when the two first met and when they’re recounting these events–Alison has aged, gotten a new haircut, and refers to needing to “pick up her kid.”
Meanwhile, in the flashback, we learn that there’s a reason for Alison’s haunted eyes–she and Cole have lost their young son in some kind of tragedy. She cries in the shower and reads Peter Pan to her son’s grave. She is sad. In Alison’s version of events, SHE is the one who saves Noah’s little girl’s life when she is choking. In her version, she is on the beach avoiding the bonfire where her husband is having fun with friends when Noah shows up, flirty and spouting nonsense about only smoking French cigarettes. (He’s a writer from Brooklyn, so this actually pretty much checks out). When he offers to walk her home, she is the one who is reluctant. When he freaks out about her outdoor shower, she confusedly asks if he wants to try it out. In her version, she leaves her clothing on. In her version, he clumsily kisses her. When he leaves, she gets in the shower, then confronts Cole in the driveway when he gets home. She collapses in his arms, exhausted by her sadness, and he comforts her. It’s an intense scene in both versions, but the implications are radically, radically different.
The interesting part about these two sides of the same story is how much the details matter. In Noah’s story, Alison is all legs and wind-blown hair and skin. Even the skirt on her waitress uniform is indecently short. In Alison’s memories, her hair is pulled up and she’s wearing slouchy t-shirts instead of skimpy sundresses. Her uniform covers her ass. In each recollection, the role of seductor and seductee is reversed. It’s always the one with the cigarettes you can’t trust.
I’m interested to see what happens–what was the crime? Why are Alison and Noah implicated in the crime? What does their relationship have to do with the larger events of that summer? But I’m most interested in the way the story is being told–the unreliable narrators are incredibly compelling, and it’s fun to wonder just who, if either of them, is telling the truth. Or if there’s really any one truth.
I’m looking forward to seeing what happens–the second episode was just as good as the first, with the same subtle differences and details in both parts of the story.
Have you seen it? Are there any other television shows that remind you of novels and stories in the way they’re told?
Last night, I dreamed that I was on a plane, and for some reason, the plane needed to make a stop in New York. It landed in Brooklyn, inexplicably beside the backyard of a bar I once frequented, and I looked out the window and started to cry.
This weekend was a busy one. I went to First Friday at the ICA and had drinks by the waterfront. On Saturday night, I had dinner in the South End and then went to see a great production of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, starring Malcolm-Jamal Warner, at the Huntington Theater. Sunday was spent at an apple orchard, picking apples, ogling fall foliage, and eating cider donuts. It doesn’t get much better than New England in the fall. So why the subconscious attack of New York nostalgia?
I can’t even begin to guess at the kinds of things my brain goes through when I’m asleep (later in the dream, I lost a tooth, the pieces falling out of my mouth like broken shards of pottery as I tried to hide it from the people I was with), but I’d venture a guess that my subscription to The New Yorker plays at least a tiny role.
Joe got me a subscription for Christmas two years ago, back when I was still living in New York. The issues would arrive in the mailbox every week and I would dutifully read them from cover to cover, always beginning with poring over the Goings On About Town pages, looking for readings and openings and exhibits and concerts to go see. I would look forward to seeing which restaurant would be profiled in the Table for Two section. Then I would flip through and look at all the cartoons, choose which long-form features looked most appealing. I saved the fiction for last. As in most everything else I do, my reading of the magazine was methodical, linear.
As the months progressed, my relationship with the magazine became more fraught. It seemed that as soon as I would finish one issue, another was waiting in the mailbox. I started to be more choosy about which articles I would read and which I would skim or even skip altogether. You might be thinking, “Of course! This is normal! You can’t read EVERYTHING!” But for me, it felt like a tiny failure each time I skipped an article, and eventually, entire issues.
In December, I wondered if I should ask for a renewal of the subscription for Christmas. Joe assured me that his gift had been a gift “for life,” or something to that effect. Fast forward to January when I figured out that what he actually meant was the money was scheduled to auto-deduct from our joint checking account which was by that time just my checking account. Another broken promise. ANYWAY.
When I moved to Boston in February, I updated the mailing address and began receiving The New Yorker here. I know many people all over the country read the magazine and it’s a common sight on the T, but it still felt out of place in my new Boston home. I would reflexively begin with the Goings On About Town and then realize I couldn’t attend any of the events listed there. The feeling was oddly crushing, so now I open the magazine wide, right to Talk of the Town. Even then, some of the blurbs are so specific to New York that I cringe a little. I used to get the jokes, the references, feel that tiny twinge of satisfaction knowing that I was some kind of insider. I know it’s kind of smug garbage, but it’s the truth. And it’s different now.
Now, when the magazine comes, I put it on my nightstand. Not the one on “my side” of the bed, but the other side, where there’s a stack of New Yorkers. The stack on the table by “my side” of the bed is comprised of whatever books I tell myself I’m going to read before bed–usually short story or essay collections. So there’s my “bedtime reading” and then my “primary” book, which is what I carry with me in my purse and read on my commute and during lunch breaks if I have time. Lately, I’ve been feeling so neglectful of my stack of New Yorkers that I’ve reserved Fridays to take one with me and read that on my commute instead, and usually try to finish it up over the weekend. Usually, I just end up with a pile of crumpled, half-read magazines folded down the middle, but at least I’m trying. Sure, I can also read the magazine on my phone and on my computer, but I prefer to read it in the printed form–I’m old fashioned that way. It somehow feels like I haven’t really read it if I read it online.
The holidays are creeping up on us and I’m starting to get notices in the mail about my subscription running out. I’m torn. I do enjoy getting the magazine–there are some seriously great articles and stories, and it’s always nice to get something besides junk mail. It also feels like a link to New York, in some ways, as sad and nostalgic as it sometimes makes me. But it also induces a great deal of guilt and anxiety in me–will I have time to read it this week? What if I miss an article I would have really loved?
It sounds silly, but it really does cause me stress, and I know I’m not the only one to suffer from this condition. There should be some kind of support group.
So, I have to make a decision–do I want to spend the money to renew my subscription, or should I just read the free content online and use my money elsewhere (like a gym membership)? The more I think about it, the more I think I’m going to need to cancel the subscription…
Thank you all so much for reading, and for your support, and your kindness, and your patience over these last few months. I haven’t been updating here as much as I should or as much as I want to, and lately, I’ve been using this space as a kind of catharsis/venting/writing space more than a literary style blog, and that might be confusing. It’s also confusing when I decide to post about once every three weeks. My apologies for all of that, and my gratitude for sticking with me. I can’t promise any huge changes, but I still love this blog and I want it to continue and I’d like to make it more of a priority.
That said, let’s talk about shoes!
About a year ago, I started to realize my leopard flats were more uncomfortable each time I wore them. One day, I happened to actually look at them (of course, this was in the middle of the day, after I’d been wearing them for hours, and was at work), and noticed there were holes worn straight through the soles. Whoops! I’d paid $70 for them the year before, but they weren’t very high quality, and I lived in New York City, so I guess I couldn’t have expected them to last very long.
Ever since, I’ve had my eye out for replacements, but I haven’t found any yet. It seems like a few years ago, leopard flats were EVERYWHERE. And now that I need a new pair, they’ve disappeared! There are leopard heels, and leopard loafers, and leopard sneakers–but the leopard flats have been hiding (at least the affordable ones have). I don’t normally buy shoes online because I’m afraid they won’t be comfortable, and I haven’t seen any cute leopard flats in a physical store every time I’ve looked.
But there are some cute options out there, if I’m willing to pull the trigger and take the chance on online shoe buying. Here are some of my favorite options:
Which are your favorites? Do you have any recommendations for where to find cute leopard flats?
*image via The Black Apple
There are some days when I’m walking down the street and I wonder whether people can tell that I’m a walking wound. Of course, I’m more than that, but can they see? Can a stranger on the train or sitting in the park or at the grocery store see that my heart is still tender, that it’s raw and bleeding? Can a friend?
Thankfully, those days are happening less and less. But they still happen, because wounds take time to heal, even when you take care of them the best ways you know how.
But six months ago, when I’d first moved to Boston and I was still feeling my way blindly through every day, I think I was mostly wound, even though I tried to prove otherwise. And it was that wound that wrote a letter to my favorite advice columnist, Ask Polly. I’ve read her weekly column for a long time, and her words, always cutting and honest and funny and poignant, resonated with me, no matter what the issue she was addressing. I wanted to know what she would think of my situation. I wanted to know what a stranger would say. I wanted someone to make me feel better, to make me feel less alone and flailing and confused. So I wrote her a letter.
Reading my letter, six months later, was almost as much of a shock as seeing it published. I am not cured. I am still looking for balance, but that balance is not only between anger and sadness. I still have questions that will never be answered and that leaves a gaping hole in me. There is still a part of me that gnaws, the part that shoulders the blame, but I know it’s nothing more than a demon. Mostly.
But if I wrote a letter to Polly today, it would be a very different letter. I’m not sure it would involve Joe at all. Of course, everything does, still, at some level, but it’s not everything.
The whole truth is not the letter, or Polly’s response. She gives some good advice, but a few paragraphs from me couldn’t possibly sum up the whole situation. She’s never met me, and she’s never met Joe. She doesn’t know the particulars, the countless tiny things that added up to the now. Because no one does.
I’m still processing seeing my words on the screen, without warning. I’m still trying to remember the place I was in when I wrote the letter, trying to think about what I was looking for. I’m wondering if he will read it, I’m worrying that he will read it, I’m wanting him to read it. Because when someone you loved the only way you knew how, and then some, cuts you out of their lives completely, there is no response but becoming a wound. But time and friends and family and love and generosity and wisdom and acceptance and words all have healing power, and together, they can start to heal that wound, and I’m so fortunate to have an abundance of all of those things in my life.
There are some parts of Polly’s response I don’t believe are true. There are some things in my own letter I no longer believe are true. But there are true things in both. The most important takeaways, though, for me, are that I am more person than wound. I am stronger and more assured and more hopeful and less scared than I was when I wrote that letter. And in six more months, I will be even better.
I struggled with whether to “go public” with my letter and Polly’s response. But, in the end, I believe that we learn from our mistakes, and my mistakes, as well as my achievements, are all a part of my experience. And I need to write about my experiences in order to fully process them. So I’m owning this experience, claiming this wound. I was there; that happened to me. But I’m not there anymore. I’ve moved on. And there are far better things ahead than those I’ve left behind. (Except Chief–he’ll always be the best.)
I’ll let Polly sum it up:
This tragic turn in your life gouged a big scratch across you. Own that scratch, the anger and the sadness there. Tell the truth about what it did to you. Because it was a gift, this premature exit from a fantasy world. It was your passage to a better life, lived among real people with heart and substance, where tarnished things are good enough, where you are good enough. You are good enough. You are good enough, right now. You are good enough. You are.