Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Adultery reading

New literary anthology tackles tales of high infidelity

Posted By on Wed, Jan 11, 2006 at 12:00 AM

I am a faithful man. I have never committed an act of adultery. I’ve been with the same woman, my wife, for 21 years. So I might not be the best man to write about Homewrecker: An Adultery Reader.

But then again, that’s exactly what drives me to read and write fiction — it escorts us into realities other than our own, allowing us to seek out acts that are otherwise unsafe for us.

Homewrecker is pretty good bedtime reading. It’s a collection of mostly short prose pieces and shortish stories, punctuated by six poems and a handful of essays, such as Michael Hemmingson’s “How to Have an Affair,” aiming to instruct us and perhaps even seduce us into the world of adultery.

Twenty-six different writers, most of whom are not very well-known, offer up testimonials. You won’t find stories by the usual culprits in these pages, brought to us by the transgressive subverts over at Soft Skull Press in Brooklyn, N.Y. There’s nothing by the better-known short-story writers of the past 30 years, such as Andre Dubus, Richard Ford or Raymond Carver — those post-Nixon-era dirty realists who weren’t afraid to expose the truth or deal with the consequences that come crashing down when domesticity gets mixed-up and messy.

Things — bedsheets, for example, and bed partners — do get very mixed-up and messy in the stories and poems gathered in Homewrecker. In Felicia Sullivan’s “The Business of Leaving,” a husband and father searches for the right words to tell his teenage daughter and son as he prepares to leave them and their mother for another woman. In “After Hours” by Jonathan Harper, a manager of a small bookstore — a married man, again — carries on an after-hours affair with one of his clerks, who happens to be a man in a relationship with another man. In Lori Selke’s story “Sex and the Married Dyke,” openly gay Joan is seduced by Liz, a seemingly straight woman. But by the story’s end, Liz is the one driving around town with a rainbow flag sticker on her car. To Joan, this makes Liz less attractive because she’s no longer just a novelty. As Joan says to her, “You were safer when you liked men.”

But by far the most inventive piece in the collection takes us inside an affair that isn’t between a man and another woman, two men, or two women. Instead, in Matthue Roth’s “Beating Around the Burning Bush,” we’re taken inside a world where the adulterous affair is between an orthodox Jewish man and his God. “G-d and me, we send each other secret messages. We have to talk in code so my girlfriend doesn’t get suspicious.”

When I finished reading Homewrecker, I was glad to be able to shelve all of the unhappiness and find myself in bed beside my wife. It didn’t matter that she was sleeping. All that mattered was that I felt safe where I was, on that island of domesticity, with the woman I’ve known and been in love with for more than half of my life. I was happy to be able to reach out with one hand, to place it tenderly on my wife’s belly, and with my other hand I reached over and turned out the light.

Peter Markus is a poet and freelance writer. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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