The Affair: Sheryl Browne
Genre: Psychological suspense
Hogwarts House Recommendation: Hufflepuff, Slytherin
They’re a perfect, happy family that would never hurt one another. Or are they?
After tragedy strikes, Alicia is shocked to run into an old flame. Justin picks up on this, and Alicia is forced to confront the past and tell her husband what happened all those years ago. Just when it seems that things can’t get any worse, another secret is revealed causing their daughter to flee the house. Justin is not only on a mission to save his marriage, but to save his daughter from whatever threats are out there. Without Sophie, what does he have left to live for if the rest of his life was a lie? But the random run-in may not have been so random, and Justin must confront not just a threat to their marriage but to his whole family, and his life.
Normally, novels about affairs don’t thrill me. For one, I can’t stand the perpetrators; if you don’t want to hurt your family by doing so, why do it? For another: they’re boring. It seems like predictable affairs take place in every domestic drama lately. But it came as an addition to the original Browne novel I bought, and as it was two books for the price of one, I couldn’t just ignore a free book.
This book features the 3rd person perspectives of Justin, his wife Alicia, and daughter Sophie. (What is it about Sophies in the media always having their main plot be about finding their father?) Of course, you want to hate Alicia for what she’s done to the family, and at first I did. But I was also surprised at how my feelings toward these characters changed as the story went on. The character development, or the way that Browne makes you think differently about people, is pretty strong. I was always in Sophie’s corner. But I did feel some twinges of sympathy toward Alicia farther along, and I didn’t like Justin as much by the end. Maybe. There is also Jessica, Alicia’s sister, who plays a role I should have seen coming but didn’t. Who is right and wrong here? There are multiple conflicts at play between them; to Sophie running away as she doesn’t trust her family to Justin’s disbelief to Alicia’s guilt. The novel does get a little repetitive in saying that “Alicia felt guilty” over and over, and that’s what added to some of the slowness for me. What elevates this novel from the standard is Paul Radley, Alicia’s love interest. You can tell something is off about him from the get-go, though we don’t learn much about him. He seems to have a bigger plan in mind, one that involves Sophie, that escalates as the novel progresses. I wasn’t sure why he was appearing now after so many years apart, however.
Admittedly it was a slow start. It was 50-70 pages of characters mourning their own life and a tragedy that’s taken place which has little to do with the main storyline. Lots of “woe-is-me” is present. It’s a little repetitive here as well, but it does lay the groundwork, which was dull as I expected. But maybe that’s just me; I’m tired of the “affair reveal.” It picks up when Paul enters the picture, but sometimes other events are called upon to keep the story interesting. Browne lays the tragedy on pretty thick here. There’s a car wreck, a stabbing at a bar, and another death. Not all of these things had to do with the plot. I read in the author’s note that Browne herself was struggling from the loss of a child. While maybe this helped her, it really didn’t serve a purpose for the novel. Adding to my above point, it may even have added to the slowness of the first part of the book. I may have cut the tragedy that happens near the beginning for more focus on Sophie’s time at Paul’s apartment.
The ending does get a little Lifetime-movie-ish, preaching about how their family is working toward building their future together, and healing from the past. Mostly where I had mixed feelings was the “excuse” for Alicia… spoiler paragraph below…
…which was that she was actually raped. O….kay. But isn’t she still at fault for having the affair in the first place? And she frames it as an actual affair in her POV chapters, so that didn’t make sense to me either. Maybe it was meant for shock value? I can kind of see how it might work, seeing that it gave her and Justin reason to make up a little faster, but I’m not sure if it did or not. It was a bit of a cop-out.
End of spoilers
The reveals that were supposed to be shocking weren’t shocking at all, and I don’t think that most readers will find that to be so either. I don’t like to take anything as truth until the accusations are proven, so I wasn’t shocked at the reveal of Sophie’s father, either. (I’m not entirely sure I even got the ending, though I have a pretty good idea, Browne doesn’t explicitly say anything.) Either way, this wasn’t a bad ending, even if it wasn’t the shock it was trying to be, and I’m happy that hopefully my strong ending slump seems to be over for now. There are some unanswered questions, like why Paul was trying to put Sophie on a healthy diet, but they didn’t matter too much. Overall I think I enjoyed Sophie’s plot the most.
I’m still not sure whether I would have picked this up as a stand-alone novel, but The Affair brings enough new things to the table where I feel that it wasn’t a waste of time. I even found myself caring about that characters, particularly Sophie, and while it won’t be a favorite of mine it’s not a bad book.
Book Club Questions (spoilers)
- Why do you think Alicia went ahead with her relationship with Paul? She herself said that she didn’t want Justin to blame her. Does he? How much of a real relationship do you think was present?
- Is Justin a good character in this novel? Readers will notice that he has some aggressive tendencies–is he good as a husband? What about Alicia?
- Sophie is so angry that her first and only thought is to run away from home. By the end of the book, she is blaming herself. Who is right and who is wrong in this novel, and how so? Do you think that Sophie is to blame for anything?
- Do you believe in the saying “once a cheater, always a cheater” as Justin seems to? Or are you okay with second chances? What does it take to ruin a family–the action or the lies?
- What happens after Justin and Alicia drop the final bombshell on Sophie at the end? Is their family going to survive this?