Pekkanen begins the book with a preface, telling readers how the idea for this book came to her from an overheard conversation in a coffee shop about a marital affair. She also cited statistics indicating that an affair occurs in at least one of every three marriages. She notes: “In The Ever After, a therapist tells my main character, Josie, ‘It’s an epidemic.’ The line is fictional, but the facts informing it are not.”
She adds: “I hope that Josie’s story will give you, the reader, an intimate glimpse into this largely secret epidemic and its aftershocks.”
Josie and Frank Moore, both 40, have two young daughters – Izzy, 3, and Zoe, 7. The kids make life hectic and exhausting for Josie, a stay-at-home mom. Frank is a great dad, but he has the easy part – the entertaining and comforting. Josie resents that she has to be “the bad guy.” Furthermore, Frank doesn’t quite get how much work it is to take care of the girls, and wonders why he has to perform a job all day and then come home and pick up toys or make dinner. It seems as though their marriage has become a succession of little resentments and squabbles, but Josie still considers herself lucky and thinks their marriage is good. That is, until the day Josie borrows Frank’s phone and learns he is having an affair.
The rest of the book recounts the evolution of Josie’s feelings about Frank and their marriage, as she goes through all the stages of grief and anger. She also feels a deep sense of betrayal. She starts going to a therapist, and also, together with Frank (at his request), starts seeing a marriage counselor. In the joint sessions, Josie is surprised to find out Frank’s feelings; they barely communicated anymore except about chores and the needs of the kids. She realizes: “It was astonishing, how you could become entwined with someone, sharing a bedroom and a life, without truly being intimate.”
Meanwhile, Frank is beyond contrite. He doesn’t just want to go back to “before,” he wants their marriage to be better. And there is pressure to reconcile from the kids, who are upset by changes in their home life they don’t understand.
An epilogue six months later tells how Josie and Frank resolved the problems precipitated by Frank’s infidelity.
Discussion: Frank is a little overly perfect – aside from the infidelity – but even that gets multiple mitigating explanations: they don’t have sex much anymore and for Josie it is mostly done out of a sense of obligation; their interactions mainly consist of fighting over who does what with the girls and in the house; with Frank out in the work world and Josie at home, they have grown apart; having affairs is epidemic; men aren’t as good as discussing what is bothering them; men compartmentalize things more than women, and so can have physical relationships without necessarily making an emotional commitment. Finally, one of Josie’s friend suggests that maybe Frank subconsciously wanted her to find out and stop him; after all, he knew what was on his phone when he lent it to her.
In other parts of his life, Frank is a wonder. He is fantastic with kids! He gets up early to go to church! He volunteers for the homeless! He is generous with presents and surprises! He begs Josie to let him help with the cleaning! (He had me at that last part….)
I would have liked Frank to be more realistic (or for me to be less cynical), but it does help facilitate the ending Pekkanen clearly wants to happen.
Evaluation: I always enjoy books by this author. She excels at exploring nuances of relationships.
Published by Washington Square Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, 2018