Do You Believe in Cheater Love?

The Arrangement

By Sarah Dunn

Hand it to Sarah Dunn. She knows how to grab your attention and hold it, whether you are on a beach or flying to one. The Arrangement deals in fantasy, the fantasy some couples may have after five, ten years of marriage, and kids, and responsibilities. What would it be like to shuck all that, to feel like a newly minted twenty-something, to be truly and passionately (as in sexually passionate) in love? Here’s one version, courtesy of Dunn, albeit laced with a strong cautionary. People, it seems, have other emotions in addition to love and these can be ugly and rear their heads to make the whole affair rather unpleasant.

Owen and Lucy have been married a while. They have traded their life in Brooklyn for the bucolic, and more affordable, life in Beekman, NY (ah, yes, know it well; went to Sylvan Lake, next door to Beekman, to swim as a youth). They try hard to have a child, eventually go the IVF route. Wyatt, their son, appears to be autistic and quite a handful. You can appreciate how the couple might like to have a break from the daily, trying routine. At a patio dinner with friends from the city, they learn about a married couple, gay men with children, who are experimenting with a six-month arrangement, complete with rules, allowing each to seek sex elsewhere.

It isn’t long before Owen and Lucy decide to give it a try. Owen hooks up first and quickly with Izzy, who turns possessive and hounding. Lucy’s friend Sally Bang, the only really interesting name in the book, puts Lucy in touch with a divorced acquaintance, Ben. He turns out to be something of an emotional dream. Owen is harassed; Lucy is in love. (Male readers may ask why Owen gets the nut and Lucy the bliss? Duh, how dense you are, sir.) You’ll never guess? You guessed, the landing is hard for both and their marriage.

Dunn tosses in a couple of other stories that only tangentially link to the main plot. There’s the kindergarten teacher, Mr. Lowell, who decides to transform into Mrs. Lowell. Consequences follow, but many readers will wonder where the heck do you even find a male kindergarten teacher? The other concerns billionaire Gordon Allen and his wife, his fourth, a former cocktail waitress, whom he married spontaneously, so quick that he plumb forgot to have her sign a prenup. Talk about fantasy! Perhaps there are lessons in these tangents? The Lowell’s marriage appears to not just survive the change but flourish, whereas Gordon’s does what you’d expect, except for something of a novel reason.

Not to be too hard on the novel, because Dunn never intended it to be deathless prose, it’s perfect for the summer. It moves as quick as a summer thunderstorm. It often is hilarious, at least in the first half. And for those with thoughts of straying, of testing if the grass is indeed greener on the other side, of harboring any ideas of a similar arrangement, it is a kernel of reality. w/c

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Free Love and Angst in the 1970s

The Nakeds

By Lisa Glatt

A young man lost in life, Martin Kettle, drives drunk and recklessly after a binge and hits a child, Hannah Teller, going to school. Instead of stopping, he speeds away, leaving the six-year-old severely injured in the street.

And so begins Lisa Glatt’s very good novel of adjusting and coping with crippling life events: Martin’s guilt about deserting the scene; Hannah’s years of medical treatment to regain the use of her leg; and her parents’, Asher’s and Nina’s, divorce and their respective remarriages to Christy and Azeem.

While economical novel, Glatt manages to blend into the mix of family challenges many of the societal changes of the 70s, primary among them the sexual revolution in the form of Azeem’s interest in nudist living and open marriage. She provides insights into handling cultural differences, these being Asher’s remarriage to a devoted Christian and his conversion from Judaism and his proselytizing of his new religious affiliation, and Nina’s remarriage to a younger man, a transplanted Arab, and a psychology student specializing in sex.

Add to the mix Hannah’s long suffering with doctor after doctor making promises they can’t keep regarding her mangled leg and her growth into a young woman wishing for a normal life, as well as Martin’s tortured life harboring a secret he can’t bear to face and can’t bring himself to share in any redemptive way–well, you have all the ingredients for quite a pot boiler.

To Glatt’s credit, her understated and sympathetic tone keep the novel on the high road at all times. She creates compelling forward force by sustaining our hope life will work out for Hannah and Martin will find peace in the truth. Glatt fulfills some of a reader’s desire but not every one in these regards. It’s a novel that deserves a wider readership. w/c