We keep going back to the adultery book because we like it so much. Infidelity is a story that needs to be told again and again, even though the old rules against having sex outside of marriage are almost gone. Fire Sermon is the story of a married woman having sex, intellectual, and spiritual relationships with two married poets. These are questions I asked myself while I was writing the book. I’m not sure if I have all the answers to this question. When I think about where we are now in the world, I think it’s important for female artists to write honestly and openly about female sexuality in all its forms, like longing and shame. In the past, it was thought that male writers could have sexually-explicit ideas, and female writers had to be more restrained in their writing. If we want to achieve gender equality, we need to be able to use our imaginations on paper in the same way as our male counterparts.
Even more bravely than in the workplace, women are speaking out against male abuses of power and sexual coercion. But what about sexual coercion and abuse in a marriage? Or in a religious setting, where traditional gender roles and rules against having sex outside of marriage might make it hard to speak up. Whether Maggie stays in the marriage or not might be a good topic for discussion in my book. First, I wrote down Anna Karenina, Lady With a Pet Dog and Madame Bovary. Then I added The End of the Affair. These works are always on lists like this. With these classics read, I’ve only put up modern works that have been published in my lifetime, so you can read them as well. A poetry collection and a short story have been added because I think the compressed nature of these forms is a good match for this book.
Light Years by James Salter (1975)
It’s not just one of the best books about marriage and infidelity, but one of the best books ever. Salter is known as a master at writing about illicit sex and infidelity. People think Nedra and Viri Berland have a great relationship, but when they’re alone, it’s a mess. Salter talks about how their marriage broke down, but he says that even though they had sex, the Berlands still love each other. In Light Years, the author shows that love doesn’t have to be either/or. This shows how Light Years is different from other novels about relationships.
Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson (1992)
A narrator who doesn’t have a name or gender falls in love with a woman named Louise. Until the husband tells them that Louise has leukaemia. Part love story, part philosophical treatise, and part anatomy guide, this book is a lot like a book about love. It’s hard to put Written on the Body in a box. It doesn’t use cliches or stereotypes to make a new language for love from the raw physicality of the body itself.
What Is Remembered by Alice Munro (2001)
This is a short story, but like many of Munro’s works, the narrator looks back and gives the piece the scope and significance of a longer work. At least 30 years after the main event, Meriel is writing. She had a one-night stand with a near-stranger. Buildup and “exquisite shame” are what make this story hot. The sex isn’t on stage, but Meriel wonders whether or not to tell her husband afterward. This is one of her less-known stories, but it is still a technical and emotional wonder. It is also my favorite Munro story.
The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante (2002)
In the summer of 2013, I read this book while on vacation. I was unable to move because of the “exquisite literary sickness” that comes from the combination of aesthetic appreciation and recognition of one’s own beauty. In this book, a woman’s mental health starts to fall apart after she loses her husband to someone much younger. The book’s power comes from its fearless close-ups and the way it makes the reader feel like she, too, could be capable of this kind of mental fury.
We Don’t Live Here Anymore by André Dubus (1984)
Hank and Edith Allison and Jack and Terry Linhart are the main characters in this set of three short stories. In the book’s title, both of them cheat on the other’s partner with each other. When Edith reads the middle story, “Alcohol,” she falls in love with a priest who is dying. In the last piece, Hank is divorced and can’t find happiness or peace because of his self-aggrandizing and self-pitying habits. How can a man and woman be truly married to each other without giving up their very souls?
The Man in the Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam (2009)
This is the sequel to Gardam’s Old Filth, which was told from Sir Edward Feathers’s point of view. Filth’s wife, Betty, tells the story from her point of view. Betsy is stuck in a sexually dry marriage, so she turns to her husband’s archenemy Terry Veneering and his son Harry, for whom she has a mixed maternal and sexual love. Betty wants to know what would happen if we were able to choose passion over propriety, and the book wants to know the same thing.
Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds (2012)
There were some poems that made me choke up while I was reading this book of poems. Olds looks at the main fact that her husband has fallen in love with someone else after 30 years: “Even when it’s I who is escaped from, / I am half on the side of the leaver.” This book is so beautiful that it’s hard to find words to describe it. “For moments at a time, moment after moment, / to be glad for him that he is with the one he feels was meant for him,” reads the penultimate poem, September 2001 in New York City.
Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offill (2014)
A groundbreaking book that tells the story of a woman’s life after she finds out her husband is having an affair. The book is made up of a series of “cohesive fragments” (I can’t help but think of an oxymoron). I love that the narrator is as excited about becoming an artist as she is about anything else. She’s also very aware of the sense of disappointment that comes with a job like this. One of a kind, this book is full of artistic complexity, grief, anger, and rage, as well as the muddled mix of frustration and joy in parenting and teaching.
Euphoria by Lily King (2014)
I think it’s one of the most unusual combinations of intellectual and sexual energy that has ever been written. Euphoria is based on an event in the life of anthropologist Margaret Mead. Mead and her second husband, Reo Fortune, took a trip to New Guinea and briefly worked with English anthropologist Gregory Bateson (who would become Mead’s third husband). In King’s hands, those old bones have been turned into a love triangle between Andrew Bankson and the married Nell and Fen, who are in love with each other. If you’ve ever read another book about adultery, you won’t find anything like this one. It has competing egos and intellects, as well as Mead’s brilliant explanation of her nascent cultural mapping tool, “the Grid.”
The First Day by Phil Harrison (2017)
It is the story of a married pastor who falls in love with Anna, a young Beckett scholar at Queen’s University in Belfast. Harrison’s first book, which is set in Belfast, is about Samuel Orr, who is married and has two kids. There is a passionate physical relationship between the two of them until Anna tells them she’s pregnant. The First Day is a film that spans 30 years and two continents. It looks at the relationship between faith and sexuality and portrays its Christian characters as intelligent and interesting, not caricatures. I hope we’ll get to read more from this new author who has a unique style.