Graham Greene is like an acquaintance I keep meaning to spend more time with, but we never get around to it. And whenever we run into each other, there’s some awkwardness involved.
GRAHAM: Hey, Doug, what’s up? I haven’t seen you since what, The Power and the Glory?
ME: I know, dude! That was like a year ago. But that was awesome–fun stuff. We should totally hang out again.
GRAHAM: Yeah, definitely, definitely. So-o-o, what have you been up to?
ME: Oh, man! Really busy! Working a lot, you know, new job and everything.
GRAHAM: I know how that is, don’t worry. Hey, I saw you read that Highsmith novel. I blurbed that one, you know.
ME: Right, I saw that! I was totally going to give you a buzz or something, see how you were doing.
Discovered among Kiersten’s half of the library was The End of the Affair, a wellworn paperback with “Library Book Sale” stamped on its flank. She hadn’t read it. Something feels subversive about finding a book of hers that she hasn’t cracked open yet and enjoying it to freaking pieces.
Maurice Bendrix is a semi-successful novelist meeting up again with Henry, the man he cuckolded. His tryst with the Henry’s wife began when he was researching Henry in order to write a civil servant protagonist. He and Sarah fell in love, but eventually she ended the relationship without explanation. Now he finds Henry (still in the dark about the affair) clearly perturbed. Henry reveals his wife may be seeing another man. Not only that, but Henry has also set up an appointment with a private investigation agency to look into it. He is reluctant to follow through on his jealousy and go meet the detective.
Bendrix, secretly as invested in Sarah’s doings as her husband is, says, “Why not let me go?”
So he hires the overly professional Parkis (easily my favorite character) to follow Sarah. Meanwhile Bendrix is meeting with her again, unable to determine whether he means her well or ill. Eventually Parkis delivers her diary to him– with all its illumination on their past.
So we have a classic case of unreliable narrator with a female character’s perspective being supplied later to turn the whole story on its head (an effect that’s almost a bonafide literary convention in itself). Sarah’s reason for ending things with Bendrix comes as a complete surprise, and with that the theological conflict in this book begins to take shape. Surely enough, an intriguing love-triangle story (which flirts with melodrama and self-indulgence) ascends a couple planes and becomes a principle-bending morality tale, with the characters assigning God all sorts of crazy roles in their relationship. And this is a book that started out with atheists.
Here’s an example of the shit we’re dealing with. Bendrix blames Sarah’s belief in God for tearing her away from him, then he blames the Almighty Himself. He struggles with hating God while still believing He doesn’t exist.
F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said that what one is ashamed of usually makes for a good story. No surprise, then, that The End of the Affair is somewhat autobiographical. It’s honest.
This book is heartwrenching in all the conventional ways I like to think don’t work on me. Startling revelations, death, a love that cannot be, etc. The truth is, The End of the Affair so successfully penetrates a cynical soul that, well… I ought not to read too many of these too often. In fact, if this reading took place years ago, due to my resonant personal circumstances this book would have nuked me.