The Affairs of Others: A Novel

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Release Date: 
August 27, 2013
Reviewed by: 

In The Affairs of Others Amy Grace Loyd, former literary editor of Playboy, makes her fiction debut. Celia Cassill is a believable protagonist, a widow, who seeks solitude even while surrounding herself with people.

The Affairs of Others is an intimate portrait of young Celia whose emotional barriers and isolation are intruded upon and broken down by interactions, mostly unwilling, with her tenants. As a landlady to a New York apartment building, Celia is very particular about the tenants she selects: everyone in her building is to respect separateness, but when one of her tenants coerces Celia to allow him to sublet to Hope, the lines of separateness begin to blur.

Ms. Loyd knows her literary forms: symbolism and foreshadowing abound. As a tenant, both in her heart and in her apartment, Celia was loath to accept either version of hope/Hope. These two versions of hope are threatened until Celia finally intervenes.

This is an important life lesson: each of us must welcome hope in, but we are required to nurture and protect it or battering forces will destroy it.

When Hope comes to stay, Celia finds herself spying on tenants. Her isolation has been threatened and desirous to restore the status quo, Celia seeks to learn their mysteries and somehow repair boundaries that have accidentally been broken.

Woven through the main story of Hope and Celia is the story of Mr. Coughlan, an old ferry captain and tenant who one day goes missing. Feeling responsible for Mr. Coughlan, Celia breaks away from her imposed isolation and attempts to track him down.

Violence is an underlying theme for Celia—this is a persistent catalyst for her as she tries to heal herself: her heedless and unsafe sex with a complete subway stranger almost immediately after her husband’s death; Hope’s violent interactions with Les, and Les’s violent reactions to Celia; Mr. Coughlan’s daughter who slaps Celia after blaming her for Mr. Coughlan’s disappearance, and Celia’s return slap.

All these jarring actions push Celia into interacting with people and going beyond her boundaries one way or another. It is unfortunate that it is violence that precipitates Celia’s journey to heal herself, as if she needed, as the saying goes, sense knocked into her.

The Affairs of Others is highly intriguing and engrossing, but toward the middle of the story as Celia grows more and more uncomfortable with the rough and abusive sex she hears Hope having in the apartment overhead, the tale begins to lag and clichés in the storyline pop up: a woman abused who can’t seem to leave and who doesn’t care anymore; a widow alone in her grief who refuses to discuss it because her husband is hers alone; a tenant with the trite tale of an affair, a sudden pregnancy, and fear of being alone, etc.

The story eventually grows slow because of the author’s insistence and reiteration of Celia’s loneliness, grief, and drug-taking.

The story will find many fans as it is generally well written. The issue at hand is the obviousness and insistence of the symbolism and foreshadowing throughout the book: this takes away from the initial charm—though the ending of the story is no less beautiful in the symbolism of the blossoming garden.