Ann Pearlman joined me on the blog on Monday to talk about receiving a Pulitzer nomination, and today shares an excerpt from her nominated book, Infidelity. Ann previously joined me on the blog as part of a 2012 event, The Bestsellers’ Sandbox and it is my pleasure to host her this week!
**At the bottom of this piece you’ll find a giveaway—easily spread the word about Ann’s piece by tweeting or pinning. Connect on social media for more chances to win a $25 Amazon.com gift card!**
“Love. I married Docie for great love. I know now this is so, for I continued to love him years after he had ceased to be romantically in love with me. During the depression your grandfather began a relationship.” Lala shakes her head again. And sips from some ice tea. “Ruth.” She says the name as though she is amazed she can say the word without clouds gathering and lightening striking.
I eat my salmon. It is everywhere, I think.
“It was worse than his gambling. You know, for ten years, I gave myself to him. All of myself. Every corner. Completely and without question. More than I knew I even could or had. Or probably should have. He opened doors in me I did not know were there.” Lala’s eyes fill with tears. “A long time ago. A long, long time ago. God what’s it been? A half a century.”
“Anyway. And then the card playing. He played with our extra money. So,” Lala shrugs. “I did what I had to. Worked. And then Ruth. She was his best friend, he told me. They worked together, he told me. Colleagues at the hospital.” Lala turns to me for an aside. “She was a social worker. The first one there. He talked to her on the phone. At night. They met at the Waldorf for dinner. They walked around Schenley Park. He denied the affair. Denied it.”
Lala’s rolled-down stockings make a soft sausage bulge above her knees. Her hands rest on this bulge now. “I imagined her young. Thin.” She gestures to her stomach. “Imagined that was why he wanted her. She was slim. Beautiful. This woman who had taken him from me, from our family. I went to the hospital to take a look at her. She was fatter than me. Not so young. Younger, but not so young. She was merely Jewish. That’s all.” Lala stops, the fountain gurgles, the bees hum their song. “Men always are little boys. They never grow up. Never. They eventually go home to Mama. One way or the other.”
My grandfather? My Docie. So precise. So cool. Eating his toast with each meal in small bites. His mustache trimmed. Blue veins knot the back of his hands, trace up his arms under translucent skin.
“It was the depression.” Lala stops. Time for a history lesson. Her voice shifts, from the tear-clotted deep register, up several notes. “During the depression, your grandfather had to sell his practice. Pup was fired from the bus company six months before his thirty-years retirement. So Pup and Mum came to live with us. After Cassie died, we had Faith and Penny. Then Docie’s parents and sister came to live with us and your mother came home from Bucknell to work at the DPW. So there were twelve in this house.” The goldfinch finishes his bath and smoothes his bright feathers with his beak. He watches us from the peach tree. “The ladies next door burned all their furniture one winter to stay warm. Couldn’t afford coal and too proud to tell anyone.
“Anyway, all through this ordeal, Docie regularly disappeared with her. For long Sunday afternoons at the Phipps Conservatory, or the Carnegie Museum. He kept saying they were friends. Just friends. She was his best friend. They were not sexually involved. But it didn’t matter. They were always together. I was dismal in my feeling about him, about us. After Cassie’s death, and Docie’s surgery — the stomach operation where it was touch and go for months. And now this. The depression. This affair? I cried at the drop of a hat. I was beside myself with grief. Beside myself. Almost mad, I think, with anguish.” She closes her eyes tight and clenches her fists. “Oh God. Oh God. Still working, taking care of everybody. And Faith and Penny. Then this. What we endure. What we can endure.”
Lala shifts in her chair. Her cheeks are wet. She takes her glasses off and wipes her cheeks with her napkin. Sips some tea. Begins talking again. “Finally, I went to Ruth’s parents. I told them their daughter was involved with my husband. That they were the talk of the hospital. I had been getting warning calls. They were seen having lunch, taking walks. It was damaging both their reputations. My husband was the support of five children, two sets of parents. They had to control their daughter. So they arranged a marriage for Ruth and she left for New York.” Lala spreads a cracker with Stilton cheese. It cracks like fire when she bites it.
I gaze at the pond of grass as though it is a stretching, yawning sea. For a moment we are ladies at a lawn party.
“I don’t know. Maybe I didn’t love him enough. Too busy missing Cassie and taking care of her babies. Maybe I just didn’t love him hard enough.”
“I can’t imagine you not loving enough,” I say.
“It didn’t matter. I mean, she was in New York, but they wrote. She was his friend. We’re going to write.’ He informed me.” Lala punctuates each word with a jerk of her head imitating Docie. “What could I do?” She shrugs. “Nothing. At first those damn letters came every week. Then every month. So every month, for all those years, amongst the mail, I’d see that turquoise spider writing on an envelope. I’d leave it under the chime clock just like all the other mail. He’d pick it up, disappear to his desk and then spend the evening reading. Rereading. Poring over her letter and writing her back. So what did I stop?” She pauses.
“Then on his deathbed, just about the last thing, he says is, Laura, tell Ruth. Please. Tell Ruth. Make sure she knows.’ He held my hand tight as though for dear life and talked about her.”
She thought they were the perfect couple. She authored Keep the Home Fires Burning: How to Have an Affair with Your Spouse and appeared on Oprah, Donahue, and Sally Jessy Raphael as an expert on the joys of sexual monogamy. She was a marriage and family therapist who counseled patients coping with cheating spouses. She believed she had escaped her family legacy of marital infidelity. She was wrong. After thirty years of marriage and three children, Ann Pearlman discovered her husband’s affair with another woman.
In Infidelity, Pearlman tells the true story of the devastating effect of adultery across three generations of American women. An award-winning author, columnist, psychotherapist, marriage and family therapist, Pearlman draws on sociological and anthropological works as well as her own experience to write out her rage, pain, depression, doubts, and, eventually, her journey back to confidence and strength. Originally published by MacAdam/Cage in 2000, Infidelity was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, and also served as the inspiration for a Lionsgate film.
Infidelity re-published by Dzanc Books, is available in books stores as of August 14, 2018.
Praise for Infidelity
“An unusually vivid and striking account of the effects of men’s affairs on their wives and daughters—an immediate, personal story of depth and power, as gripping as a good novel.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Outstanding… once you start reading you cannot stop.”
“A vivid, thoughtful memoir of a woman’s life, her sexuality, and her growing social, psychic and sexual consciousness…Pearlman tells her story with a lovely control and a deep sense of meditative longing.”
Ann Pearlman has won vast critical and commercial success for her fiction and nonfiction books. Keep the Home Fires Burning: How to Have an Affair With Your Spouse garnered the attention of the Oprah Winfrey Show and was featured on many other talk shows. Her memoir, Infidelity, was nominated for National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize, and made into a Lifetime movie by Lionsgate. Inside the Crips, with a foreword by Ice T, took readers into the life of a Crip gang member and the California Prison system. Her first novel, The Christmas Cookie Club, became an international bestseller, spawning cookie exchanges and a follow-up cookbook. A Gift for My Sister won first place in the Sharp Writ Book Awards, 2013. She lives in Ann Arbor, MI.
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