Az’s CBR-III Review #2: Love and Other Natural Disasters by Holly Shumas
The basis of this story is a thought-provoking question: Is a married man guilty of cheating after opening his heart to another woman via phone calls and emails for a year? It’s a great question: Exactly what constitutes betrayal? Does it have to be physical? Of course it’s okay for your partner to have friends of the opposite sex. If there is no physical contact, when does that friendship turn into something more?
On Thanksgiving, Eve is eight months pregnant with her second child. Her friends and family are over to celebrate the holiday. In the middle of dinner, she overhears her husband, Jon, talking on the phone in hushed, intimate tones. She discovers that he has been seeing another woman for over a year. The relationship isn’t physical, but emotional, conducted via emails and phone calls, although there is a sexual element to it. Jon confesses that they did meet once, but he refused to sleep with Lainey, the other woman. Even so, Eve feels betrayed, and asks Jon to leave. She begins questioning her entire life, with thoughts of Jon’s affair tormenting her constantly especially after she snoops around and reads his emails – both the past ones to Lainey as well as current ones to other friends. She doesn’t like what she finds out, especially in terms of how she perceives Jon sees her. As well, she questions the motives for every single gesture and feeling that Jon has ever displayed towards her. She doubts that he ever really loved her at all. This is compounded by feelings left over from Eve’s difficult childhood.
This was a difficult read, not only because of the subject matter but also because, for me, Eve was a difficult character to like. My reactions to Jon’s betrayal and Eve’s response ran the gamut from thinking that her anger and bitterness were absolutely justified, to feeling that she was being cruel and petty as she consistently lashed out at Jon no matter what he did to try to make things right. It’s pretty clear that there were underlying issues in Jon and Eve’s marriage that led to the betrayal. Holly Shumas is a licensed marriage and family therapist and she makes it very clear about how there’s no use in trying to tackle the betrayal issue if all other problems aren’t faced as well. And that’s where I thought Eve became less sympathetic: she persisted in placing the blame solely on Jon even after she herself begins dating and sleeps with another man. She even feels that his anger when finding out she has been reading his emails isn’t completely justified. Eventually, she does realize that the conflict isn’t as one-sided as she thought it was. Yes, Jon was at fault. But so was she. This opens the door for them to go to counseling together and begin to reconcile. However, I did enjoy the supporting cast of characters, in particular Eve’s brother Charlie, who moves in with Eve to help with the kids and ends up having to face his own issues.
I actually put down the book I was originally planning to review and picked up Love and Other Natural Disasters instead. The story caught my attention because I feel it addresses a very timely issue: in this age of emails, and social networks it can be so easy to develop a certain amount of intimacy without any actual physical contact between people. It puts another perspective on what actually constitutes cheating, and that, in some cases, emotional attachments can be much more damaging than sexual indiscretions. Trust me, you will be thinking about this issue long after you put the book down. In the end, this novel is about marriage and self-awareness. It is also about taking the people who we love for granted and making assumptions that we know what it is that they are thinking and feeling as well as what they want from us and from life. But most of all, this book is about making the decision to love despite the difficulties that life may bring.