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The Affairs of Others: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, August 27, 2013

3.2 out of 5 stars 72 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Q&A for The Affairs of Others. Jess Walter, author of Beautiful Ruins, interviews Amy Grace Loyd, author of The Affairs of Others.

Jess Walter
Amy Grace Loyd

Jess Walter: Your protagonist, Celia, has been a widow for five years. She is a character of such conflicted desires—the profound need to grieve alone vs. the impulse to care for her tenants. Her voice, her sense of self, is so immediate. Do you recall how she came to you?

Amy Grace Loyd: The novel’s first sentence came as an invitation to me (and I hope it will to readers) to be inside a story in which an older woman, like Hope, compels for her complexity, her resilient beauty, her desires, even the dark ones. Yes, my narrator Celia’s voice, her way of seeing the world, was a welcome counter to all I was living at the time as the fiction editor at Playboy in New York. My job required a lot of outreach, persuading writers and literary agents to the magazine’s literary merits despite its other content. Celia’s stated need to be separate, her resignation about life and love, and her defiance of convention and celebration of boundaries was a refuge and a sort of wish fulfillment. I’ve lived in New York City and in Brooklyn in particular for a long time, longer than I imagined or hoped, and I’ve spent much of it trying to find a healthy balance between solitude and engagement with others, between quiet and the noise of city life, always streaming, beating on the walls. I’ve not always succeeded – neither does Celia. She’s walking a tightrope between control and surrender, good behavior and sometimes very bad behavior. She’s a lot hungrier than she’ll admit and that longing in her, both to preserve what’s hers and to touch and be touched, physically and emotionally, disrupts her plans and drives a lot of the story.

JW: You’ve worked as an editor for years (as fiction editor for Playboy, and most recently, for Byliner.) Did your knowledge of the publishing world help in writing The Affairs of Others? How did the editor Amy treat the writer Amy?

AGL: I think being an editor helps me to be a better judge of what constitutes a fully realized fictional world and what you need to give your reader in terms of pace, verisimilitude, and consistency of language and character. Editor Amy is, frankly, a pain in the neck. Some of my writers, including Margaret Atwood, James Ellroy, and Jonathan Ames, will tell you that. I’m pretty exacting as an editor, dog with a bone – I want to make sure my writers make good on the intentions they set up. I ask the same of me when I write and then I’m hard on my sentences word for word. It slows me down a good deal. When I want to get pages done, I sometimes have to shout the editor side of me out of my head, out of the room.

JW: You write about grief in a way that American writers rarely seem to do. How did you go about imagining Celia’s powerful relationship with a man who had been dead for five years?

AGL: Americans aren’t always on such good terms with mourning and remembering. We move faster and faster all the time or so it seems in this city of commerce and jackhammers. We grieved after 9/11 and that grief, even as it became a kind of siren song for tourists and politicians, lingers here in unexpected ways and can stop time, even briefly. I wanted to write in the voice of someone who is in effect trying to stop or slow time; I wanted to find out if that was possible. Celia does not apologize for loving a ghost – she’s made a promise to her husband. He died when he was young, when their love was young and it hadn’t been tested by long years of familiarity or the demands of children or work. As real as it was, it was yet an ideal. That she had such a love, even interrupted, is a life raft for her as a widow, an oasis, in a city that moves at such ruthless speed. Not everyone can say they’ve known love, the kind you’d fight for, and whether her partner is dead or alive, she means to honor that love, as a form of defiance and dignity. Losing someone is not the end of loving them.

JW: You’ve lived in Brooklyn for years. Does Celia’s brownstone in The Affairs of Others—on one floor, an old ferryboat captain, on another, a “modern couple, teeming with plans”—reflect your feelings about the place?

AGL: Because she’s a landlady and has chosen her tenants, Celia has had a lot more say over who lives next-door or over her head than I’ve ever had, but even with that greater latitude, she can’t keep her tenants’ lives from impacting her, from setting off her longing. She’s drawn to each of her tenants in different ways – a voyeur of their lives and histories. She wants to observe it all from safe remove, but try as she may, she can’t keep the chaos out. My urban life has been full of all sorts of detours – garbage trucks heaving outside my window, neighbors making noisy love or having a quarrel or a party to all hours, keeping me up all night, another neighbor who exercises at dawn above my head, yet another who needs his spare set of keys or complains because I vacuum my floors too early on Saturday. Living in the city is a collaboration with the unexpected a lot of the times, and it works on the imagination in exciting and dark ways.

From Publishers Weekly

The former literary editor of Playboy makes her fiction debut with an intimate portrayal of the walls erected by a woman after her husband's death, and how impulsive encounters with others break them down. Widowed five years earlier, Celia Cassill now clings to her isolation, allowing herself happiness only in memories of her marriage—books read, movies watched, bodies shared. She chose the tenants in her Brooklyn brownstone for their discretion and respect for separateness. When one of them moves to France, she reluctantly allows him to sublet his apartment to Hope, a beautiful, newly divorced, middle-aged woman recovering from her husband's infidelity. Not long after Hope moves in, another of Celia's tenants—a retired ferryboat captain—disappears, and his daughter holds Celia responsible. That messiness, as well as Hope's spinning-out-of-control life, prove intolerable to Celia, who wanders the city in search of her missing tenant, listening in on the tawdry goings-on in Hope's apartment, and recounting some of her actions during and after the death of her husband. Celia witnesses and participates in small acts of violence and sexual exploration, and her past and Hope's present force down Celia's walls. Lloyd's character study is narrow in scope but long on intensity and emotion. Agent: Warren Frazier, John Hawkins and Associates. (Sept.)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; First Edition edition (August 27, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1250041295
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250041296
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,046,889 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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If you want the sugar-coated stuff, go elsewhere. If you want pure entertainment, made for TV stuff, go elsewhere. But if you want beautiful writing -- some long sentences, some short, but every one of them startling and creating an undertow of desire, longing, and urgency -- this is the book for you. If you want to learn about life, how we get through it, the dark stuff, how we lose and how we gain, this is the book for you. If you want to see a woman kick a man's ass, this is the book for you. If you like a sexy scene or two, this is the book for you. If you want it all tied up neatly, go elsewhere, but if you want the sort of evolution and ending that shows how surprising life can be even when we humans sorely wish it weren't, the sort of ending that shows even the loneliest and most defiant among us can locate a sense of home, can live on, give in to our warts and all, then pick this up and read it. It's a meal of a book. Several courses. Hang in and you'll be glad you did. Promise.
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Shameless. Brave. Unflinching. Brutally honest and slyly observant of the roles we play on the stage of life. Post-9/11 New York still in the grip of color-coded terrorist alerts, widowed Celia Cassill has wrapped herself in the sturdy embrace of an apartment building, landlady to George, a gay man; the Braunsteins, a married couple; and Mr. Coughlan, a retired ferry captain. George has asked to sublet his apartment for a short time to write in Europe, though Celia has purposefully constructed her rental agreements to specify no sublets. The burden of sorrow she carries since her husband's losing battle with cancer obscured by the necessary accoutrements of apartment management, Celia feels security slipping away as she agrees (just this once) to allow Hope to move in, unable to resist the lush personage of the new tenant, who is in search of temporary respite after a divorce.

Whatever a younger Celia might have imagined for herself, it never included the agonizing loss of a beloved spouse, loneliness in her late thirties or the weighty grief that seems to have settled in her bones. Soon the wonder that is Hope settles into George's tastefully appointed apartment, scattering her flowery scent, emotions and creature comforts everywhere, danger sliding through the cracks along with a bevy of sophisticated friends and well-wishers. And Celia is drawn into a drama both enriching and terrifying, her carefully-constructed interior breached, life demanding a return to the living.

Loyd leaves no stone unturned, nor is anything sacred in the exploration of Celia's world without her man, her coping skills, ritualized reapportioning of daily activities, need for control.
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I don't read a lot of literary fiction. I prefer films, particularly those in the Hitchcock tradition of suspenseful and atmospheric studies of well-crafted characters. But I'd heard about The Affairs of Others from a friend in Brooklyn, where I've lived, as an imaginative work set in the borough and about the often intense interactions that occur between urban-dwelling neighbors. The book was a revelation. Yes, it features Brooklyn (specifically, Brooklyn Heights) as a vital, almost living and breathing character. And yes, there is suspense, both about a missing ferry captain and, more profoundly, about how the novel's protagonist, Celia, will emerge from a series of unexpected and extraordinary events involving tenants in her building. In fact, there's a powerful 'Rear Window'-quality to the book that extends the Hitchcockian insight about voyeurism in the close quarters of cities beyond the sights of others to their sounds, smells and palpable feelings.

That's quite an achievement in itself. Yet it also makes Loyd's book sound too much like a clinical authorial exercise. What was ultimately most remarkable for me about the novel is its frequently lush and always evocative writing. I was surprised at my pausing over and re-reading certain passages, even lines or turns of phrase, that not only resonated perfectly in their situational context in the story but conveyed a wider truth. That pausing, moreover, made me realize how much I was enjoying the pacing of the book: it slowed me down, allowed me to linger over a scene or some dialogue in ways I don't usually, either in reading or moviegoing. To me, that enabling of fresh ways of experiencing a character, a place or even time is a gift (unfortunately, too rarely given) that outstanding fiction offers to patient reading. Reading The Affairs of Others provided an unexpectedly rich bounty for me and I look forward to re-reading it.
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Celia is now in her thirties and notices that, "The body of a woman aging. It's a landscape that, even as it vanishes, asks a lot of the eyes." She is a widow, a contingency for which her younger self has not planned. Celia has taken her small savings and bought a converted Brooklyn brownstone in which to live out her days. She has finished it with quiet taste and rented it to a group of people chosen for their probable discretion and lack of drama. "I am not here to make a family of them, to know them too well." Her building serves as metaphor, not only for the reader but for Celia herself. She will live out her years in her gracefully aging form. She cannot "keep from remembering for fear I'd forget."

Two years into her partial solitude, the building stirs to life. The quiet gay man persuades her to co-rent to a lively woman, Hope, and her intrusive efforts to forget a marriage that has failed. The "green" couple who live a virtuous recycled life begin to crack and shatter. Finally, the elderly gentleman on the top floor disappears despite Celia's discreet care.

Celia is a woman who keeps the memoirs of her marriage in a quiet closet for fear that constant observation will rob them of their magic. She has eavesdropped that she is considered rigid and sad. She has taken refuge, and now must cope with her shelter awakening to messy life. This is a lovely novel full of the vignettes of humans in flux. The deep longing to join her husband in a kind of suspended life has been denied, and Celia's reaction is provocatively drawn. It is rather like the pins and needles of a leg which had gone numb coming back to feeling. Widow or not, Celia I cokes the choices of a woman no longer able to depend on the spring and moistness of youth.
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