In her book The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, Esther Perel states that “every betrayal was once a love story.” Perel’s book, which seeks to examine the reasons behind why people decide to cheat on their partners, details testimonies from several couples for whom infidelity was either an escape from a numbing marriage or simply a thrill seeking experience.
Randy Susan Myers somewhat follows his tendency of smashing preconceived notions about extra marital affairs in her novel, 19 Myths About Cheating. The first chapter opens with the book’s main character Isabelle, a writer and mother of two, who refers to her infidelity as ” a transgression as undeserved as it was cruel” towards her husband Adam. Her marriage is lackluster and dull but, Isabelle clarifies that “shame raced past exhilaration by the fourth week of my illicit behavior,” which clues in to the fact that she’s not enjoying what she’s doing. Moreover, as the story progresses it’s clear that Isabelle is still very much in love with Adam and regards her lover Guy, whom she met at an open house night at her daughter’s school, as another man to appeace and soothe. The fact that Guy is also married only doubly adds to the deception in Isabelle’s book.
What is refreshing about Myers’ plot is that it doesn’t portray a woman who’s fallen out of love with her husband and is now in love with her lover or in love with both. Isabelle makes it clear to even Guy that what they have has nothing to do with love but rather “a firing of synapses,” which debunks that popular myth about women only succumbing to affairs when they fall in love. Isabelle’s cool analysis of the state of her own affair as something mostly borne out of a physical and visceral need of being wanted, is quite groundbreaking in itself even in fiction.
In a twisted turn of fate, Isabelle and Guy’s daughters strike up a friendship, which forces them to look at each other in the space of their homes and marriages, provoking in Isabelle an almost primal instinct to protect her family and her marriage from Guy’s unwanted intrusion. Myers narrates Isabelle’s inner struggles in a way that are completely relatable even if not completely justified in their execution. Adam is in the beginning a bland character that garners more complexity as the novel moves forward and Isabelle’s affair becomes more of an unwanted annoyance for her than a source of gratification.
The book has nineteen chapters, forming perfect synchrony with the title and the myths that headline the beginning of every chapter:
“Myth: Infidelity is planned.
Truth: Many are surprised they’re capable of cheating. It’s often an unexpected urge driven by circumstance and emotions.”
Whether the reader agrees with these myths or not, the truth is that not every story of infidelity is made equal. In 19 Myths About Cheating, Myers offers a myriad of possibilities behind the choice to stray from a marriage that are unrelated to lack of love or even desire for a spouse. That and Myers excellent story-telling skills, make the story not only distinctive but also a challenge for preconceived notions about why infidelity happens in the first place.