Will Byrnes's Reviews > Indiscretion

Indiscretion by Charles Dubow
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it was amazing
bookshelves: books-of-the-year-2013

Charles Dubow has been there and done that, spending his summers at the family’s place in the Hamptons, counting among his ancestors a US Vice President and the founder of BF Goodrich. He knows the tones of old money, and, as a founding editor of Forbes.com, and later editor at Businessweek, he knows firsthand about the riche, both ancien and nouveau. So it is no wonder that when he turned his talents to fiction he would write of what he knows. It is also clear that he knows about much more than just the world of business.

The echoes of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, resonate loudly in Dubow’s first novel, Indiscretion. This story of need, love and betrayal takes place, primarily, on Long Island, the Hamptons. No Eggs are identified, but it is clear there are older, wealthier settlements, and others inhabited by the nouveau gauche. Claire lights up whatever space she occupies. She is a young and ambitious, living modestly in the city, but a guest at the not-so-modest home of an overpaid acquirer of cash, things and people. Keep your ears perked and you might hear Clive’s Cambridge accent waver with the dropping of a few aitches and other crimes of inauthenticity when the going gets tough. He hangs great paintings in his flashy home for how they work with the décor.

Madeleine Winslow rises from the older Hamptons world like a Venus, statuesque, athletic, bright, and gorgeous. And she cooks too. The perfect woman, and, of course, rich. Maddy is married to award winning author, Harry Winslow. At Yale he was a hockey hunk with a brain, not particularly rich. They are the perfect couple. Harry has always had the same golden aura that surrounded Gatsby. While recently famous and successful with his book (paralleling Jay’s success), he married into wealth before generating his own, as he and Maddy fell in love at Yale. But this golden boy got to marry the object of his affection. Walter Gervais has spent a huge part of his life here. He still lives in the grand home in which he was raised, by servants, next door to Maddy. He spent a lifetime in love with his own girl next door, only to see her plunge head over heels for the deitific Harry. Walter must get by with the unsatisfying leftover of platonic friendship. If one aspires to perfection everything else seems so disappointing. It is Walter who, with his ennui, guides us through this tale. He carries the unmistakable sound of Nick Carraway with him.

But Gatsby is not the only sound echoing down the sands. Claire does not take long to set her sights on Harry, a step up in her climb. And here we detect the tones of Eve Harrington. Is Claire another Gertrude Slojinski? Is Walter another Addison DeWitt? Part of the fun here is to see if Claire is Eve Harrington. I am not telling, but she does come to the Hamptons for a gold-plated weekend with Clive and it does not take long before she sees a bit more glitter in Harry. A straight up comparison to All About Eve soon fails, though. Maddy is no Margo Channing although Claire does attempt to absorb all she can from her. Walter shows some cynical traits, a la Addison, (the irony is that he thinks I’ve been a friend to him. Like an aging matinee idol, whenever he hears applause, he always thinks it is for him.) but seems, ultimately, cut from a cleaner cloth.

That is one of the things about Indiscretion. It makes you think about other great works, but does not stoop to copying. It is definitely its own story, however many atmospheric elements it may use to enhance its world. Debow has breathed life into all of his main characters. You will care what happens to them. And you will find yourself ripping through this book to see where it goes and what happens to them.

Sleep will be lost by many who stay up a little late, then a bit later, still not wanting to put off until morning finding out what happens. No murders, no national crises, only a few shades of gray, and a fair bit of sturdy core make Indiscretion far, far more than a summer fling of a book. It is about human longing, and our lemming-like urge toward tragedy.
What is enough?...There is an innate greediness that is part of the human condition. It drove Eve to eat the apple; it impelled Bonaparte to invade Russia and caused Scott to die in the frozen wastes of the Antarctic. We have different names for it. What is curiosity other than greed for experience, for recognition, for glory? For activity to distract ourselves from ourselves? We hate the idea that we have come as far as we are going to go. And we are not content with what we have or how far we have come. We want more, whether it is food, knowledge, respect, power, or love. And that lack of contentment pushes us to try new things, to brave the unknown, to alter our lives and risk losing everything we already had.
Walter suffers from his unrequited romantic love for Maddy. Claire pines for a higher rung on the social ladder, although there is more to her than her hunger. And Harry, a golden boy, with a fabulous wife, plenty of resources, great looks, talent and prospects, finds that there is something more that he wants. He is boosted by young Claire being attracted to him, as his love life at home has gone a bit soft and he is suffering pangs of insecurity re his career. Maddy, possessor of great physical beauty and more than enough wealth, wedded to a celebrated writer, wants, above all, to be loved for herself.

It is worth noting that the name Madeleine means magnificent, and she is certainly portrayed so here, at least to outward appearance. The name Claire means clarity, and the character certainly seems pretty clear on what she wants. Perhaps it is ironic how her clarity results in such confusion for those she affects. The name Walter is associated with war, and this is reflected in his occasional strategizing and most obviously in the décor of his city apartment
I love this room. Books, mostly histories and biographies, line the Chinese red walls. Military prints. On the shelves are miniature painted model soldiers. Mamelukes, hussars. One of my hobbies. I am especially fond of Napoleon’s Grande Armee. A sword that had reputedly belonged to Murat, and for which I paid a small fortune, hangs over the mantel.
In fact the description of various living spaces informs us well about the people who inhabit them. The name Harry means heroic leader, but I saw little of that here. Not a person of great economic means, he spent his college summers working and joined the military after college. Honorable, definitely, but not necessarily heroic.

Ok, so we are clear, I loved this book. Now time to pick a few nits. Debow throws us some literary red herrings. He opens the book with a monologue about how we alter the past when we remember it, but I found little in the book that put that notion to work. I kept wondering when recollections would be found to have been false, but if they were there, I must be too lacking in perception to have recognized them. Maybe Walter was idolizing his childhood with Maddy into something more than it was. Probably something else. Maybe it is right out there and I just missed it. Don’t know. Walter is given some Addison DeWitt lines, and does a thing or two that would be consistent with that sort of character, but then, later, does not intervene to guide events when we are expecting him to.

Walter speaks to us in the prologue
The notion that the past is more idyllic is absurd…What we remember is our innocence, strong limbs, physical desire. Many people are shackled by their past and are unable to look ahead with any degree of confidence because then not only don’t believe in the future, they don’t really believe in themselves.

But that doesn’t prevent us from casting a roseate glow over our memories. Some memories burn brighter, whether because they meant more or because they have assumed greater importance in our minds
The characters here, it seems to me, are not so much looking backward through rose-tinted lenses, as they are trying to compensate for what they did not have as children. Does anyone here have a nice childhood to look back on? Not Claire, who was forced back to France for unwanted stays with an unfriendly grandmother. After her father remarried and all but abandoned her she “learned that love did not give itself freely. That if she wanted it, it had to be taken.” Not Walter who was raised in large measure by servants. Not Madeleine who pines for the love she did not receive as a child, having had a father who left strap welts on the backs of her legs. Harry had the sanest upbringing of them all. His father was a prep school instructor and he was a faculty brat, spending his youth “living on borrowed privilege.” But Walter, of them all, is the one most shackled to his youthful fantasies, the one who seems to be the most in denial.

Indiscretion is a remarkable first novel, not what one would expect from a guy whose published writing has been business reportage. Clearly there was undiscovered value in his holdings and we now can all benefit. Spend the time; make the investment. Reading Indiscretion will pay serious dividends.

Pub Date – October 3, 2012

Review – July 2012 – updated 5/8/15

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s Twitter and FB pages

Feb 6, 2013 - Indiscretion was named to Oprah's list of 16 must reads for February 2013

It was also named as one of the top Indie Next reads for Feb 2013

And got noticed in USA Today as well


-----Interview Magazine


The Land of Lost Content
by Alfred Edward Housman

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.
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Reading Progress

July 2, 2012 – Started Reading
July 2, 2012 – Shelved
July 4, 2012 – Shelved as: books-of-the-year-2013
July 4, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-26 of 26 (26 new)

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message 1: by Steve (new)

Steve Sounds like this one is worthy of the extensive thoughts you've shared. Well done, Old Sport!

Oh, and I'm filing "nouveau gauche" away into long-term memory.

Dora My husband picked this up at ALA for me. Thanks for the great review, looking forward to reading it.

Will Byrnes Thanks Steve. It always makes me happy when my little toys wander out into the world. And yes, this IS a good one.

Thanks Dora. Congrats on getting this one so early. It is not due out until February!

Dora :) My husband works for ALA so I get all the goodies :) Best job perk ever!!

switterbug (Betsey) Yum, this looks like a gem. Your review made my hair stand up from the tingles! (and that's hard, I have very very long hair!) I can tell it is THAT kind of book.

Will Byrnes Thanks, Bug. (I know who I am not going to stand next to during a lightning storm) I inhaled this book, which is unusual, and I actually re-read it in order to write the review. Pretty good stuff.

message 7: by Jill (new) - added it

Jill Wow Will! You did it again. My TBR shelf is CREAKING and now I MUST add one more. Sounds fabulous.

switterbug (Betsey) I know, right?

Will Byrnes 'Tis. Thanks Jill.

message 10: by Jill (new) - added it

Jill OK, well, Betsey and I both nabbed a copy through AbeBooks. Time for a bigger house...LOL!

Jeffrey Keeten SOLD!! You had me at Gatsby.

switterbug (Betsey) Yup. Hey, Will, Jill and I just snagged ARCs from Abe books! You really are making my life expensive...

message 13: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes In a good cause, Bug

message 14: by Kris (new) - added it

Kris Great review, Will -- you are once again partially responsible for the continued growth of my to-read shelf. :)

message 15: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks Kris

message 16: by Michael (new) - added it

Michael Very satisfying to read your review and recognize you have pioneered yet another book for me. You're getting a good batting average of 5 star books this year.

message 17: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes I have been blessed to have them cross my eyes. I am merely a conduit.

message 18: by Michael (new) - added it

Michael Will wrote: "I have been blessed to have them cross my eyes. I am merely a conduit."
The medium is your massage?
I have to suspect your thrills with this one comes from wallowing in the lifestyles of the rich and famous. You would love to join the powerful in their Long Island retreat from the Big Apple where you eke out your quotidian workingman's existence. Such a pleasure to learn their lives can be just as miserable and that money can't buy their happiness. ;-)

message 19: by Suzanne (new)

Suzanne How in the world do you read so fast with your eyes crossed?

message 20: by Will (last edited Feb 07, 2013 01:25PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes How in the world do you read so fast with your eyes crossed?
See my Golem/Jinni review

How in the world do you read so fast with your eyes crossed?
Why, reading the left page with my right eye and the right page with my left, of course.

money can't buy their happiness
They keep saying that, but I would like to test the premise for myself

The medium is your massage
It would be lovely to get a massage from a good medium, but it might be more deep muscled if one could marshall an extra-large

message 21: by Suzanne (new)

Suzanne Oh, no, I've been doing it all wrong! Your way sounds more efficient,reading 2 pages at once.

message 22: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes :-)

Carol You're the best Will.

message 24: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Carol. This is a really good read.

message 25: by Supratim (new) - added it

Supratim Great review, Will !

message 26: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Supratim

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