Anne Taylor Fleming's new book, Marriage: A Duet, exposes the painful causes and results of marital affairs that occur despite bonds of love between spouses. In separate novellas, the layers of two respectable suburban marriages are carefully peeled back to reveal flaws that eventually lead to infidelity.
A nationally recognized journalist and regular contributor to The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and CNN NewsNight, Taylor Fleming offered a frank account of her own attempts to conceive a child in Motherhood Deferred (1995). Now, in her first work of fiction, she successfully ventures into the complex yet familiar realm of marital conflict. Her fictional world accurately reflects our society's troubled attitude toward marriage and the resulting 50 percent divorce rate. In a straightforward and flowing style, Taylor Fleming follows the experiences of her main characters as they evolve past their status as wronged spouses. "A Married Woman" explores the complex feelings experienced by Caroline while she keeps watch on her husband's deathbed. Images of her husband's affair several years before swirl in her mind, along with two decades of pleasant memories they shared before the marriage started to fray. To the confusion of her children, Caroline handles her husband's illness in her own contradictory way. In the hospital bathroom, her son catches her coloring her hair for the first time in her life. The meaning of this extraordinary action becomes evident later in the story, and more secrets about her husband's past are revealed to her after his death.
"A Married Man" traces the smoke emerging from the embers of a wife's short affair with her husband's business associate. The comfortable trappings of upper-class life are no protection from the loneliness of two people who have become distant. The couple tries to find its way back with help of a designer therapist, but the answers to their future lie more deeply within themselves. The narrative is tightly woven and leaves in question the outcome of the marriage until the very end of the story. What shines out from these particular stories of marriages tainted by affairs are beams of hope and remnants of love and companionship between husband and wife. Taylor Fleming paints a holistic picture of each marriage, of which infidelity is one small yet significant brush stroke. Alison Burke is a freelance writer in Annapolis, Maryland.