When your lover suddenly dies, how do you mourn? Let me rephrase that: when your married lover suddenly dies, how do you mourn?
Jeff and Claire have a marriage that neither of them anticipated. She previously dated his older brother, and Jeff himself had to end a relationship to start dating her. Yet they love each other and their son Seth. If in the back of Jeff’s mind he’s always wondered if Claire settled for him when she couldn’t have his brother, he keeps it there, shoved as far back as possible. And if Claire doesn’t occasionally wonder, she keeps those occasions infrequent.
Jeff begins a relationship with Tish, a woman he meets through work. Theirs is a largely emotional affair, if for no other reason than they are 500 miles apart. Those emotions, though, are strong and fierce, and Jeff is drawn mightily to Tish.
So is he going to leave Claire?
Before any of that can be clarified, Jeff gets killed. And now Tish is in the position of being the hidden lover who has to find a way to mourn her loss. So she hops a plane and heads to Jeff’s funeral.
I was hooked on this book from its opening lines and could not put it down. McKenzie doesn’t ask us to choose sides; in fact, she writes in such a way that you side with all three people. Claire makes her share of mistakes in her marriage, and although that does not excuse Jeff’s infidelity, we can see why he’s attracted to Tish. As the Other Woman, Tish is perhaps the least sympathetic; she is in a state in her life where she needs something to change. Unfortunately, that change comes in the form of a man who is not her husband. The apparent rationale for Tish’s straying is her unhappiness, but it doesn’t work well. It seems false.
Nonetheless, this is a page-turner of a book. Will Claire find out about Jeff and Tish? Was Jeff planning on leaving his wife? Can Tish find a way to survive Jeff’s death?
The story is told from the perspectives of all three, and you can almost feel their thoughts and emotions yourself. Jeff fascinated me, and I empathized with him. I wasn’t happy that he sought solace with Tish, even if it was through emails and text messages, nor did I necessarily agree with his rationalization that he had some sort of payback due him. But I could see how he would think that, which made his story quite poignant.
Claire is a bit brittle and at times unlikable. She’s selfish to a degree, sometimes more focused on her own losses to notice how they affect her husband. Still, though, does she deserve for Jeff to emotionally attach himself to someone else?
You will find yourself wondering what you would have done. Tish has some difficult decisions to make in the wake of Jeff’s death. Does she do what you would do? You also will find yourself wondering what is more hurtful and destructive: physical infidelity or emotional?
Be prepared to inhale this book, start to finish. It’s good.