Friday, August 22, 2008

Cheater, Cheater?

By Malena Lott
John Edwards actually did a nice set-up for my blog entry today. Convincing the country that no matter how cute your face, eloquent your speech, big your bank account, happy you seem to be in your marriage to your smart wife, you can still screw things up for yourself - literally. Marital infidelity may well be the best example of sin immune to race, age or income bracket.

You see, in my November novel Dating da Vinci, my protagonist Ramona believes her late husband may have been unfaithful before he died – with his ex fiancĂ©e who broke his heart just before he hooked up with Ramona. That he may not have been completely “over” her. It doesn’t help that Monica is a gorgeous, powerful attorney.

Ramona decides she can’t completely move on until she knows the truth about Joel and Monica: why their engagement was broken off and if Joel cheated, since he was the architect on the new law firm where Monica was a partner and was spending a lot of time with her.

To make matters worse, Ramona stumbles on some research while finishing her dissertation on the language of love that says humans are actually not biologically built for fidelity. Only one mammal mates for life: the vole, a type of rodent. So that rat is monogamous and our men are rats? Nice.

So in the end, fidelity is a choice – which makes it even sweeter if a man or woman doesn’t give in to temptation and stray. It also explains why so many novels, magazine articles, self-help books and movies and songs cover the topic. Right now the biggest star from Oklahoma, Carrie Underwood, did pretty darn well for herself singing about it in, “Before He Cheats.” At least we like the idea of her taking a bat to the scumbag’s car a lot better than the common 1950s response – turning our pretty little coiffed heads in denial.

Some agents and editors get tired of infidelity in stories because it’s been done and done and done. But social mores are dealt with differently from culture to culture, from decade to decade, from person to person. So psychologically speaking, the same topic could be dealt with in hundreds of unique ways, producing unique story lines. Case in point: I just read (and loved) My Husband’s Sweethearts, by Bridget Asher, about a woman who meets her husband’s former mistresses and “sweethearts” while he’s on his deathbed. It’s a great story with a unique premise, and, to boot, Julia Roberts is set to star in the movie on the big screen.

And the way I did it – dealing with infidelity after the cheater-in-question is already deceased. Ultimately we want to know – what were the depths of our love, the level of commitment? And in books, we can solve a piece of that puzzle.

What books or movies have included the topic of infidelity that you especially (I hate to say it) enjoyed?


  1. I think the book I read that fits this scenario was The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber. I'm not sure I enjoyed it, more a question of horrified fascination, but his descriptions of Victorian England were stunning.

    I can imagine a woman in your heroine's situation wanting to know. Very thought provoking

  2. Very thought-provoking post, Malena!

    Yes, fidelity IS a choice, which is what makes it so rare and valuable! And obviously a very difficult choice for many people in the public eye. :-(

    Michele's answer about Victorian England reminded me of a book with both fidelity and other thorny issues at its basis, Silent in the Grave which recently won a Rita. I HIGHLY recommend this book! It is dense and richly textured with all kinds of subtle nuances about Victorian society and of course, the obvious parallels to ours.


  3. After experiencing an laptop meltdown this AM that nearly took the MS that's due next week down with it, I am drawing a blank on a book or movie, but this is a great subject, Malena.

    I don't usually sit in judgment of people who do stupid things, but I'm mad with John Edwards. I think his problem is going to be that his wife is WAY more popular than he is, and people won't forgive him the way they did Bill Clinton. Pathetic!

  4. Gals, thanks for your comments. Marie, I'm right with ya about John Edwards. Even though I kinda EXPECT politicians to screw up, but after all the heart-wrenching stuff about their son dying and then having the twins when she was a very mature age and then the cancer, it's sad their "story" had to have this unfortunate chapter in it. As soon as I heard the news I texted my h.s. b/f who has had a crush on JE for 2 years and she said she was crushed because you liked him even more that he was with an older woman who had a "real" body type and they still seemed in love after so many years together. Ugh.

  5. I think of infidelity in the same light as most other crimes and misdemeanors: it's awful when it happens, but it's awfully fun to read about. I actually read a romance novel once called "A World of Difference" in which the romantic hero, I kid you not, cheats on the romantic heroine, right within the plot of the book. While it definitely skated outside the lines of romance writing, I thought the author did a fair job of explaining how it happened and how it could then be resolved, at least to her characters.

  6. Melena~

    Great post. I can't think of a title off the top of my head, but I wrote a book a while back where the hero cheats on the heroine. They were both very young and the book picks up six years later. It worked, but it was really difficult. I think the reason why it worked is that when he cheated, both he and the heroine were immature as was their relationship. Years later, when they were thrown together again, they'd both grown up and neither had really gotten over their first love.

    Robin :)

  7. I have hesitated to respond, Malena, because this is a subject that I simply find deplorable. I honestly can't think of a single movie or book where 'cheating' in the fully negative, scoundrel sense has been done well. I suppose Diana Gabaldon's original novel comes to mind. I like how she handled Claire's own guilt over falling in love with Jamie, even though she apparently was stuck some 200 years in the past! But, in contemporary movies, or with cases like Edwards, it just makes me sick. I am afraid I don't think I could ever write a character who did it, unless it was like Robin did where they ended up redeeming themselves in some way. Interesting food for thought.

  8. I was addicted to ER for many years. The cheating, womanizing Doug Ross was one of my favorite characters. Becuase the focus of the show was medical drama, the audience could see his cheating in the context of a man who was a very good doctor, tenderly caring for his tiny patients.

    The audience could also see a man who was no where near grown up, who rarely considered the consequences of his actions for OTHER people. It was possible to have sympathy for Doug, but one had very little respect for him.

    To me, that's the kernel of the problem with cheating, particularly for political figures and romance writers. (Who knew we had something in common? VBG) No matter how excellant the person might be in other ways, it is hard to ever respect them again.