Peter and Georgie are two Americans living in the New Jersey suburbs after three sons born in quick succession forced them out of their brownstone in New York City. Georgie, a former actress, feels herself withering away as she cares for three boys under the age of five: Fergus, the oldest, and twins Jack and Liam. Peter has made sacrifices himself, forgoing a career as a "real" writer to take a position as an economic journalist. He feels, however, as though the sacrifices he has made were worth it all in the end, as they resulted in stability for his little family of five. Georgie, on the other hand -- not so much.
The family moves to London for a brief period of time when Peter gets a job covering the European side of things for his newspaper. The move initially revitalizes their marriage, and the family quickly settles in: Peter in his new job, the boys in their new school, and Georgie in her first theater part since she became a mother.
Woodruff expertly blends historical fact with the fictional world she has created, through the great British theater actress Dora Jordan. She is the controversial stage madam who Georgie has been chosen to play, in a one-woman show titled Shakespeare's Woman. Jordan was the real-life mistress of King William IV (back when he was a Duke, rather than King), and her descendants went on to become distinguished citizens of England. In fact, current Prime Minister David Cameron is a direct descendant of hers. As Georgie increasingly finds herself drawn into the character she portrays on the stage, she also finds herself leaving her maternal and wifely instincts far behind.
My Wife's Affair was far from an easy read. Woodruff writes her characters and their story with ease, but the subject matter is dark. The effect of infidelity on a marriage and family is laid out with extraordinary honesty. Woodruff splices Peter's narrative voice with scenes from the play, joining fiction to fiction-based-on-real-life in a decidedly creative manner. In that way, the reader sees not only Georgie's progression into a life autonomous from her family (and Peter's complete heartbreak), but also Jordan's decline following her retirement from the theater.
Woodruff's masters Peter's voice in the novel. A smattering of quotes, so that you can see for yourself:
- On their journey into parenthood: "Pity me for not recognizing that the path of compromise was more easily traveled by one of us than the other" (14).
- On Georgie and New York City: "She belonged to the city; like the old man on the mountain, that was her place in the world, and we should have done anything we could to stay" (44).
- On Georgia's bipolar relationship with the theater: "I was worried about the down at the end of the up, the long descent when the show closed" (123).
- On infidelity: "It's not temptation alone, or chance. And it is not a moment, because it takes more than a moment to find a place to go. . . . It involves momentum, the strength of a moment sustained" (155).