Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on The Affairs of Others.
Loyd’s debut novel is a studied exploration into the past and present and the notions of love, death and regret. Celia Cassill is in her middle thirties, not unattractive but neither truly quite beautiful. Her husband died a difficult death a few years previously and left her comfortably provided for in the form of an apartment building in Brooklyn. The building itself gives Celia order and imposes upon her certain barriers as she attempts to take refuge in its history.
Over the past years, Celia has grown to prefer life’s simplicities—that is until George, the gay man who lives above her, decides to move to Paris. Initially hesitant to sublet, Celia allows George’s dear friend Hope to move in. A glamorous woman in her late forties, Hope needs a safe and quiet place, but as Hope’s tears “bloom though her strange eyes,” Celia finds herself caught in a vice that once again reminds her of “what it is to be contained.” Within a week, Hope’s scent fills the building, along with a scuffing and scratching that Celia hears above her head as her own restless heart tries to find a surfeit of joy. Stunned and a little drunk, Celia is gradually seduced by the strange utterances above her, “so high and loud enough to reach me.”
Over Brooklyn’s summer months, we gradually ease closer and closer to Celia’s fraught emotional plight. Moving gracefully though her interior thoughts, from her perceptions and memories of her late husband, to her tenants—the excitable Braunsteins (a “modern couple teeming with plans”) to eighty-two year old Mr. Coughlan, a retired ferry captain who once seemed full of energy and promise, Loyd focuses on Hope. She darkly hovers over the solitary moments of Celica’s days and nights and brings a psychological complicity to Celia’s story.
This novel is about impotence, unexpected violence and the dynamics of personal power, but also about how we hold onto our ghosts and onto each other. The book is unapologetically literary with a rich, imaginative use of language that gives a lovely accent to Celia’s troubled state of mind. While there is little in the way of conventional suspense to keep one turning the pages, Loyd’s vigorous stream-of-consciousness style demands that we keep reading as everything descends into decrepitude and depravity—way nastier and more perverse than anything we could have been prepared for.
Amid Celia’s fragmented sleep patterns, the activities of the “woman upstairs” become evermore perverse, giving the story its characteristic disturbing opacity and creating the scene for what is to come. When Celia begins to pry, the counterintuitive power dynamics are established at once: Celia, the nominal landlady, is lonely and vulnerable, emotionally wrought, blunted and cushioned from too much Klonopin, while the supposedly vulnerable Hope towers above her with the hauteur of an elegant vampire. Celia supposes she will always be the one who will be caring, yet over the course of Hope’s stay and the promise of something new, Celia finds herself giving way to Hope’s harm and to her own “unknown appetites.”
As Hope plays out a game of manipulative seduction (as does her abusive boyfriend, Les) Loyd describes Hope’s “love, loss and loneliness” in shimmering prose. Especially critical is the extended moment at the end of the novel when Hope walks Celia to the garden of her old house where they each have epiphanies. In this moment, Loyd enables us to see these apparently opposite, lost women as kindred spirits, in a place where they can finally make the choices that will enable them to find happiness.