The salacious correspondence between the President and his mistress.
A heatwave serves as a catalyst for personal and physical breakdowns.
"If Lily hadn’t intervened she probably wouldn’t have seen anything. She wouldn’t have looked up from Coral Casey and her sea critter pals. She wouldn’t have glanced at the maroon Lawson Shrub Service truck speeding down the road. She wouldn’t have bit her lip at the sight of Tim Lawson in the front, his arm wrapped around a woman in the passenger seat. She wouldn’t have glimpsed the unmistakable head of her mother, hair too long for a woman her age and streaked with the fuchsia hue favored by teenage experimenters."
A diagram of gossip concerning an affair.
"He called it love, said Ellen. He said he was in love, that's the word he used when he finally admitted it. I mean you expect the I-made-a-mistake speech, said Connie, the she-came-on-to-me speech, the it-was-meaningless speech. You expect him to say that it was just the one time, knowing that it was more, but you can ignore that. You expect him to say it was protected sex and that you don't have to go to the clinic to get some sort of test for chlamydia, said Ellen. But you will, anyway, said Sonya, and make him do it too just to rub his nose in it. But no, said Grace. He tells you that he's a new person, in love for the first time ever. What do you do with that? She told Sonya that as soon as he'd said it, as soon as the words were out of his mouth, she'd felt the room swaying."
A forgotten birthday cake sets off a chain of unexpected events.
"The door to the bakery is meant to be pulled, but I push hard against it, like a bird hitting the glass. The lady behind the counter settles eyes on me, so I pull myself up as straight as I can and pull the door. On a wooden board above the register a TV is playing The Today Show. Jane Pauley and Madonna won’t shut up about Madonna’s dress like it’s gonna end the Cold War and I have to wonder if I’m the only person in the world living with trouble. Be-hind the glare of the case, I can see the Cinderella cake covered in icy blue frosting thick as a comforter. A glass carriage flies across the surface in needle-thin icing. I put my hand to the glass—forgetting the lady behind the counter—smudging it, until she clears her throat.
Misguided love sustains a groundskeeper through multiple deaths and decades.
"Murdering all those Emmetts had been especially hard on Archibald who was never adept at taking the lives of non-gazelles, however plentiful those lives might be. He grew more and more ill as the Emmetts came and dropped. He became increasingly fearful of silence and the dark, spending hundreds in oil to keep the house bathed in flickering light, a whole house drowning in amber. He’d taken to leaving tarpaulins up on the walls for when the Emmetts arrived so he could minimize his cleanup time, but as he spiraled deeper into paranoia he neglected to scrub them, and they wriggled blackly with flies. With an eye to hygiene, he had once tried strangling an Emmett, but this had proved too horrific for him to bear."
Two friends find solace in sexual escapades while struggling with their own fragile connection.
"The four of us ended up in the bathroom—Darlene and Viktor in the claw foot, me and Illia in the shower. I tried to tell my guy he had the same first name as a favourite figure skater, but language was restricted to bodies only. Still wet, the Russians left scrambling to the airport. Dar and I woke hours later, a tangled two, and walked out of my bedroom to a small balcony that overlooked a maze of alleyway garages. We recounted the day and the night before, before she left."
A woman struggles in the wake of her infidelity.
"Sherry hadn’t known anyone at the party. It was outdoors in someone’s back yard. She had a lot to drink, and pretty soon people and trees were practically indistinguishable. The boy had talked to her. Everybody at the party went to a school different from hers. She wore an ecru smock with an apple embroidered on the pocket, and was very pleased with the way her hair looked. Until the boy started talking to her, she felt exceedingly awkward. They drove to a park in her car, where the only witnesses to the uncomfortable and meaningless sex were medlars and lindens and Japanese maples."
Tensions rise when a high school teacher fails a star student-athlete.
"Word spread: Jimmy Carter, the prize of the Permian Basin, the boy who could flat-out fly, the jovial kid who never turned in work but still somehow always got Cs, was in danger of getting yanked off the team, all because some Yankee teacher had to show his moral fiber. How convenient that his son just happened to be the backup."
A new year, a test of faith for a man and his married lover.
"He was astonished, having never suspected that her husband could be brutal. He was a man of the world, of the better class, a clubman, a lover of horses, a theatergoer and an expert swordsman; he was known, talked about, appreciated everywhere, having very courteous manners, a very mediocre intellect, an absence of education and of the real culture needed in order to think like all well-bred people, and finally a respect for conventionalities."
An estranged husband recaps his odd marriage to a German woman.
"Back then, though, we weren’t sleeping together. That didn’t happen till later. In order to pretend to be my fiancée, and then my bride, Johanna had to spend time with me, getting to know me. She’s from Bavaria, Johanna is. She had herself a theory that Bavaria is the Texas of Germany. People in Bavaria are more conservative than your normal European leftist. They’re Catholic, if not exactly God-fearing. Plus, they like to wear leather jackets and such. Johanna wanted to know everything about Texas, and I was just the man to teach her. I took her to SXSW, which wasn’t the cattle call it is today. And oh my Lord if Johanna didn’t look good in a pair of bluejeans and cowboy boots."
A woman travels to Mexico at the request of her married lover/boss.
"The driver has a picture of his family on the dashboard, like the one Gustavo has on his desk at work of his two little runts, his wife, all in cowboy hats or sombreros. Meera doesn’t know the difference. In the picture, his wife comes across as a woman who likes to be in charge: big boobs, square shoulders, a sturdy ass and yet apparently confident in tight jeans. Meera doesn’t know her name, doesn’t want to know it. But in her head, when she thinks of her, her name is Gustava."
A senator and his wife deal with the aftermath of a sex scandal.
"He opened the car door and pushed his way out into the sea of shouting reporters. Batting away microphones, he made his way up the front walkway and mounted the steps to the porch. The door was locked. Steve patted his empty pockets; his keys were in his suitcase in the trunk of the car. He rang the doorbell and waited with his hands folded in front of him. Then he took out his phone and dialed Maureen. 'I’m locked out,' he said when she picked up."
The unfolding of a fling between an employee and a club owner.
"There are two more bus trips and hotel rooms. Each trip goes pretty much the same. Each morning you wake up alone and he’s at the casinos, and he never picks up his cell phone and it all makes you feel so helpless and pale and when you ride back to the city there’s never anything to say. Spring is coming, and coat check season will be over soon."
A young assistant causes strain and conflict between a writer and a painter.
"We took her with us when we went out. It was startling when a waitress at the Forest Diner mistook Evvie for our daughter. I had just turned 38 that fall, and Colin was 46. We were both on our second marriages, and had both agreed that children would get in the way of our art. Colin was old enough for a 22-year-old daughter—I certainly wasn’t. It was something like having a child, though, without the trouble of rearing one. Evvie was devoted to Colin. If she’d been more attractive, I might have felt threatened, but I didn’t. She was almost a daughter, in those early months."
Careers, relationships, infidelities, and anxiety envelop the friendship of two New York women.
"Ellen should have mentioned his kiss right at the time — the next day, or on their weekend upstate. But even thinking about it had felt disloyal, an insult to Abby’s judgment, looks, her soul. When Abby phoned, barely able to announce that Marcus had slept over, what else could Ellen say but that she was happy for her? If Ellen said something now, that, and her reasons for it, would upset Abby more than Ellen’s years of saying nothing, or Marcus’ long-ago — and always after drinking — indiscretion."
On why the Anthony Weiner story makes people more uncomfortable than simple cheating, the shifting meaning of faithfulness in marriage, and the relationship ideals espoused by Dan Savage:
In Savage Love, his weekly column, he inveighs against the American obsession with strict fidelity. In its place he proposes a sensibility that we might call American Gay Male, after that community’s tolerance for pornography, fetishes and a variety of partnered arrangements, from strict monogamy to wide openness.