In Fidelity was an intriguing and powerful reading experience which somehow managed to touch me deeply. I have difficulty analyzing what exactly had the most effect, even though I could not put the book down the whole night through. It’s a compelling tale about human emotions and the possibility or impossibility of change.
The narrator, Jordan Sloan, is a psychotherapist who attempts to help her patients change their lives. But the problems of one of her patients force her to re-evaluate her own life. The patient, Adrienne, is obsessed with sex, and Jordan’s celibate existence stands out in striking contrast. Jordan has been separated from her husband Robert after she found out he had been unfaithful to her. They still live in the same house, on different floors, to make things as easy as possible for their teenage daughter Lilly, who hasn’t yet accepted the finality of their separation.
Psychotherapists need to be emotionally perceptive, but Jordan realizes that in her personal life she’s been shuttered against emotions, unable to change, to move on and to love again. She contacts a lawyer called Laurie Gold (!) to finalize the divorce, but Laurie unsettles her by hinting that she may not want to divorce Robert after all. There are some indications that Robert might be willing to patch things up, but Jordan isn’t sure if she can ever trust him again after his betrayal.
Understanding Lilly has also been problematic for Jordan lately. She is growing up too fast for Jordan’s liking: Jordan can’t accept the fact that her sweet little daughter is awakening sexually. Lilly has also developed a fascination with Zen philosophy and her instructional ardor to enlighten Jordan irritates her.
There are more sinister things afoot as well. Jordan’s father was murdered years ago and her testimony was crucial in the conviction of the killer, Dan Mallory. She bears an irrational guilt about the crime because Mallory was once her boyfriend. Mallory sent her subtly threatening letters from the prison and now that he’s been released she’s afraid he’s coming after her to get his revenge. Everyone attempts to calm her, telling her she’s paranoid and that Dan Mallory may have been reformed, but she keeps seeing strange men lurking in the shadows and her worries can’t be allayed.
I could predict almost every plot twist long before it came. If I hadn’t liked the book so much I would leave it at that. But since I couldn’t put the book down I had to wonder why the predictability didn’t bother me. The reason I came up with was the book’s excellent foreshadowing. Sometimes I could almost hear the ominous background music, as in an old black-and-white Hitchcock movie, where much of the suspense came from anticipating the disaster. Occasionally I wondered why Jordan didn’t realize the obvious but it was usually explained either by denial or her preoccupation with her other worries.
In Fidelity gave rise to many thoughts and feelings that lingered with me long after closing the book. The prose is almost lyrical at places and there are some clever, aphoristic observations about human nature. The ending is a bit ambiguous as happiness sometimes consists more of giving it a chance today than the certainty of ever after. M. J. Rose acknowledges that people are fallible and that unpleasant things like infidelity sometimes happen to nice people, but she tends towards optimism about their chances of changing.