The View from Here: book review

The View from Here, by Deborah McKinlay. Publisher: Soho Press (February 1, 2011). Literary Fiction. Hardcover, 272 pages.

Told in an cozy manner, as if sharing a secret with a friend, The View from Here shifts back and forth between a British woman’s twenties when she embarked on an affair with a married man in Mexico and present day, where she’s simultaneously discovered that her husband is having an affair with a co-worker and she’s been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Frances discovers an intimate letter to her husband. She feels betrayed but it also reminds her of her past where she was the other woman, who hurt others through her own, often selfish, desires. By writing about her experience in a journal, she considers past, present and the potential fall-out as she confronts her mortality.

In the writing and the precision it demands I am of course confronted with the parallels between the story that was then and the story that is mine now. It will seem strange, I suppose, that these had not already been obvious to me, but the surface characteristics of life can be very distracting. There, I was young, now I am approaching middle age. There the sky was diamond hard; here even on the hottest days it is tempered by haze. There I played lover, now my role is wife. There I propelled someone toward death, and now I am propelled toward my own.

It’s easy to indulge in Frankie’s lovely summer in Mexico where she befriends these wealthy Americans. How can one not romanticize the notion of living in a grand house on a Mexican beach with servants and the best that money can offer? When Frankie meets the Americans, she’s teaching a few students English and living in a cramped apartment. She’s 22-years-old. She’s been traveling since college. Suddenly, she’s a real-life Daisy Buchanan. Getting lots of attention and enjoying every moment. In present day, Frances needs to say good-bye to friends and her husband, whom she loves, and her step-daughter.

All of them come, all of them full of love. The house is plump with it, and with the things love brings—kindness, patience, and understanding. But what if they knew, these dear hearts? What if I told all, shone a spotlight on myself. And on Phillip? Would the fat, soft orb of goodwill disintegrate? I don’t know. But I keep writing, understanding the risks.

The View from Here does not wallow in the morality of cheating and the mores of marriage as an institution. Instead this is Frances’ story and focuses on her personal struggle to confront her own deep-seated guilt, while also cherishing some fond memories.

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