Category Archives: Kennedy Douglas

Temptation: Douglas Kennedy

When Douglas Kennedy’s novel Temptation opens, David Armitage is a struggling screen-writer. He’s had marginal success but doggedly hangs in there–all this made possible by his wife Lucy. She was an actress who landed a role in a sit-com pilot, and the role caused the couple to relocate from New York to LA. The sit-com never materalised. Lucy made a few commercials here and there, but finally with no money in the bank and bills to be paid, Lucy turned to telemarketing while David holds marginal hours at a book shop. They have a child, but things aren’t great:

But as the years accelerated–and we both started to cruise into our late thirties–we began to regard each other as our respective jailers.

But then David gets a call from his agent, Alison; someone is interested in David’s script. From here, things for David change rapidly. One success sails in on the heels of another. Soon there are new cars, a new house, new furniture, and then Lucy realises that soon there will be a new wife. …

Temptation arrives in form of Sally Birmingham, a “young executive” at Fox television. They meet for a business lunch and the speed at which David betrays and ditches Lucy is staggering. Next comes the bitter divorce, and soon Sally and David are the hottest couple in Hollywood. It’s clear that ambitious Sally sees David as career arm candy, so naturally his relationship with Sally hinges on his success–not that David, too caught up in his ballooning celebrity, understands that.

Dickhead David never shoulders the moral weight of his bad behaviour, and as his success continues, we know that Karma awaits…

It all unravels so beautifully beginning with a sleazy, big mouth broker named Roberto Barra, ‘Bobby’ who promises 100% return on investments within 6 months. Bobby’s aggressive, demeaning treatment of women is appalling, and yet at no point does David stop and think about Bobby’s moral behaviour and how perhaps Bobby’s ill-advised and disgusting attitude towards women may signal judgement issues. The red lights are flashing, but David is blind.

Hmmm. All I could think of was Thackeray’s Samuel Titmarsh and the Great Hoggarty Diamond.

Then reclusive billionaire, film buff Philip Fleck invites David to his private island to discuss business and it’s all downhill from there.

A number of Douglas Kennedy books have been made into films: The Woman in the Fifth, The Big Picture (amazing) , The Dead Heart (the wildly insane Welcome to Woop Woop which is one of my all-time favourite films). Temptation is a slick, highly readable written novel and with its Faustian approach to the rise and fall of David Armitage (yes, we want to see him squirm), this book screams to be adapted too. Some of the character’s names drove me nuts: Bobby Barra, Brad Bruce and Philip Fleck–but perhaps Kennedy picked these names on purpose, modeling on the picaresque novel. Kennedy is particularly adept at creating the inner moral dilemma and how the journey from ignorance to acceptance of one’s flaws is costly, painful and yet ultimately strangely liberating.

 

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Five Days by Douglas Kennedy

“But the truth is, no matter how successful or happy you may consider yourself to be there is always a part of your life that is problematic, or deficient, or a letdown in some way.”

The blurb on the back cover of Five Days includes this:

Douglas Kennedy’s powerful new novel poignantly examines the death of hope, the limitless possibilities of love, and how the entire trajectory of a life can change through one brief encounter.

It’s interesting that the words ‘brief encounter’ appear as this is the film I thought of when I read Douglas Kennedy’s latest book, but while I’d class the 1945 film Brief Encounter as a romance, Five Days isn’t so easily pegged. Yes, there is romance in these pages, but primarily this is a story of how one very unhappy 41-year-old woman faces her unhappiness and decides to do something to change her life. five daysLaura is a married Radiology Technician who works at a hospital in Damariscotta, Maine, and here between the hours of 9-5, she performs scans on patients sent to her as part of the diagnostic  sequence. It’s my personal belief that you can’t work in this sort of job without it impacting your thoughts about life & death, and this is certainly true of Laura who sees people who are dying of cancer on a daily basis. Not that Laura is the one that breaks the news, of course, but she is, nonetheless part of the sequence of events. She’s always been able to handle her job, but lately the job has been getting to her, and she’s internalizing the results: euphoric when nothing is found, and tearful when the scans yield positive results. Peel back a few layers of Laura’s life, and it’s easy to see that her marriage is unhappy and unsatisfying. Add two troubled teenagers to the mix. Trouble then is on the horizon when Laura heads off solo to a conference in Boston where she meets Richard Copeland, a 50-something insurance salesman who is just as unhappy as she is…..

Five Days illustrates perfectly that affairs do not occur in the real world. They exist in a bubble–a very special, fabricated place that is not hampered by everyday concerns, and the novel does an excellent job of showing how very much easier it is for Laura to communicate with a brand-new person who shares a great deal of her interests instead of trying to discuss anything with Dan, her long-term unemployed, depressed husband of over 23 years.

So far so good.

As a protagonist, Laura is an irritating, insufferable human being–nothing wrong with reading about insufferable people, of course, as they can be a lot of fun (thinking Kingsley Amis here), but when they’re supposed to garner our sympathy and our subsequent interest in the character’s journey of self-discovery, it helps if that character is sympathetic, and if this transaction doesn’t occur, then something different happens.  The alarm bells initially went off for me with Laura’s character early in the novel when she described her competency at diagnosing cancers, and the alarms were loud and clear when she reveals the “shock” and “hurt” she feels after discovering that her now-deceased mother had an ectopic pregnancy years earlier. And this sums up in a nutshell Laura’s central issue as a character for this reader.; other people’s death sentences are her tragedy; her mother’s inability to have more children is somehow a personal betrayal. Laura is self-focused and egotistical even while she’s presented as suffering from a general lack of affection from an obtuse, depressive, dull and uninspiring spouse. Listening to Laura became a bit like listening to a work acquaintance complaining about her home life even as you, the audience, silently feel a bit sorry for the poor sod at home.

Laura is a RT but has long-buried dreams of being a doctor with long slow hints of why that didn’t happen. The first person narrative goes back and forth in time, and Laura’s story of just what went wrong with those dreams is gradually revealed. She ‘settled’ for Dan, and it seems that there’s no intellectual spark between them. No matter. When she meets Richard, the sparks fly in an egoistical word-play exchange. I’m not sure that people really talk like this, and if I’m wrong and then they do, they are obnoxious. Here’s Laura and Richard discovering their mutual love of synonyms

“He initially had a business partner–Jack Jones. A fellow Marine. Unlike my father, Jack actually liked people. Don’t know what he was doing in business with my father, as Jack was a genuinely happy-go-lucky guy and Dad was kind of dyspeptic about life.”

“I like that word: dyspeptic.”

” ‘Bilious’ would also be a good descriptive word as well. ‘Liverish’ might also fit the bill.”

“How about ‘disputative’?”

“A little too legal, I think. Dad was a misanthrope, but never litigious.”

I looked at him with a new interest. “You like words,” I said.

“You’re looking at the Kennebac County Spelling Bee champion of 1974, which is kind of Middle Ages now, right? But once you get hooked on words you don’t really ever lose the habit.”

This sort of thing goes on for a while–a sort of word-one-upmanship, and the mental/sexual sparks flying through the air which each new posturing.

“Okay, I give you that. How about ‘abrogatory’?”

“Now you’re getting too fancy. ‘Approbative.’ “

“That’s not fancy? Sounds downright florid to me.”

“Florid isn’t ‘aureate.’  “

“Or ‘Churrigueresque’? he asked.

Five Days certainly has its merits; it is a page turner and at its best when conveying the unreality of an affair when compared to the ever-present tensions of home and responsibility. Life can throw a lot of unexpected disasters at anyone, but two middle-aged people discussing their disappointments, loneliness, unfulfilled dreams of literary fame, and past glory of long-gone college days has never been exactly an up experience. Here it’s an angst-filled odyssey into some depressing territory. I’ve been meaning to read a Douglas Kennedy novel for some time as I have seen a few films based on his books: The Woman on the Fifth (disliked it), Welcome to Woop Woop (one of my favourite cult films), The Big Picture (excellent). Perhaps Five Days was the wrong place to start, and I may very well be the wrong reader for the book as my sob-o-meter isn’t exactly a sensitive instrument. So, if any Kennedy readers out there would like to recommend one of his titles, I’ll give it a go.

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