The Girl on the Train
Rachel’s voyeuristic longing for the suburban life she glimpses from the window of her commuter train brings to mind Noah and Alison’s first snatches of each other’s seemingly idyllic lives: he as a father to a large brood, she working odd jobs in summery Montauk. Hawkins’ Rachel is an unreliable narrator of the most gripping sort: the only one who can speak to a young woman’s disappearance, yet her alcoholism and closeness to the case makes her a suspicious figure. The multiple perspectives of the three women—Rachel, the stranger she idolizes, and her ex’s new wife—bring texture to a chilling mystery.
Frank and April Wheeler seem to have it all—steady income, two kids, house in the suburbs—yet they’re still waiting for that greatness they’re sure is right around the corner. While Yates’ portrait is more about a marriage being ground into nothing beneath the conformity of the 1950s, it should still be required reading for Noah and Allie–the dangerous seduction of believing you’re owed some good fortune, and the very mundane ways in which we self-sabotage.
While the death of a socialite propels the plot of Mills’ mystery set on Long Island’s coast, what’s equally fascinating is the generations of fishermen who catch her body in their nets. “Amagansett” uses local myths (some dating back to the Montaukett Native American populations) to examine the working-class generations and the upheaval when wealthy vacationers—and some sport fishermen—began to intrude on their home.
Through Noah’s lens (and those damning pages in “Descent”), Alison is transformed into something of the “cool girl”: seducing him in her outdoor shower, skinny-dipping, throwing both their marriages into the ocean with a throaty laugh. But when Noah and Allie get past the heady affair and begin to know each other as real people…Well, it makes Nick and Amy Dunne a lot more sympathetic, doesn’t it?
Everything I Never Told You
Dysfunctional families are at the heart of “The Affair,” from the Lockharts’ believed “curse” to the framework that made Noah both a wonderful and shitty father. Ng’s novel charts the slow, quiet destruction of a family from within, based on the secrets each possesses. These unspoken truths become so much a part of their bloodline, yet they never get articulated, setting into motion a domino effect that’s devastating for how unavoidable it is.
Wars both global and personal, sex, jealousy, violence, fear, and guilt intertwine in McEwan’s modern classic about how we can damn one another with words. There’s nothing wrong with reckless writing, so long as it stays on the page–but once it begins shaping the lives of real people (as with Briony’s accusation and Noah’s novel), one must consider the author as dangerous as the words themselves.
Showtime’s riveting drama The Affair is more like a novel than a television series: each episode unfolds like a chapter, complete with unreliable narrators. In season 1, it was the eponymous cheaters Noah Solloway and Alison Bailey; season 2 also tapped into the contradicting narratives of their respective spouses. While no one book in this list will embody all of the show’s influences, these titles touch upon love, sex, and affairs; the tension between locals and vacationers on Long Island; scandals in the publishing world and the power of words; and, of course, lots of murder.
Featured Image Courtesy of Showtime