The Great Treading Water Debate
It happens every time I do any sort of promotion for Treading Water, the inevitable one-star reviews about my “cheating” hero. These comments always take me back more than ten years now, to writing that book and the dilemma I faced on behalf of my character, Jack. His wife is in a coma after a mysterious accident. He is told by doctors that she will never recover. He does everything he can think of to change the outcome, consulting specialists and refusing to accept the reality of her situation for nearly a year. And when it finally sinks in with him that the doctors were right and there is nothing that can be done, he hits the depths of despair.
He’s only just emerging from that dark time when he meets Andi, the interior designer who is in town from Chicago to work on the hotel that Jack’s company is building in Newport, RI. Jack is not looking to replace his wife. He is certainly not looking for love. He’s got all he can handle to manage his three daughters and his business. The last thing on his mind is a new relationship.
When writing Treading Water, I wanted to accomplish two things—I wanted to push Jack outside the comfort zone of his easy, happy-go-lucky life by placing this enormous challenge in his path. And I wanted him to be conflicted about how to handle a new relationship in the midst of the ongoing tragedy of his wife’s condition.
I had two very distinct paths I could take with him. He could divorce Clare to be with Andi. Or, Jack could be with Andi without divorcing Clare. To me, there was only ONE path Jack could take and still come out of it “heroically.” And that was to remain married to Clare. In fact, it never occurs to him that he should divorce her. But let’s face it, that was an option available to him after he meets Andi.
I thought at the time, and I continue to believe today, that no one would’ve loved Jack if he divorced his wife of twenty years while she was in a coma. No decent man would ever do such a thing, no matter what he might want for himself. Not to mention, he had three daughters who wouldn’t understand why their father was divorcing their sick mother. I never seriously considered divorce as an option for him.
Reminder—he is forty-three years old, and the doctors have told him his wife will never recover. She has been in a coma for more than a year when he meets Andi, quite by chance. He is not looking for her, but he finds her anyway. Most of the people in his life, including Clare’s mother, are urging him to get back to living after sitting by Clare’s bedside for the better part of a year.
So these are the reasons he stayed married, and now I have to contend with the readers who consider him a cheater because he moved on with someone else while his wife was in a coma.
I’ve had this debate with so many readers over the years, and my argument is always the same. We all THINK we know what we’d do in any situation—until we find ourselves in it. Nothing is quite as black and white as it seems on the surface after life throws you a curve ball you never saw coming. Most of our lives are actually lived in the gray area, in which right and wrong isn’t as clear cut as we’d like it to be, and the truth is, no one knows what they’d really do in any given situation until they are IN IT.
One of the things I love best about Treading Water is how, in his forties, Jack thinks he knows himself so well until his life is upended, forcing him to reexamine his beliefs. Everything he knew to be true is now open for debate, and he comes out on the other side profoundly changed by the experience.
How funny is it that the first book I every wrote is by far the most controversial? It has the most one-star reviews from people who couldn’t get past Jack “cheating” on his wife. Emotions run high when the topic of infidelity is introduced in this context, and that’s why Treading Water makes for such a fun book club book. Everyone has an opinion!
Mine has always been that Jack did the best he could for his wife, his daughters and himself in an unimaginable situation. He made sure Clare had the best of everything, including round-the-clock private-duty nurses who cared for her. He visited her regularly. He made sure his daughters visited her regularly. He stepped up for his kids in a way that he never had before when Clare managed their home life while he ran his business. And when he meets someone who makes him feel better for the first time in more than a year, he is powerless to resist the comfort she offers.
What do you think? Is Jack a hero or a demon for allowing himself to fall in love with someone else while remaining married to his incapacitated wife? What do you think about the gray area that falls between right and wrong? I’m very interested in your thoughts, but I will delete anything that ventures into the area of rancor. Most of you know I love Jack enough to have named my business after him—HTJB, Inc. House That Jack Built. It all came from him, my first character, who gave me the greatest dilemma of my career in my first book.
Look forward to hearing your thoughts!
If you haven’t read Treading Water yet, it’s currently free on all the major ebook sites. Download your copy here: