cover image Geography of an Adultery

Geography of an Adultery

Agnes Riva, trans. from the French by John Cullen. Other Press, $14.99 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-59051-110-7

Riva follows the emotional ups and downs of an affair in this intriguingly oblique debut. Ema and Paul begin an affair after meeting at the French labor court where they work; she’s a part-time counselor, he’s a full-time elected official. Both are married with children, and their assignations are restricted to rare moments. Riva focuses the narrative on descriptions of the confined locations they steal away to, such as Paul’s car, a corner of Ema’s kitchen out of sight of the windows, or a chapel on the outskirts of their unnamed town. Ema grows anxious during the long periods when Paul, who turns out to be a serial philanderer, does not contact her, and she unexpectedly shows up at his house. When Ema’s action does not reorient the power dynamic the way she’d hoped it would, she persists, swept away by her emotions (“her faith in love is her version of spirituality”). The events of the affair take a back seat to precise descriptions of the characters’ quotidian and transitory surroundings, such as stained glass windows and hotel floor tiles; the drama resides in Ema’s evolving feelings, which Riva keenly renders. It adds up to a beguiling portrayal of desire. (Jan.)