In Eden's Glen, an iconic world of privilege and ease, the comfortable rituals of wealth and leisure have created an enclave almost untouched by time. But position is not easy to attain, or to keep. And quiet desperation has suddenly found its way into lives whose paths were always smooth before.
One family has indisputably stood atop Eden's Glen for generations: the Winthrops. They run the bank, invitations to their parties are the most coveted in town, their favor dictates who gets into the country club-and who does not. But even the Winthrops are not immune to the pressures that underlie the clean, calm surface of life in Eden's Glen. Chafing from the quiet disappointments of twenty years of marriage leaves Preston&Anne Winthrop-the town's golden couple-unprepared to deal with a long-buried secret that bubbles up to shatter an otherwise uneventful summer of tee times and ladies' lunches. As husband and wife struggle to come to terms with their changed lives, their teenage son's misery goes unsoothed. And the events that follow reveal that even money and position cannot save their charmed world.
An elegant and moving novel about marriage and the price of a bourgeois American life, Club Rules is powerful, biting and unforgettable.
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About the Author
Andrew Trees is the author of Academy X, a novel, and Decoding Love, a work of non-fiction. He is a writer and former academic who lives in New York City.
Andrew Trees is the author of Academy X, a novel, and Decoding Love, a work of non-fiction. He is a writer and former academic who lives in New York City.
Read an Excerpt
By Andrew Trees
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2010 Andrew Trees
All rights reserved.
It was a glorious early summer day in the year 19–. A happy time. A prosperous time. A complacent time. Not that the town was untouched by the winds of change. The distant tremors of social upheaval had lapped gently against its shores. There were whispers that America might be losing its preeminent place. But it was hard to take those whispers seriously amid the bucolic splendor of Eden's Glen, and the whispers were too faint to scale the high, ivy-covered walls that girded the Oak Hollow Country Club, whose cathedral of trees seemed to buttress the very sky. As couples strolled side by side through the verdant paradise of the club's immaculate golf course to compete in the Benedict Cup, it was difficult to think anything but that God was in His heaven and all was right with the world.
The Benedict Cup was named for Arthur Benedict, who loved golf, if not his fellow man. He died a perfect death, collapsing from a massive heart attack on the ninth tee after hitting a four iron two feet from the pin. His longsuffering wife decided to show her appreciation to the golfing gods by endowing the Benedict Cup, an alternate-shot competition for husbands and wives. It was affectionately known to members as the Benedict Arnold Cup for the spectacular betrayals that often occurred in the final holes as lifetimes of disappointments spilled over into heated shouting about missed putts or shanked drives. Occasionally, the shouting stopped only when the divorce proceedings made final what the Benedict Cup had begun, which led to the competition's other nickname — the Divorce Cup.
Preston Baird Winthrop and his wife, Anne, were well on their way to an unprecedented third Benedict Cup. The other couple making up their foursome, Bob and Margaret Fairfield, were well on their way to a marital meltdown. It had started auspiciously enough. They were all good friends and had gone out to dinner only the week before. And Margaret wasn't a particularly good golfer, so it wasn't as if she and Bob had started their round with any expectation of winning the tournament.
Anne was wearing her favorite golf skirt that day, a light blue wraparound that hugged her hips. When she wore the skirt, she felt ten years younger. Her thin friends would ask her where she got it, and her overweight friends would make catty comments about how it looked a little short. Anne would smile blandly and make a mental note to wear the skirt more often.
At thirty-eight, Anne was still attractive. More than attractive, she was beautiful, but her beauty had begun to deflate slightly. People who saw her for the first time always commented on how great she looked. But no one in Eden's Glen was seeing her for the first time. They didn't see the beauty that remained, only the beauty that had been lost. Her friends noticed that the lines around her mouth were growing deeper and that her brow had started to look furrowed. Anne knew she wasn't the beauty she had once been. She would study herself in the mirror and wonder if it was time to think about getting a little work done. But she didn't need to look in the mirror. She could see it in the way they looked at her. Not so much the men. She still caught them casting admiring glances when they thought she wouldn't notice. But the women — no, the women looked at her with sharp eyes ready to carve out and examine every imperfection as punishment for being more beautiful than they were. And after a while, she couldn't help seeing herself through their eyes. She had read somewhere that she was already at the age when her spine was beginning to compress so that she was becoming shorter with each passing year. And she wondered when her life had turned, when it had gone from a sense of promise to what it was now — a gradual shrinking, a failed struggle just to remain in place.
But Anne didn't feel that way when she was wearing her blue skirt. She felt young and sexy and athletic. It was all she could do to keep from twitching her hips as she leaned over her ball and prepared to swing.
Margaret wanted to wrap her driver around Bob's balding, fat, sweaty head. Did he think she didn't notice him leering at Anne the entire time? And what was Anne thinking wearing that skirt? It was obscene! How did Preston let her walk out of the house in it? And Bob sucking down Bloody Marys all day. She was surprised he could walk at this point, let alone swing a club. She already knew what the afternoon held. He would fall asleep on the couch watching television, wake up around five and begin drinking again, eat too much cheese and pâté, and then, as she brought dinner to the table, announce that he really wasn't that hungry.
Just how the hell was she supposed to look like Anne, anyway? She had three kids to take care of. God forbid Bob would lend a hand! It wasn't as though she had the time to primp and preen all day. Even with the oldest one in college, half of every day was spent in the car driving around to an endless array of lessons, doctors' appointments, and tutoring. She hardly had time to shave her armpits, but every time she bumped into Anne, the woman looked as if she had just gotten a facial and had her hair blown out. When was the last time she had a facial? Margaret knew she shouldn't complain. They had a good life, although somehow, no matter how much money Bob made, it never was quite enough. There were private school fees and now college tuition, the vacation house they had bought a few years before. Always something stretching them a little thin. By any reasonable standard, they were very well off, but they could never relax. Part of that was life in Eden's Glen, where a five-year-old car could raise eyebrows and annual dues at the country club trimmed almost $10,000-plus from their bank account.
It didn't help that she and Bob never had sex anymore. She would be in the middle of doing laundry or putting sheets on a bed, and she would find herself trying to recall the last time the two of them had done it. It was so long ago she had trouble remembering the night. Was it Bob's birthday or a few weeks before, when they had celebrated their daughter's college acceptance? Then she would start trying to remember what their sex life had been like when they were younger. Even then, Bob was hardly a Casanova. There were always the kids underfoot, and he worked such long hours when he was trying to make partner. Still, there had been a hunger to their couplings, an ache that demanded relief. My God, one time Bob had grown so impatient he had ripped her stockings right off her body. There was nothing like that now. Nothing hurried or eager. The slow fumblings of two people engaged in a desultory undertaking.
Not that Margaret felt very sexy these days. The last time she had taken inventory, she wanted to puke. Varicose veins. Stretch marks. Wrinkles. And what little sex drive she had left after taking care of the kids was pretty much snuffed out by menopause — or at least that was what she told herself. Heavy drinking and eating had done the same thing to her husband. Even on the occasion when the two of them bothered to go through the motions, it was rarely satisfying. The lack of sex wouldn't have been so bad. Only it had become an open secret when she made the mistake of confessing to a good friend after too many glasses of wine at lunch. The occasional stray comment from other friends revealed that her secret had spread through the town.
And now here she was at the Benedict Cup having to watch her husband ogle another woman's ass. A driver to the head was too good for him.
Bob knew his wife was angry, but he didn't give a crap. What did she expect when she let herself go like that? Always going on about their three kids as if that was an excuse. Anne had a kid and look at her. Her ass was unbelievable. Preston was one lucky son of a bitch.
He took another sip of his drink. Without bothering to look, he knew that Margaret was watching him with that expression she got when she thought he was drinking too much. Of course he drank too much when she went around with that sour expression all the time. It was damn depressing to deal with. And the nagging. Always the nagging. About his drinking or his eating or what he was wearing or how much time he was spending with the kids or whatever. The drinking blurred all of that, made it bearable, muffled her words until they were a slight distraction from the pleasant buzzing in his head.
And sex! She never stopped nagging him about sex. Why didn't they have sex? Did he find her attractive? Should they see a doctor? And on and on. Of course, he lied and said that everything was fine, stress at work, blah blah blah. The truth was he didn't find her attractive. Not at all. Not even a little bit. He dreaded the nights when he would come to the bedroom and the lights would be dimmed, and there would be candles on the dresser, and Margaret would be wearing one of her silk nightgowns. He used to try to do his duty — he would shut his eyes and think about that hot little number who worked in his office. Then she started insisting that he look at her while they did it. Told him it was more intimate. As if being married more than twenty years wasn't intimacy enough, wasn't more intimacy than any one man could stand. And all he could see were those saggy tits and the dark hollows under her eyes. In the candlelight they made her look monstrous, although of course he didn't tell Margaret that. He just tried to blow out the damn candles and turn down the lights. And then she would start nagging him about how he wasn't romantic.
Then one day he lost his erection. It was like letting the air out of a balloon. The damn candles were lit, and Margaret had on some silly lingerie — the kind of thing he used to buy her when they were first married. And he was pumping away with his eyes dutifully open when he glanced down and saw his hand on her leg. And there was something about the way her skin puckered under his fingers that made her seem so old. It as if he were fucking his grandmother, and just like that he lost his erection. He pretended at the time that he had come unexpectedly, and Margaret was delighted, thinking that she could still turn him on like that. The next day, she kept joking about how he had the self-control of a teenager. And of course that only convinced her to get more of those ridiculous nightgowns.
But Bob began to worry that it would happen again. And the more he worried, the worse the problem became until he couldn't even get an erection when she was in the room. At first she pitied him, which was humiliating. And then she grew angry. And through it all his member lay there in utter indifference. So Bob started to drink more to blunt the sting of her words, although he soon realized that drinking was a good excuse for not having sex. He eventually realized that it was an excellent excuse for just about anything at all.
He knew it wasn't healthy. He was drinking so much that it often took most of the morning before his head felt clear and he was able to get any real work done. And it didn't muffle only his wife's nagging. It did the same thing to the voices of his children. His daughter would call on the phone from college, and she would seem so far away. Bob was always struggling to remember the names of her professors or her friends as she would unspool some long, involved story to him, and then she would stop abruptly, clearly expecting a response. He would try to remember what she had told him and mumble some generic words of praise or condolence, and then there would be a disappointed silence. Now when she called, she didn't even bother to talk to him, just told him to put Mom on the phone. It wasn't any better with the younger ones. They would buzz around him and chatter away about some new friend from tennis or an annoying thing one of their teachers did, but he could never remember all those damn names. So they eventually stopped telling him their stories, until he was like a fogbound freighter slowly drifting past an unseen shore.
Still, Bob usually enjoyed these rounds of golf with another couple. Margaret kept her tongue under control in front of other people, and there was a chance to get another drink every few holes. All in all, it was a nice way to spend the afternoon. He knew he was going to get an earful when he got home, but as he set up over a short putt, he was almost happy. He must have had more to drink than he realized because he smacked the hell out of the ball and sent it rocketing past the hole so that the next putt was twice as long as the first one. Not that it mattered. They weren't in contention for any sort of prize.
"Nice putt," Margaret said. "Usually you can't get it up."
Bob gave her a horrified look.
"To the hole, I mean," she said with a smirk.
He noticed Anne and Preston exchange an uncomfortable look, and he had the appalling realization that they knew! That the whole fucking town knew! That his dumb fucking wife had told one of her stupid friends, and now the whole fucking town knew! And they were laughing at him behind his back, laughing at his sorry excuse for a prick when they should have been laughing at her! Jesus Christ, how could anyone expect him to fuck that?
He was so inflamed with rage that he felt dizzy and short of breath. He took a wild swing with his putter at his drink on the ground and sent the cup spiraling across the green, sending out little red flares of liquid that sparkled briefly in the sun.
"Bob, control yourself. It was just a joke," said Margaret.
He could see the hint of a sardonic smile at the corner of her mouth and knew that she was secretly pleased with his outburst, which only drove his fury higher. He turned and shook his putter at her as if he might hit her and then heaved it with all of his might into a small grove of trees, where it caught harmlessly in the branches.
"You fucking bitch!"
He saw Preston and Anne walking discreetly to the next hole, but he didn't care anymore.
"You ugly fucking bitch!"
And then it poured forth. From both of them. And in Bob and Margaret's fury, they said hateful things that before they had hardly dared to think silently to themselves. When their divorce was finalized a year later, it would have been difficult for either of them to pinpoint exactly where things had gone wrong. Bob certainly wasn't happy about having to move to a smaller house, and Margaret complained about losing her country club membership. In the end, though, the divorce proved far more amicable than their final round of golf together.
When Preston and Anne arrived on the eighteenth green without the Fairfields, no one was surprised. It wasn't the first time a couple had stalked off the course in the middle of a round. And when they held up the Benedict Cup to the applause of their friends, they experienced a thrill of pleasure at the victory, although Preston was somewhat peeved that the outburst had marred the afternoon. But he soon forgot about that in the hum of warm congratulations, and he put his arm around his wife and basked in the glow of their regard.
Of course, a number of people went home and grumbled that having the same couple win the trophy a third time was a bit much. And a few wondered whether Preston and Anne finished the hole before Bob and Margaret's fight and suggested that they sidled away quietly to avoid having to putt their own ticklish little three-footer. Not that they didn't like the Winthrops. Everyone liked the Winthrops. It was just that the sun always seemed to shine a little too brightly on them.
Preston and Anne put the Benedict Cup on a shelf in the den with their other trophies and forgot about it in a week or two, but everyone else remembered it for a little while longer and wondered if it wouldn't be such a bad thing for the Winthrops to have a slightly smaller share of the good things in life. Not that their friends wished them any grave misfortune. Well, maybe a few did. Mean-spirited people who could be happy only when those who were high were brought low. But most just wanted to see them fail in some small way, to stumble a bit like everyone else, instead of their seemingly untouchable perfection, which denied the ragged, imperfect humanity that is our common lot.
Excerpted from Club Rules by Andrew Trees. Copyright © 2010 Andrew Trees. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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