Wednesday, March 18, 2015

"The Silent Wife": A terrifying and realistic portrait of a relationship gone awry

I was beginning to think that maybe I am adverse to thrillers - especially dark ones about domestic issues that end in very unsettling ways.  Although everyone I know LOVED "Gone Girl" and "The Girl on the Train," I found both of them okay at first, but stopped enjoying them about half way through the book.  What was missing for me in both of those books was a likable character.  They were page turners, though, and many people seem to judge books by how quickly they want to finish them.  I, on the other hand, judge books by how I would like them to never end (like "All the Light You Cannot See" . . . I would have been happy if Anthony Doerr tacked on another 200 pages to that book).

So, what was it about "The Silent Wife" by A.S.A. Harrison that intrigued me enough to say that I enjoyed it way better than either "Gone Girl" or "The Girl on the Train" when it hasn't received as much attention from the press or from readers?  For me the methodical, terse narrative about Jodi Brett and Todd Gilbert, a very antiseptic couple who are more quiet roommates who tolerate the others' faults to stick to a routine, felt way more plausible than the over the top follies of the characters in other thrillers that I have read.  On the first page, the narrative tells us that her marriage to Todd "is approaching the final stage of disintegration, that [Jodi's] notions about who she is and how she ought to conduct herself are far less stable than she supposes, given that a few short months are all it will take to make a killer out of her." This sets up the insidious tale of how Jodi becomes a killer.

In the every other chapter set up (one chapter is titled "Her" and the next is titled "Him", and it flip flops like that throughout the novel), we find out that Jodi never wanted to get married, but after 20 years together, she and Todd, at least in her mind, are married.  She allows him his infidelities knowing that he always finds his way back to her.  She spends her days counseling a few select clients, walking her dog, making gourmet meals and taking the occasional floral arranging class.  Her life seems cold, calculated and very controlled just like their beautiful streamlined, clutter free lake view apartment in Chicago.

Todd, on the other hand, is a self made successful real estate flipper.  He takes the edge off of his stressful job by having a daily joint, and one woman or another on the side. Although his little flings never seem to amount to much, he strays too far from Jodi after his young girlfriend (the daughter of his best friend) tells him that she's pregnant.  She's young and makes Todd feel alive after a crippling bout of depression.  Although he loves Jodi, she doesn't make him feel vibrant in his mid-40s the way his girlfriend, Natasha does.  The only problem, though, is that he doesn't know how to break it to Jodi that when he leaves her she quite literally will lose everything that they built together in the past 20 years since they are not legally married.  He also isn't prepared for the backlash from his best friend.

Maybe what I liked so much about this book was the psychological aspect.  Although I didn't love the flashbacks (written like a movie script) with Jodi's therapist Gerard, I did love the deep psychological exploration of what made Jodi tick. The other aspect of the book was the probability of it.  Relationships sometimes reach a tipping point even as both people involved are aware of the issues because no one wants to disturb the routine.  Sometimes it's the silence in a marriage that ends it, or the lack of passion, or dishonesty. Both characters in Harrison's book are smart, too smart really for what happens to them.  The writing is smart as well, and it's a pity that this debut novel from A.S.A. Harrison was her last novel since she died shortly before the release of "The Silent Wife."

If you liked "Gone Girl" or "The Girl on the Train" most likely you will like "The Silent Wife" as well.  If you are like me, though, maybe you'll like it even if you didn't enjoy the other two more popular, sinister books about dysfunctional marriages that end in tragic and unexpected ways.

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