The Silent WifeThe Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison
My rating: 3/5 cats
One StarOne StarOne Star

this book has been compared to gone girl, but that is a somewhat flawed n’ lazy comparison. however, if your response to that book was any of the following:

  • Had a difficult time getting through this book-didn’t really care for the characters
  • I hate the general misanthropy that infests most of modern fiction.
  • I prefer a book with at least one sympathetic character… and I couldn’t stand any of these people.
  • unlikable people doing unlikable things
  • There wasn’t a character you could even try to like!!

you probably won’t like this book. the above responses are the kinds of responses that frustrate me when i read them. no one is asking for you to become friends with these characters – they aren’t there for you to like. me and catherine earnshaw would probably not get along over drinks, but the strength of that character as written is undeniable. characters exist as participants in a story. you are free to judge them, like or dislike them, but to dismiss the antihero in literature is to deprive yourself of about half of the world’s published texts.

the comparisons between these books pretty much begin and end with the observation that this is a novel told in alternating narratives of a couple who have been together a long time, who together have a perfectly psychologically symbiotic but ultimately toxic relationship, but individually are…not the best people.

but nothing else is really sticking, comparison-wise. the writing in this one is far more detached. there is a dreamlike quality to it, and while the amy of g.g. is relentless and driven, here we have a woman in stubborn denial, and a man who is more acted-upon than acting. (okay, that last part might be similar)

this is a story about the complicity of complacency, as pat and faux-etic as that sounds. we have a childless couple who met, fittingly, when they were involved in a car crash together, and have been in a common-law marriage for twenty years. he is a serial philanderer, she is a practiced conflict-avoider and turn a blind eye-er. and they have co-existed this way for twenty years: he gets to sleep around and still come home to a spotless house and a gourmet meal, she gets to lead a life with all the fine things she covets and gets to feel useful in taking care of a man who needs to be taken care of.

which is frustrating no matter who the woman is, but in this case, we have a woman with multiple degrees who is a practicing therapist. heal thyself ?? no?

she does spend a lot of time in her head – they both do, and although they seem to have a certain degree of self-awareness, they also both have a lot of self-delusion and tunnel vision.

This is not her fault. None of this is her fault. She did her best to make it work with Todd. She was tolerant, understanding, and forgiving. She was not grasping or possessive. Unlike the women you see on the Dr. Phil show, who fall to pieces when the randy fellow happens to stray. Boo hoo. Women the world over have been putting up with far worse for centuries. Soul mates is a nice idea but rarely borne out in practice. Marriage coaches like Dr. Phil raise the bar too high, teach women to expect too much, and end up breeding discontent. We live alone in our cluttered psyches, possessed by our entrenched beliefs, our fatuous desires, our endless contradictions – and like it or not we have to put up with this in one another. Do you want your man to be a man or do you want to turn him into a pussy? Don’t think you can have it both ways. She did not make that mistake with Todd. She gave him plenty of space. He had nothing to complain about. This is not her fault.

“this” is the price she is paying for her twenty-year indulgence of todd’s behavior. because with the twenty-year inch he has been given, he has taken a county: his new girlfriend (half his age and the daughter of his oldest friend) has become pregnant and is demanding marriage. and todd is letting himself get talked into it, in his panting sex-blindedness and his desire not for a child, but for an heir; a desire stubbornly refused by jodi all these years.

but this new relationship is unfulfilling. natasha is much younger, much more demanding, messy, judgmental, dismissive, critical, bossy – everything that jodi is not. and todd’s fatal mistake is not in impregnating another woman, or even leaving jodi, both of which she has accepted, overcome, and developed “solutions” for, and not for his attempts to have it all – to continue his sexual relationship with jodi despite his pregnant fiancée at home. his mistake is in rocking the boat – threatening the comfort of the domestic charade jodi has so carefully constructed when he tries to have her evicted from their condo. you do not mess with a domestic goddess’ place of business.

their unspoken marital arrangement has always hinged on the rule that “you do not bring that life into this life,” and the first time he does, there are repercussions and she unsheathes her claws, but this bigger transgression is going to leave deeper scratches.

because illinois has no common-law recognition, jodi has no rights, despite her years of service, and her religiously-maintained two-patients-a-day practice is not nearly enough to support the lifestyle to which she has become accustomed, and jodi is absolutely devoted to routine.

At forty-five, Jodi still sees herself as a young woman. She does not have her eye on the future but lives very much in the moment, keeping her focus on the everyday. She assumes, without having thought about it, that things will go on indefinitely in their imperfect yet entirely acceptable way.

and our girl is gonna protect that routine with all she’s got.

todd is a bizarre study. he is pure self-indulgence:

The indwelling presence was strong in him in his younger years – in his childhood as he learned to distinguish himself from his parents, when he broke free and discovered the world at large, the exhilaration of it, and then as he found his feet in business and felt his power and his blamelessness, and when he first encountered Jodi, and through her the substance of communion. He’s a lover in love with the world, and when he’s in form the world gives back. It’s how he wants to live every minute of every day. He wants it all unwrapped. He wants to look the barefaced mystery in the eye, be a participant, immersed – not an observer, a packager, a regretter.

This is not the way some people see it. Jodi, for one. But you can’t live your life by other people’s rules.

he does not understand why jodi is caught off-balance by his canceling of her credit cards, or by his attempts to evict her, and while he is very self-involved, his self-awareness has its limits.

Seated on his stool after such a long absence he succumbs to a tender devotion, a reverence for this welcoming sanctuary with its quaint accoutrements and rituals, its shakers and strainers, goblets, flutes, and snifters, pickled onions and lemon twists, distinctive paper coasters, a different one for every drink, its buzzing congregation, and the secular priest behind the bar performing the time-honored rites. It makes him think of the church he used to attend with his mother, who raised him Roman Catholic, or tried to. He never could get his head around the old man in the sky, but he was smitten from the start with the glamour and mystique of it; the solemn processions, colorful robes, smoking censer, chanting and singing….He connected with the mystery and the rapture, and now he inhibits the bar at the Drake in much the same way.

he has enough awareness to make the connection between the tokens of spirituality to the ritual of the bar, but he doesn’t take it that one step further: the things he appreciates and needs in his relationships are the very same domestic rituals, and natasha cannot provide them for him. he needs the drink waiting for him at home, the folded newspaper, the elaborate meal. he needs the walking of the dog and the view from his castle. and without that, he falters. his faltering comes in the shape of stasis, of being bullied by natasha into things he doesn’t really want to do, into falling into old habits when he feels cornered, into letting his life live him and not taking a stand and waiting until the day he moves out to tell jodi he is leaving, and being baffled by her reaction. he becomes hesitant and malleable.

and the prey that hesitates is the prey that gets eaten.

the gg-comparison is a little misleading, the synopsis is a little misleading, but all in all i found this book fascinating and frustrating and thought-provoking. which is all a book should ever be expected to do.

read my reviews on goodreads

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