Sunday, August 10, 2014

Review: The Silent Wife by A.S.A Harrison

The Silent Wife by A.S.A Harrison
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: June 25, 2013
Page Count: 326
Source/Format: Library book! 
Keywords: marital problems, miscommunication, affairs, murder
Jodi has always prided herself on not being the jealous type. She knows her husband, Todd, runs around and takes lovers. As long as he provides for her, though, keeps her comfortable in their Chicago high-rise condo, and allows her to carry on with her very particular routine, she is satisfied. There's no point in causing a fuss, in being the nag. But then, Todd crosses the line, and she learns very quickly that she will do anything it takes for her to keep what is hers. 
This book has been on my radar for a while now. Last year I read and loved Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, and have been looking for a similar book since. In Gone Girl, I really loved the dual perspectives, the twists and turns, and the two characters I loved to hate. The Silent Wife has been touted as being 'better than Gone Girl' or for fans who enjoyed it. Naturally, I had high expectations, and sadly those expectations were not met. Not even close. 
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. In other words, she is deeply unaware that her life is now peaking, that her youthful resilience--which her twenty-year marriage to Todd Gilbert has been slowly eroding--is approaching a final stage of disintegration, that her 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. 
Like Gone Girl, The Silent Wife is told in dual third-person perspectives, alternating between husband and wife. Where as Gone Girl's multiple perspectives pushed the story forward and kept me gripped with characters I hated, I could not find myself caring about Jodi or Todd or anything that happened to them. Jodi is a character built in routine, and we get every minute of this routine down to the very minute A lot of what we learn about Jodi's life just seemed extraneous. I didn't want to read about every time she walked the dog, served a smoked fish on crackers, perfectly fanned her magazines, or pressed her clothing. The author did a lot of work to let us know how BORING and PREDICTABLE Jodi was, so that when things started to come to a head we would be shocked and surprised. What happened, though, was I became numbed to Jodi and it made me expect something 'unpredictable.' As for Todd, he was your every day misogynist, and he didn't have any redeeming qualities that I could grasp onto that would allow me to care about what happens to him. 
He returns to his pint and his musings, trying her at intervals, finally remembering that it's Jodi he meant to call. There's a reason why he needs to speak to Jodi. He's going to tell her the news before Dean can beat him to it. But he needs to preserve his mood of celebration, and in keeping with this, instead of making the call, he buys a round for the house, which is filling up as five o'clock approaches. People around the room life a glass to him, saluting his generosity...When a group at a nearby table raises a cheer on his behalf, he says with earnest candor, "I'm just hoping that my wife doesn't know." Leaving the well-wishers to puzzle this out for themselves. 
The all around lack of communication in this novel is what mostly got to me. Jodi prides herself on her approach to marriage. She's a therapist, so she feels like she has a pretty firm grasp on how she can react. She is fully aware of her husband's affair, and yet she says absolutely nothing about it, which is frustrating because she learns A LOT about her husband in this novel and I can't imagine a woman on the face of this Earth who would have this knowledge and not say SOMETHING. There is a lot of conflict in this novel that is avoided in general with lack of dialogue and a quick summary in prose later on. There are some conversations that we see the start of, but not the finish, and we know that some shit was going to go down but we never get to hear it! Even between Jodi and Todd, the one time that they actually fight about it, we don't get to hear what they actually say to each other. We just read that Jodi is embarrassed by the scene that is created in public and her hair gets mussed up. If we had actually gotten to read what Jodi says to her husband, and other characters that create conflict in this story, this book would have been so much more riveting! We actually get more dialogue between Jodi and a professor/therapist of hers from years ago than we do between her and Todd.
And then he gets it. She's intentionally giving the occasion a commonplace twist. This is not something that can happen only once, not a special event but a staple, something to be repeated. She wants them to go on as usual, behave as if nothing has changed. Making him dinner is part of ordinary life, and routine pleasures have always been her mainstay, the crux of her happiness, the theme of her existence. A bottle of wine, a homemade meal, the delights of the domicile, predictable diversions, dependable comforts. He sees exactly where she's coming from. It's almost like a game.
He's been guilty of underestimating her. 
I will say that I was slightly surprised by the ending, in a good way, there was a twist that I had not fully expected. It avoided conflict, much like the rest of the book, but it was the one thing that I did not see coming, and I appreciated that. It was what kept this book from being a one star rating for me. Perhaps this book would have been better if it hadn't compared to Gone Girl so much, I think that the direct comparisons really had me hoping for something that this book just wasn't. There is some beautiful prose, but the constant miscommunication, lack of conflict, and unlikable characters kept me from fully enjoying this one.

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