Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Book Review: "The Silent Wife" (A. S. A. Harrison)

Author A. S. A. Harrison completed her debut novel, The Silent Wife, and was at work on a second novel when she unexpectedly died in 2013. The work is a testament to a style of writing nearly outdated in many literary circles today, and well worth the time it takes to read (not long, given the suspense factor at work).

Jodi is a classy, eminently patient wife who busies herself keeping house and maintaining an orderly social schedule. Her husband, Todd, is a hopeless philanderer, addicted to the rush he gets from each new woman he conquers and takes to bed. They have functioned in this dysfunctional way --- both in denial, both looking the other direction, both determined to keep up appearances --- for years, and might have continued in the same way.

Then Todd's latest conquest, his best friend's college-aged daughter Natasha, gets pregnant and demands that he leave Jodi to marry her and give their baby legitimacy. Caught between two worlds --- the familiar, predictable comfort of the one he's always known with Jodi and the simultaneously fascinating and cloying one he feels obligated to build with Natasha --- Todd makes a series of decisions that tear his life apart.

Meanwhile, Jodi remains a pillar, the rejected wife, long-suffering, who had never wronged her beloved husband, but her resentment toward him grows with each new betrayal and revelation his actions cause. Finally, presented with an opportunity to rid herself of him indefinitely and rebuild her orderly life the way she has always liked it, she goes the distance to keep Todd from continuing to hurt her.

The Silent Wife is a psychological thriller, granted, but the style in which it is written is a flowing, lilting one that makes me want to categorize the work as literary fiction. Consider gems like this evocative sentence that serve to ground the reader into the immediacy of the story:

"Clear pale daylight pours through the window, heightening every detail of the small room: the laundry mark a black smudge on her turned-back sheet, the soft weave of her blue blanket, the mint-colored walls showing patches of discoloration, on her bedside locker the spreading poinsettia, on the window ledge the speckled lilies whose sweet, rotting smell has been invading her dreams" (p. 316).

Each chapter is written in third-person present tense from either "his" or "her" perspective, and the tension mounts until the momentum of the story tumbles inevitably toward its shocking conclusion.

Jodi is a sympathetic protagonist, unjustifiably wronged by the man to whom she's committed her life. Todd excels unbelievably at justifying his increasingly poor choices. The fireworks torched by their combined presences and interactions in the novel may be only psychological and emotional in nature (rather than outright physical) but nevertheless leave the reader with no doubt as to which side is in the right.

A fantastic work, unexpected and frightening in its intensity, I feel privileged to have come across it myself.

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Title: The Silent Wife
Author: A. S. A. Harrison
ISBN: 978-0-14-312323-1
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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