Literary Wives: The Wife, The Maid, and The Mistress

I got a slow start on The Wife, The Maid, and The Mistress (2014) by Ariel Lawhon, which kept me from fully getting into the book until I had time to really sit down with it.  I tried to read it a few minutes at a time before bed, but I was too tired and kept having to put it aside so I could sleep.  From this, I learned that this is a book to be enjoyed in large chunks, especially since it constantly changes time periods.  That must be managed with a very good memory or a more frequent and sustained engagement with the novel.

The book, to be released in January 2014, is the December pick for the Literary Wives series.  I recommend that you visit the blogs of the other participants to join the conversation and get a full sense of what this novel has to offer.  Also feel free to visit the author’s site:

Ariel of One Little Library

Audra of Unabridged Chick  (Audra will have an interview with the author as well!)

Carolyn O. of Rosemary and Reading Glasses

Cecilia of Only You

Lynn of Smoke & Mirrors

Kay of WhatMeRead

My reaction to this book is positive.  I enjoyed it.  I found it to be engaging and suspenseful.  Although it struck me as light fiction and as appealing solely to women, I still enjoyed the experience.  What was most fascinating isn’t the twist, which I saw coming, but the story behind the entire concept.  It examines the disappearance of New York City Judge Joseph Crater, which remains to this day an unsolved mystery.  Learning about this historical occurrence from the 1930s fascinated me.  I also appreciated how the author included some information at the back of the book about each character, clarifying what was true and what was fiction.  It rounded out the experience for me, because reading the fictional account left me wondering more about the actual history of the disappearance.

wife maid mistress cover

As to the role of wife, this book doesn’t actually say much about it directly, but there are some implicit themes.  From the maid, Maria, we learn that wives are beautiful and hardworking and that they may be necessary in helping a husband to achieve success and promotion.  Maria pulls some strings for Jude’s police promotion, but the results cause more heartache because of the rampant corruption in the city.  It all involves Judge Crater, a mobster named Owney Madden, and the police department.  Maria tries to do right by her husband, and even takes it a step further than most wives would take it (the twist) to help and protect him.  The sorrow in her life is the inability to have children, which she learns later on is due to ovarian cancer.  Ultimately, Maria dies and cannot fulfill her duties as wife, but she tries, despite having to get involved in corruption and deceit, to do so while she’s living.

From the mistress, we learn that the role of wife is one to run away from.  Although not a large part of the narrative, Sally Lou Ritz’s marriage turns out to be one of the more heartwarming and charming aspects of the book’s conclusion.  She is a showgirl who runs around with mobsters and sleeps with the judge, but she has a husband in a mid-western town that she abandoned.  From her mistakes in New York City and her deceit, which almost costs her life, she learns that she must go home.  She returns to her husband, who takes her back.  What I learned from this is that the role of husband (and wife) is one that requires forgiveness, even when the sins and mistakes seem too huge to surmount.  Ritzi’s husband is a man to be admired, and his example is one for all spouses.  And despite Ritzi’s ambitions and free lifestyle, she is the one who can conceive and have a child.  She seems the most unfit for motherhood, but with the forgiveness of her husband, and the safety she finds back in his home, she seems to have the makings of a wonderful mother at the novel’s close.

From the wife of the missing judge, we learn about the oppression of women during the 1930s.  She is mostly a sex object made to look pretty on Judge Crater’s arm for political reasons.  She doesn’t have a lot of say in her marriage, nor do any of the women in the narrative.  Stella’s job is to stay pretty and be proper and to ignore her husband’s infidelity and backroom business deals.  She is treated as if she is too stupid (read “female”) to be aware of her husband’s despicable activities, but she is very much aware and proves strong enough to deal with his problems.  Yet before she decides to take control, she smiles pretty and turns a blind eye.  It is her job, but she ultimately rejects it and acts out.  Interestingly, she, like Maria, is barren and has no children.

What is most moving about this book is the action of the three women.  While the men in the novel seem to be larger-than-life and in control of almost everything, including the money from a woman’s bank account, the women subvert this, quite slyly and ingeniously (and devilishly).  It left me with an overall impression of the women as strong without needing the credit.  In some ways, they are trickster characters, who do their work without recognition but ultimately yield more change, results, and control.  The men think they are running the show, but the women pull a fast one and that appealed to me, despite the sinful and devious nature of that fast one.  To find out exactly what that action is, you’ll have to read the book!

My favorite scene and quote is when Maria visits a doctor for her infertility.  He says to her, “It rains on the just and the unjust, Mrs. Simon.  That’s the first thing you learn in my profession.  There is no fair.  Nor is there the ability to help everyone” (p. 66).  This is a hard thing to learn, but it’s the truth.  It may be the most truth uttered from any character in the book.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read from the Literary Wives series.  It was a light, engaging, and mysterious read.  It has been a while since I read a mystery novel, although I loved Nancy Drew as a child, and this rekindled a bit of that need to solve and riddle through a book.