Literary Wives: The Silent Wife

Welcome to the latest post in the Literary Wives series. Every two months, a group of bloggers reads a book with word “wife” in the title, and we attempt to answer the following two questions in our posts for that month.

1. What does this book say about wives or about the experience of being a wife?

2. In what way does this woman define “wife”—or in what way is she defined by “wife”?

Please visit these other fantastic blogs for their take on this month’s books, and if you’d like to join the conversation, on our blogs or on yours by reading along, feel free to do so.

Naomi of Consumed by Ink

Kay of What Me Read

Lynn of Smoke & Mirrors

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The Silent Wife (2013) by the late A. S. A. Harrison is a gripping and strange novel. It certainly turns the notion of what it means to be a wife on its head. While Jodi and Todd seem to have a fairly normal relationship, as common-law spouses, the dark side of their marriage is revealed in this psychological thriller. We learn, unfortunately, that fidelity is abnormal, but that a “perfect” woman who can seemingly put up with infidelity cannot abide it for long.

Jodi’s attitude toward Todd’s indiscretions at the beginning of the novel is nonchalant. She thinks, “People live their lives, express themselves, and pursue fulfillment in their own ways and in their own time. They are going to make mistakes, exercise poor judgment and bad timing, take wrong turns, develop hurtful habits, and go off on tangents. . . . Other people are not here to fulfill our needs or meet our expectations, nor will they always treat us well” (p. 24). While this attitude is certainly pragmatic, and true and healthy in some regards, we find out that Jodi, a psychologist, does not really believe this or allow for this in the end. She knows that Todd cheats on her, but she believes that he will always come back, and they never discuss this part of his life. In some ways, this seems to be the “perfect” marriage, at least for Todd, as he can do whatever he wants without the proverbial nagging wife.

Interestingly, when Todd does leave her for his young, pregnant girlfriend, it isn’t his absence or betrayal that necessarily bothers Jodi. She still seems to love him and would take him back. Her role as a wife is one of extreme patience and longsuffering. It is also about the routine and the normality. “She misses the hours spent poring over cookbooks, composing a menus, shopping for ingredients putting a twist on his favourite foods” (p. 147). She enjoyed the service to him through domestic chores and she misses that time spent making a home. It is as if being a wife is more about playing the role than it is about caring whether or not he loves her and is faithful to her. This is an interesting version of what it means to be a wife, for Jodi enjoys the superficial aspects of it more than she enjoys the deeper emotional connection.

Later, as she ponders why she still misses him and wishes he would return, she remembers that her mother stayed with her father and why one of her clients in therapy stays with her controlling husband. She notes that “Every woman has a reason.” For Jodi, she thinks that her reason is that Todd is her weakness.

They have a history together. They met while young and built up Todd’s real estate and construction business together. They are comfortable. However, Todd has left, and every other chapter is devoted to Todd’s perspective as a man. He seems to want to stay with Jodi and the comforts and stability she provides, but his young girlfriend becomes pregnant, and he feels trapped. His girlfriend plays the role of the nagging and controlling wife, one that makes him feel smothered because of the responsibility she demands from him. He ends up going out drinking when he’s supposed to be with her, and he even returns to Jodi once because he misses her tolerance and easy going personality when it comes to his faults.

In the end, the characters deteriorate quickly, making the ending a tragedy, much like a Shakespeare play. Not everybody dies, but somebody does, and as a result there is a lot of guilt and hand wringing and soul searching. A murder is involved. I won’t give it away.

I will say that I enjoyed the experience of reading this book because it was intriguing. However, as I reached the end, I was left with a feeling of loss and disgust. These two characters, Jodi and Todd, are despicable people. They were unlikeable, and I ultimately did not care what would happen to their relationship.

That said, the author delivered this narrative skillfully, and her exploration of human nature is spot on. While I didn’t like the characters, they were realistic and believable. And through an exploration of their psyches, we learn that both Jodi and Todd had traumatic events in their pasts that help us to understand how they came to be who they were. Jodi had been raped by her older brother, a memory she repressed for quite some time. Todd had dealt with an abusive and ultimately absent father.

These two characters may, through Harrison’s adept writing, represent just exactly what is wrong with the institution of and many people’s attitudes toward marriage. I don’t think in the end that we learn much about a typical wife and a typical husband, but we do learn that marriage requires much more than ignoring indiscretions and cooking together. This marriage was messed up from the beginning, and did not need a pregnant girlfriend to make it so. That event just uncovered the problems underlying their strange relationship.

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24 thoughts on “Literary Wives: The Silent Wife

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  1. “This is an interesting version of what it means to be a wife, for Jodi enjoys the superficial aspects of it more than she enjoys the deeper emotional connection.” Interesting point – I hadn’t thought of that.
    Your last paragraph makes me wonder how long their relationship would have gone on for if not for Natasha or some other catalyst. I also wonder if Jodi would have been easily led into an affair if the opportunity arose, or of she really thought she had everything she needed in Todd. What did she truly believe of her marriage versus just talked herself into believing?
    Great review! So true what you say about the author’s observations of human nature. And, despite that fact that the characters are unlikeable, they are also so interesting to read about. It’s a shame this is the only novel Harrison was able to write.

    1. It was an interesting read. I liked it at first, and then started to dislike it, but I realized that I just disliked the characters, as I think we are meant to. I wonder also how long they could last without Natasha becoming pregnant. Maybe forever. It seemed like Jodi was willing to ignore what she did not want to see, even her own rape as a child.

      1. You know, I think they might have lasted forever if Natasha didn’t become pregnant, except that Natasha was bound to have her way, pushing herself into Todd’s life and probably getting pregnant on purpose, as the book implied. I think it was more likely that they would have lasted forever if Todd hadn’t met Natasha. I’m sure that with another woman who wasn’t so determined, the bloom would have left after a while and they would have split up, just as it did with the other women he was involved with.

      2. I wondered the same thing. I think they could have gone one forever, but not very happily.
        Yes, I think they are meant to be unlikeable. But they also seemed very human at the same time, making them believable. I couldn’t completely hate them, because I felt so bad for them, especially Jodi.

  2. Nice. I am really enjoying these literary wives series you all have going on. It’s interesting to read different takes on one aspect of a book.

      1. It’s fun, but I think we’re realizing we need to pick books that apply to marriage better, although this one is certainly about a marriage, unlike some of the others.

  3. Sounds like my previous marriage. Unlike Trudy though after 13 years I decided that what good for gander is also good for the goose and I changed my motto to What you can do I can do better and Eat your heart out. It goes on for 20 years before I decided to call it quits and never look back. Not even one single second. Which is for the better because if I stayed longer, I am very sure it will also end up in tragedy.

  4. As usual, Emily, I love your concise review! While I did cite Jodi’s trauma as a typical motivator for the reliance, even obsession, with a routine lifestyle, and her choice not to connect emotionally with anyone, I did rather overlook Todd’s own traumatic childhood. Perhaps that demonstrates my prejudice against the partner who cheats? Could be… I always consider that to be a choice: you either remain faithful or you don’t. Pretty simple, in my opinion. Yes, I think Natasha was the type who would have inserted herself into their relationship, whether pregnant or not. While reading, I wondered if it would ever occur to Todd to require a paternity test. After all, if she’s willing to sleep with one of her own father’s best friends, knowing he is married, perhaps she was sleeping with other men at the same time, much as Todd was still doing… Though Todd didn’t strike me as capable of ‘thinking’ in his relationships–he was just looking for someone to rescue him and make it all good. (Not too smart…) I love your reference to Shakespeare! You are so right! And how ironic that Natasha’s own father should take such offense at Todd’s behavior, when it mirrored his own–the only difference was that it was HIS daughter Todd (supposedly) got pregnant! And then…his own life is ruined as a result of his revenge. Love that connection you made! It is so apt!

    1. You’ve really highlighted just how despicable all of these characters are. They don’t deserve our sympathy, and yet Harrison wrote them so well, that I was like you: trying to figure out the ways in which Todd could get out of his affair with Natasha so that Jodi could have him back. And yet, the other part of my brain says, Why on earth should Jodi want him back? Why do I care about Todd? This book did a psychological number on me!

  5. Such an interesting article ! The passage you quote (“She misses the hours spent poring over cookbooks, composing a menus, shopping for ingredients putting a twist on his favourite foods”) is very pertinent and useful to show Jodie’s position towards the role of wife, which is an interesting one. I wonder wether I am going to buy this book, the “despicable” kind of character scares me a bit, but your article was surely worth reading ! I’m going to take a look at the other article of your Literary Wives series (love the idea by the way) 😉

    1. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoy looking through the other posts in the series. If you end up finding a “wife” book that you want to read, let me know.

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