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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