Literary Wives: A Circle of Wives

A Circle of Wives (2014) by Alice LaPlante has two critiques from me: 1) it is more of a murder mystery than it is a book about the marriage relationship, and 2) it is more about the husband than it is about the wive(s).


This novel is this month’s pick for the Literary Wives Series. Please visit the other blogs participating and see what the bloggers have to say about their experiences in reading it.

Naomi of Consumed by Ink

Kay of What Me Read

Lynn of Smoke & Mirrors

Ariel of One Little Library

This is an ongoing series in which we read a book that centers on wives every two months and then post our thoughts on the following question.

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

A Circle of Wives was interesting and I enjoyed reading it. It is about Dr. John Taylor, a benevolent plastic surgeon for disfigured children, who dies alone in a hotel room. We soon learn that he is married to three different women—Deborah, MJ, and Helen—and that only his first and most austere wife Deborah knows about the arrangements. She made it possible, as long as she got to keep his name and his money.

A fourth woman involved in the story is Samantha, the detective investigating his strange death, which is eventually ruled a murder. A fifth woman emerges about halfway through the book, but we never get to read a chapter from her perspective as we do with the other women. She is Claire, and she is supposedly Dr. Taylor’s new fiancée whom he planned to leave all of the other wives for.

While the chapters jump around from the perspectives of these women, and we get to hear their inner voices, most of what we learn is about John. We also learn about the women’s whereabouts during his murder or their thoughts about him. But there are few instances in the book in which we learn much about these wives and their actual experiences and feelings. Sure, we know that MJ likes to garden and that she’s a “hippie” who has spent years keeping her younger brother out of trouble, that Deborah keeps a neat façade and a neater home, and that Helen is also a doctor who treats pediatric cancer patients. However, we learn most about how they feel, move, or act in relation to John, before and after his death.

Strikingly, the most complicated moment of Helen’s life is deciding whether or not to keep the baby she is carrying. John did not want more children, and she accidentally became pregnant. Once he dies, she can decide to keep the child. Her life and her decisions are dictated by John, even in his death. He must die for her to make a decision that suits her.

I also noticed that the book wasn’t too concerned with relationships, except for maybe the one between the detective Samantha and her boyfriend, Peter. The novel is mostly about solving the murder, which Samantha eventually does, despite a lack of evidence and an already-closed case. She extracts a confession from the real killer in the end, and we never know if it will be prosecuted. Yet her relationship with Peter is what suffers. She is determined to sovle the crime in this quiet Palo Alto, California, community. She works night and day to uncover evidence, interview witnesses, and check alibis. Yet, when it is all said and done, she comes home to a house that has been cleared of her boyfriend’s things. He has left her for being too involved in her work and for not paying enough attention to him.

If the situation were reversed, as it often is, this would not be the likely outcome. Women are expected to care for their men and their professions, as we see the “circle” of women doing for John. They exist to fill his needs; even his first wife did so to the extreme as she suggested he have other “marriage” relationships. The women’s self-described relationships with him confirm that they saw themselves as important to him, and from Samantha’s perspective, they all fill some sort of need for John that was necessary. Yet Samantha cannot get the same support in her own relationship.

What DOES this novel say about wives? Nothing good.

Our next book, to be discussed on April 4, is How To Be A Good Wife by Emma Chapman. Read along with us!