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THE SILENT WIFE
by A.S.A. Harrison
Penguin Canada, June 2013
320 pages
$18.00 CAD
ISBN: 014318704X


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Jodie Brett and Todd Gilbert have been living together for twenty years. Jodie, a psychotherapist with a part-time practice, and Todd, a very successful property developer, inhabit a highly desirable condo in Chicago overlooking the lake, and though they have no children, she does not seem to feel their absence. Todd appears to have transferred any fatherly emotions to their young golden retriever called Freud. Jodie spends much of her energy maintaining the relationship or, more precisely, maintaining Todd, who, it seems, requires quite a lot of work. They have never actually married, but think of their partnership as a marriage, and themselves as husband and wife.

Or rather, Jodie does. Todd is a serial adulterer, a fact that Jodie is both aware of and silent about. To date, he has confined himself to casual encounters, but now he believes he is in love with the daughter of his oldest friend, a twenty-something girl named Natasha, who is determined to have Todd all for herself. And so the apparently perfect arrangement begins to disintegrate alarmingly. Harrison does not keep us guessing as to where this is all heading. On page two she tells us that Jodie's "notions about who she is and how she ought to conduct herself are far less stable than she supposes, given that a few short months are all it will take to make a killer out of her."

Harrison tells the story of Jodie's descent in alternating chapters entitled, a bit like a pair of towels embroidered "his" and "hers" in a 1950s bathroom, "Her" and "Him." But this is not GONE GIRL revisited. Whereas Gillian Flynn's story relied on two spectacularly unreliable narrators, Harrison's narrator is thoroughly reliable, as it is the author herself. In immaculate prose, she lays bare the compromises, failings, accommodations, and self-deceptions of her characters. In the end, we don't like either of them very much.

The decision on the part of the publishers to market this as genre fiction is somewhat questionable. While it is certainly an engrossing read, many readers of crime fiction might be disappointed that crime is largely absent. We feel little for either the victim or the perpetrator and, tellingly, and remain indifferent about if or whether justice will be done in the case. Indeed, we are not sure what justice might in fact be.

THE SILENT WIFE is A.S.A. (Susan) Harrison's debut as a novelist and it is a remarkably assured one. Where it fails is in its excessively analytic approach - Harrison knows everything about her characters, and the reader is left with nothing really to discover about them. All the same, it represents a very auspicious start, but one, sadly, that cannot develop further. Susan Harrison died in April before the book was even off the press. We would like to be able to say at the end of this review that we look forward to what comes next in a what promises to be a brilliant career but alas all we can do is grieve for what might have been.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, June 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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