You might occasionally pick up a book that is deceptively simple in its premise yet is multi-faceted, comprised of layers so thin that you almost don’t realize they are there. THE SILENT WIFE is one of those books, a debut novel by A. S. A. Harrison. Not a prolific author by any means, Harrison published three nonfiction works over the course of three decades. I was stunned to learn that she passed away earlier this year while working on a second novel and before she could witness the appreciation that her first work of fiction is bound to garner over the next several weeks.
Keep in mind that THE SILENT WIFE might be confused at first for a romance novel. To an extent, it is; but it’s the book’s unpredictability, the feeling that one has no idea what will happen next, that kicks it into the thriller genre where it stays firmly ensconced.
"THE SILENT WIFE is so well-paced and reads so quickly that it’s easy to glide over important points that come back to explode behind you when you’ve all but forgotten about them."
The novel is divided into two sections: “Her and Him” and “Her.” The first alternates in third-person-present points of view between “her” (Jodi Gilbert) and “him” (Todd Gilbert). Together for over 20 years after meeting during an automobile accident (the book is nothing if not loaded with subtle metaphors), Jodi and Todd have a materially comfortable life with satisfying roles. Todd is a developer, transforming tired and old vacant buildings into showcases; Jodi is a part-time psychotherapist, with insightful nicknames for her patients and stories aplenty. While the physical aspect of their relationship has cooled somewhat (not an unusual state, to be sure), they still enjoy each other’s company, with Jodi delighting in preparing exotic dinners for Todd and making sure that everything is just so. Todd likes to surprise Jodi with expensive and thoughtful gifts.
It is clear from the beginning that Jodi loves Todd and that, yes, Todd loves Todd, too. Jodi winks at his frequent but very temporary infidelities, accepting that it is simply something that men do. Todd, in turn, takes some minor pains to never bring his indiscretions home or embarrass Jodi. However, Jodi is not an emotional wallflower by any means. While she does not see Todd’s flings as a wrong that needs to be righted, she is not above an occasional revenge response of her own that takes form as something other than infidelity. Things work out very well between them until Todd becomes involved with Natasha, a college student who is the daughter of one of his best friends. Natasha, despite her somewhat tender years, lures Todd away from Jodi and convinces him to marry her. Jodi understandably is shattered, but then Todd takes things a step or two beyond her tolerance level. She plots a revenge, and revenge it is, whether she cloaks it in the form of self-preservation or otherwise. But can she carry it out? And, ultimately, does she?
Please understand: everything that I have just related is a marked oversimplification. There is much that is hidden that I cannot give away. To name but one: During one of the “Her” sections early on, Jodi drops a bombshell about her relationship with Todd that functions as a pivot for her actions during the entire novel. This relates to the crux of the story in that Jodi gave Todd everything he wanted, except for one thing --- and that decision, that withholding, comes back to bite her. Was she wrong to deny him the one thing he wanted, perhaps most of all? No, not necessarily. When we learn the reason for her denial, we find that Jodi, who seems to be the more reasonable, or normal, of the two, isn’t without her own very significant issues.
THE SILENT WIFE is so well-paced and reads so quickly that it’s easy to glide over important points that come back to explode behind you when you’ve all but forgotten about them. Does it end happily? I will leave that up to you. Regardless, this is a story that will stay with you long after you’ve read the last page.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 28, 2013