The Ninth Wife
Bess Gray's 35th birthday party is tonight, and she is dreading it. Somehow she has let a friend talk her into throwing a singles party (a blanket invite to her single friends to bring unattached singles) at her own apartment. Bess is already ruing her invitation when she runs into Sonny, an ex-boyfriend. Sonny is accompanying Gaia, his very pregnant, very young girlfriend, which seems painfully symbolic to Bess, who recently exclaimed to her assistant that, at 35, doctors begin checking pregnant women for birth defects. One bright spot in Bess's life is her career as a folklorist along with her fascination with learning martial arts. But those two activities don't begin to compensate for the absence of those things (a husband, children) she yearns for in her life. Today, though, most of her energy goes toward dreading the upcoming party.
Bess meets an intriguing fellow at the party. Her friend Gabrielle has invited Rory McMillan, a fiddler who speaks intelligently and wittily in his Irish lilt. He is incredibly, magnetically attractive to Bess, and she finds him irresistible. What's more, his conversation elicits in her an untoward quality: she finds she can engage in sparkling, creative, humorous repartee with a gorgeous straight available male --- and she truly enjoys it. But this ideal situation ends when Sonny turns up with pregnant Gaia in tow. Bess discovers that Rory has vanished even as she finds out that Gaia's water has broken and she's preparing to deliver her baby on Bess's bed. Let's just say, this is a birthday Bess is destined never to forget.
The reader gets a bit of a head start on understanding how and why Rory has been married eight times(!) He tells his story in chapters alternating with Bess's, beginning with his first marriage and the young couple's trip from Ireland to the United States. However, Bess won't find out about Rory's marital history for some time.
Meanwhile, Bess visits her grandparents, Millie and Irv, who are her only living relatives, having adopted her mother. They don't like to talk about the adoption, which leaves Bess with a strange gap in her background. As much as Millie and Irv adore Bess and she loves them, they also trouble her. Irv seems lost so often, while Millie can be a shrew to her husband, and Bess wearies of their constant bickering. On this visit, they drop a bombshell: they plan to sell their Maryland home and move to Tucson, to a retirement community near Millie's sister. Bess is devastated, knowing that they will be so far from her home in Washington, D.C. As she sits there, aghast at the news, her friend Gabrielle calls to inform her that she ran into Rory McMillan in the local Safeway. Rory has asked Gabrielle so many questions about Bess that she is putting him on the line to talk to Bess himself. Rory asks Bess to meet him at the bar in which he's playing fiddle. She accepts, with pleasure, but her joy is somewhat dimmed when she notices something about her grandfather that makes her question his situation.
Bess and Rory's relationship advances rapidly into intimacy. Bess is relaxing into the rightness of the two of them…until Rory makes an offhand remark that leads her to suspect he's been married before. How could he not have mentioned this? she wonders. Are they really not as close as she thinks? When she finds out that, indeed, he has been married eight times before, Bess doesn't know what to think. Since she's decided to drive Millie and Irv to their new home, it seems like the perfect time to find some of Rory's ex-wives. Maybe if she talks to them, she'll understand if she and Rory have any future together.
From the first page, I was enraptured by Bess's story. Although her predicament is unique, her emotions and actions are completely relatable. Subplots revolving around family and friends are skillfully woven into the relationship tale (although I found her friend Cricket's tale to be somewhat less gripping). Readers are sure to find that this intriguing story and sympathetic character add up to one big "did I stay up all night reading again?" page-turner. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on June 6, 2011
The Ninth Wife
- Publication Date: May 10, 2011
- Genres: Fiction
- Paperback: 496 pages
- Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
- ISBN-10: 0061851892
- ISBN-13: 9780061851896