Canterbury Bells

Canterbury Bells
Canterbury Bells represent Gratitude in the Language of Flowers

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Silent Wife by A.S.A.Harrison

If you liked last summer’s block buster, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, you might like The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison, a debut paperback novel just published in June but quickly climbing the best-seller charts. Called one of the summer’s sleeper hits, one reviewer says, “It ensnares the reader on page one and doesn’t let go.”  Even if you didn’t read Gone Girl, but like psychological suspense based on an unusual relationship, this might be the page-turner you are looking for.

Another reason it is compared to Gone Girl is because it too is told from both points of view in alternating chapters—in this case Her and Him.

Her is Jodi, 45 years old, a psychoanalyst who selectively counsels two patients a day in her 27- story high rise Chicago condo overlooking Lake Michigan. Him is Todd (46), a successful property developer whose income provides their luxurious life style including a Porsche (Him) and an Audi coupe (Her).  Jodi’s light schedule allows her time to pursue her interests—decorating their condo, Pilates, shopping for and preparing the gourmet meals they enjoy each evening. Their home provides them a life of comfort, order and predictability.  And there is the dog, a golden retriever as perfect as their home, which Jodi brought home as an adorable puppy when Todd, at age 40, developed a sudden interest in progeny, hoping this would placate him. She named the puppy Freud so she could also poke fun at his namesake, having been forced to endless study of him in college. Now she could use such phrases as Freud passing gas, Freud eating garbage, Freud chasing his tail.

Jodi loves pampering Todd as she has done for the twenty years they have been together and because her personal philosophy is “peace of mind comes with taking people as they are and emphasizing the positive,” she chooses to ignore Todd’s philandering. She continues to provide a safe haven for him by acting as if she doesn’t know that he cheats-- and HE knows that SHE knows and so they continue this charade as they have through the years, both apparently satisfied with this unusual relationship and how it benefits each of them.  Jodi admitted her life was “imperfect but utterly acceptable”.

Then one of Todd’s flirtations (with his best friend’s young daughter Natasha) escalates to an affair which careens out of control and Jodi and Todd’s orderly lives take a nosedive that neither are able to set right again.  Although we are told early on (first page) that Jodi will become a killer, it does not destroy the suspense element.  In fact, it heightens it.  We now anticipate it and read on to discover how this self-assured, loving, forgiving, and confident-in–her-relationship woman unravels.  At what point is she pushed beyond her limits and what, in a final attempt to protect herself and her lifestyle, causes her to resort to murder. It’s a chilling story that keeps the pages turning and with a few unexpected twists along the way.

There are times as you read where you can’t believe what either Jodi or Todd are saying or doing (or not doing), yet the author skillfully weaves past and present for full character development.  As the plot moves forward, we also learn the back-stories in the HER/HIM chapters which often explains their present day behavior and makes the plot more credible.  The character of Natasha, the little paramour, now pregnant, provides some comic relief in an otherwise tense story. I don’t know if that was intentional but I found her actions and dialogue amusing as she plans the wedding of the century—a wedding Todd is dreading yet he can’t seem to stop the snowball from gathering momentum each day as it rolls down the hill.  I think I said to myself several times, “These people are insane,” yet I had to read on to see what their insanity led to.

There are also some chapters where we witness Jodi’s earlier experience with her own analyst as part of her training which are interesting and revealing.  Different analysts’ philosophies (Jung, Freud and others) are also woven into the story which adds another dimension.

In a real-life and tragic twist, the author, Ms. Harrison, died of ovarian cancer at age 65, just weeks before her book was published.  According to her husband, visual artist, John Massey, she was able to read early positive reviews of her book and had a sense that it could be a success.  He says, “She was very modest and knew she had worked very hard on this book. She had clear ideas about what was good...I think she believed she had written a good novel.”

I would agree that she had and I think readers are proving it through rapid word-of-mouth recommendation—the best kind.