Book Review: The Silent Wife

Author: A.S.A. Harrison
Publisher: Penguin Books
Date Published: June 25, 2013
Number of Pages: 336

SilentWife

“The world is full of damaged people and without the sane ones to take up the slack no couple would be safe.”

Psychotherapist Jodi Brett silently watches as her already dysfunctional 20-year relationship slowly disintegrates, leaving her slighted, disturbed and fighting to retain her way of life.

This is the second book I’ve read and reviewed that’s been likened to Gone Girl (the first being Kimberly McCreights Reconstructing Amelia), after reading the latter I was slightly disappointed, it was a decent story but no way as suspenseful, thrilling or shocking as Gone GirlThe Silent Wife however is a different story. Harrison’s story has all the suspense of Gone Girl as well as that nameless quality that makes you silently scream in your head as the story unfolds and each characters actions and decisions take them further and further towards an unknown abyss.

This is largely due in part to Harrison’s unbelievable writing, which switches back and forth between main characters Jodi and Todd – from the opening lines you know how the story will unfold and as it moves along you find yourself being engulfed by the feelings of dread and foreboding Harrison’s prose creates. The story’s narration is done in such a matter of fact way, there’s no judgment or opinion, just facts. Add to that the brilliant use of the omniscient narrator – which reminded me of the narration in the film version of Tom Perrotta’s Little Children which incidentally is a really good film, but I digress. Harrison assumes that the reader’s intelligence is on par with her own; her use of language is colourful, intriguing – yet almost academic in presentation, highly mature and incredibly fluid. It’s very cool. She evokes strong imagery, for instance take a look at this doozy: As the northern hemisphere hurtles away from the sun, the lengthening nights and disappearing days strike her as a punishment designed for her selectively. Harsh winds whip up rain and fog, whistle through trees, and slam into windowpanes. Leaves that were green just last week have turned the colour of piss and dung and are piling up on the pavement.  (Chapter 11, Opening paragraph) Stunning.

The brilliance in Harrison’s writing lies in her ability to make even the most obvious situations or outcomes surprising. How the story unfolds is not in and of itself unexpected but the way in which scenarios play out – with a sense of detachment on main character Jodi’s part and unbelievable delusion on that of her husband Todd’s.

I found main character Jodi to be frustrating in her restraint and her refusal to accept the facts of her life. By turning a blind eye to Todd’s behaviour for so many years she’s placed herself in – what she believes to be this impenetrable bubble – when in fact, despite all of her attempts, her refusal to get married etc., she’s become complacent just like her mother.  And in doing so she’s in a way put herself at Todd’s mercy. Even with all of her education, and a career that could potentially make her financially independent she’s allowed her world to revolve around Todd and therefore become dependent on him. I mean how naïve can you be? Is it really possible that it never crossed her mind that eventually her husband’s antics would escalate, that he would eventually take the final step and leaver her for someone else? Someone younger? It baffles me to think that this character would never have thought to put a little money away just in case. It also annoys me that she would be so blind-sided by events that were twenty years in the making! Yet there’s this streak of rebellion in Jodi that we get glimpses of periodically – a prime example is the sleeping pills she puts in a cup of cocoa for Todd. Eleven in total. And she’s seemingly not perturbed that she could have potentially killed him.

Yet as I read the book all of these questions were constantly pushed aside due to the unbelievable rage and astonishment I felt towards Jodi’s husband Todd. Instantly unlikeable, arrogant, pompous and self-involved as more of Todd’s character is revealed you come to realize that he’s, well, kind of an idiot. His arrogance is inflated by this belief he has that he’s “really not that bad”, he’s a nice guy you know, he’d never be mean to someone, and he’s trusting, always willing to accept a person at face value. The way he rationalizes his behaviour, his lies, his cheating coupled with the way he walks out on Jodi – with his tail between his legs, it’s all just so vile. *SPOILER* The man impregnates the 21 year-old daughter of his childhood best friend! And then, even more amazingly convinces himself that eventually his good ol’ buddy Dean (his fiancée Natasha’s father) will get over it, come to accept it and value it.

Watching Todd endure this midlife crisis is like watching a diabetic left in a candy store, painful to the point of torture. Hitting the gym, buying a new wardrobe it’s all very pathetic.

Throughout the entire story Todd wavers between Jodi and Natasha, he even manages to convince himself that he and Jodi could be friends, and in fact going so far as to hope that in essence he could turn Jodi into the mistress. Are you kidding me? The worst thing about Todd is that I know someone like that. This kind of person is totally possible. Beware the Todd’s of this world.

Adding further dysfunction to the story – Todd’s soon to be baby mama has got to be the most obnoxious, vapid and shrewish chick in town. The differences between her and Jodi are beyond striking. Natasha is immature beyond all reason, jealous and demanding – it makes you wonder, is youth and spunk really all it takes to make a person turn their back on a loyal, loving and accepting companion? One who, if we’re a little vain, and who are we kidding of course we are, has been acknowledged by numerous characters as being both fit and attractive. If so there’s no hope for any of us. Though Jodi has her faults, she is a little too perfect, a little Stepford wife in her behaviour and her silence though often chilling, is more detrimental to her than she realizes.

As the story hits its peak it plays out like a cautionary tale – Hell hath no fury meets Apple and Tree ie. Try as you might you’ll probably turn into your parents (which definitely explains Lindsay Lohan so take heed children.)

If I have one criticism it’s that I found the ending to drag a bit, both Jodi and Todd make selfish choices and both of them suffer from serious indecision about them – it’s the indecision that encumbers the story. Regardless in the end they both hold true to their persona’s – Todd moves on to another unsuspecting girl with the hope that she’ll be the one who cures him of his ennui, and Jodi follows through on what she feels is the only way to keep the life she’s known for the past twenty years. Harrison does manage to throw in one final twist at the end that once again appears so obvious but somehow she manages to make it seem startling.

The Silent Wife is a captivating and intelligent story that will make you so angry, appalled and confounded you’ll wonder why you’re reading it while at the same time hoping it won’t end. It stands strong on its own and definitely lives up to the hype.

Literary Love Triangles: The Good, The Bad and the WTF?

The love triangle – a common theme seen throughout literature, some of it good, some of it bad, some incredibly questionable…some so bad they’re good. So with this in mind I’ve made a list of just a few love triangles and taken it upon myself to rank them.

Ranking system:
The Good: All around swooning and mooneyes/Things get rough but love triumphs
The Bad: Things aren’t just rough, decisions are questionable, and loyalty means nothing
WTF: Self-explanatory

Will, Jem, Tessa
(The Infernal Devices, Cassandra Clare)

This triangle has caused a lot of strife for fans of Clare’s prequel series The Infernal Devices, with a clear divide between team Jessa and team Wessa (?). In one corner you have the sensitive, kind and dying James Carstairs in the other corner, the fiery, caustic, sensitive and misunderstood William Herondale. And in either corner you’ve got a guy whose calling in life is to slay demons of which you may be one. Oh and did I mention their best friends? Awkward.

*Spoiler*
In the end Clare cleverly works it out where Tessa gets her cake and eats it too. But she does so in a way that’s incredibly touching, thoughtful and respectful to those on either end of the opposing teams. I say kudos Ms. Clare, kudos indeed.

Rating: Good

Betty, Veronica, Archie
(Archie Comics)

Anyone who’s ever read any of the adventures of the Riverdale crew knows that there’s a heavy emphasis on the Betty vs. Veronica quandary poor Archie’s in the middle of. I mean who to choose? The lovely, sweet, kind, patient and fun Betty or the super rich but stuck up, vain and self-involved Veronica? Quite frankly I could never understand Archie’s dilemma. I mean wasn’t the right choice kind of crystal clear? Regardless Betty and Veronica, despite their BFF status were in a constant battle to win the affections of the world famous ginger.

I always found it rather apropos that despite having two hot chicks constantly fight over him in the end Archie’s always willing to dump both for the redheaded vixen Cheryl Blossom. Cheryl by the way was originally deemed too sexual for a children’s comic and removed for a two-year period. This is not surprising. Her name alone screams harlot. Blossom? BLOSSOM?! It’s so salacious. Think about it people. In the end Archie is your typical teenage guy, clearly Ms. Blossom is…a little freewheeling. YouKnowWhatIMean

Rating: Bad

Jean Grey, Cyclops, Wolverine
(The X-Men, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby)

Theirs is a complicated love story. Jean is either married to or dating Cyclops (depending on which story you follow) but clearly has feelings for Wolverine, who we know for a fact is absolutely nuts about her. Cyclops and Wolverine despise each other. Not to mention they’re mutants. Oh and Jean Grey also happens to be one of the most powerful mutants (Omega level guys) around and has a crazy split personality called The Dark Phoenix. In retrospect it’s not really that complicated.

Welcome to the Friendzone, population: 1, Name: Wolverine

Welcome to the Friendzone
Population: 1
Name: Wolverine

Despite their mutual attraction and obvious chemistry Wolverine never really acts on his feelings for JG, nor she for his, despite the fact that Cyclops marries a JG clone and has a “psychic affaire” with Emma Frost. Not cool man. Not cool. Plus you don’t mess with a chick with infinite super powers.

Rating: WTF (based on all the crazy mutant-ness, death, resurrections, adamantium skeletons, a guy with laser eyes. Etc.)

Sidney Carton, Lucie Manette, Charles Darney
(A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens)

Oh Sidney, try as you might the good in you never quite outweighed the bad everyone else saw.  His is a tale of unrequited love, regret and redemption. Making the ultimate sacrifice for the woman he would never have, I’ve often wondered if given the chance to do it over would he still think it was a “far, far better thing” to do?

Rating: Good

Tess, Alec, Angel
(Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy)

Ah Tess, you always believe the best in people and they always turn out to be, well, wankers. Poor Tess is used and abused by manipulative libertine Alec D’Urbervilles and placed on a pedestal only to be callously thrown away by the ironically named Angel Clare when he learns of her past. The story is wrought with angst and despair, love gained and love lost and in the end no one really wins. It’s all so tragic. (Yet terribly entertaining, an 19th century soap opera of sorts.)

Rating: Good (in terms of its iconic status, Hardy’s overall themes especially that of the sexual double standards of the times and the fact that Tess is a survivor.) Bad (Alec and Angel are kind of d-bags.)

Bill, Eric, Sookie
(The Southern Vampire Mysteries, Charlaine Harris)

This triumvirate of supernatural love was always one of my favourite parts of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels.  After years of being seen as the loveable but crazy Merlottes waitress this sassy telepath was able to find love with a handsome, southern gentleman. Albeit a dead one, but hey no one’s perfect. Fast track ahead a few books and things between Sookie and Vampire Bill come to a sad end and she eventually takes up with the super-hot Viking sheriff of Area 5 Eric Northman. But Bill was always in the background, consistently remaining a possibility.

There was always such great tension between Bill and Eric but their mutual love of Sookie time and again (and often begrudgingly) had them working together to keep her safe from harm. In the end it would seem that Harris couldn’t make a choice, and so instead she copped out and put Sookie with the one character she always refused to get with to begin with. I said it before and I’ll say it again, lame.

Rating: WTF

James, Lily, Snape
(Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling)

A well-kept secret this triangle was hinted at throughout the seven book series but never fully disclosed until the ghoulish and menacing Prof. Snape gives his memory’s to an embattled Harry just before he succumbs to the bite of He Who Shall Not Be Named’s pet snake Nagini. Though the full story lasted a single chapter the truth – that Snape was madly in love with Harry’s mother Lily and dedicated his life to protecting her son upon learning of her murder at the hands of Lord Voldemort was heartbreaking and beautiful. It also completely changed the way we looked at Severus Snape, an unsung hero who tried to do the right thing, all for love he would never have. *Swoon*

SnapeNew

Rating: Good

Edward, Bella, Jacob 
(Twilight, Stephenie Meyer)

I am not a Twilight hater, I truly believe like anything it has its place in the pantheon of teenage-supernatural love stories. Many a person has argued that the character of Bella is a bad role model for teenage girls, what with her whole willingness to give up her life for a guy, literally, but I’ve often felt people failed to recognize that death wishes aside Bella is the one who generally saves the day in this series, so she can’t be quite as meek and docile as people say.

Granted there’s also the argument that –ignoring the fact that Edward would very much like to eat his beloved, he’s also a bit of a creepster considering when he first falls in love with her she’s 17 and he’s about a billion (okay, okay he’s 107, but “frozen” physically at 17, regardless you get my point.)

And then there’s the fact that her other paramour Jacob turns into a massive, vampire killing wolf, and it just so happens that this particular form of wolfism is relatively sensitive and deeply tied to emotion so you know he could potentially wolf out on Ms. Swan if she doesn’t put her plate in the dishwasher the right way.

And don't forget the slobber factor.

And don’t forget the slobber factor.

Looking past these arguments, which are all debatable, the reason the Bella/Edward/Jacob threesome of all-enduring teenage angsty love gets the bad rating is due to the pestiferous (I’ve been waiting so long to use that word, which is just an obnoxious way of saying annoying) excuse used to put it to rest. Not to mention the overall extra creepiness of it. Bella chooses Edward, though she acknowledges if he’d never come into the picture she’d have stuck it out with Jacob. That’s gotta sting. Despite being her second choice Jacob leaves his pack to protect her and her unborn vampire-human hybrid baby only to then turn around and “imprint” on said vampire-human hybrid baby, thus breaking his apparently not undying love for Bella and instead making him willing to bide his time while he waits for the child of the girl he’s been in love with for a while now to grow old enough for him. Got it? Good. Now allow me to state the obvious: that is creepy. That’s beyond creepy. That’s not romantic. It’s not sweet. It’s weird and not cool and quite frankly I’d be telling him to stay the hell away from my hybrid baby.

imprinting

That’s right, I generated a meme for this exact purpose. That’s how much I disagree with imprinting.

Rating: WTF (not to mention gross, weird, unhealthy and icky)

Elena, Damon, Stephan
(The Vampire Diaries, L.J. Smith)

They’re brothers! Come on! Have a little decency, a little respect for brotherly love and affection. Plus don’t you find it a little suspect that both brothers happen to have fallen in love with you despite your uncanny resemblance to the vampire who initially came between them and oh made them vampires?

Rating: Bad

Elizabeth Bennett, Darcy, Wickham
(Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen)

I’ve always loved the strife and mayhem Wickham caused between Elizabeth and Darcy. Charming, clever, slimy and manipulative Wickham made for an enjoyable villain. Ingratiating himself to Elizabeth by telling tall-tales about the misunderstood Mr. Darcy, playing on her already affirmed prejudice towards him, the slippery Wickham worms his way into her affections whilst further enraging the man who’s kid sister he ran off to marry so he could get his hands on her wealth. The cad!

In the end the truth is revealed, Elizabeth and Darcy find their way to each other and Wickham gets his (in the form of the insanely insufferable Lydia Bennett). Huzzah!

Rating: Good

Book Review: Reconstructing Amelia

Author: Kimberly McCreight

Publisher: HarperCollins

Date Published: April 2, 2013

Number of Pages: 384 (Hardcover)

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“It wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t been counting the minutes until I could forgive her. But it’s a lot harder to forgive someone who’s not looking to apologize.”

After the apparent suicide of her only child, law associate Kate Baron struggles to come to terms with her loss. After receiving an ominous text that suggests Amelia’s death was not as it seems Kate takes it upon herself to investigate the circumstances of her daughter’s death and the secret life of a child she thought she knew.

This book was first presented to me as Gone Girl meets Gossip Girl – which I thought sounded pretty awesome and though there’s definitely a lot of Gossip Girl in there, I can’t say Reconstructing Amelia is anywhere near shocking or gripping as Gone Girl.

It seems almost unfair to compare any new mystery/thriller release to the juggernaut that is Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl; it really just can’t be matched. In the case of Reconstructing Amelia the only similarity I could see was that both dealt with a mystery surrounding a family member. Reconstructing Amelia is nowhere near as misleading as Gone Girl. Like Gone Girl it too offers many red herrings  – none that lead to any outrageously, “Wow I did not see that coming” moments (maybe I should call them “baby herrings”, which of course I can since this is my blog) but regardless of their size they are very much there in the story. However the seeds and clues that McCreight plants through the story are much easier to piece together. Quite frankly I figured out the ‘whodunit’ part about half way through, or at least I called it. This in one way could be a bit of a bummer if you’re really looking for a shocking ending but I kind of liked it. It’s as if McCreight wanted you to figure it out before she summed it all up. What was important was that both Kate as the protagonist and the reader learned of the incidents and circumstances that led to the tragedy together. The reader is meant to experience Kate’s journey as she does. I like that – it makes the story so much more interactive.

Like Gone Girl, Reconstructing Amelia is very relationship based – though with so many more characters most of the relationships are only shown in snippets, which makes them lose some of their depth. Unlike Gone Girl not a single character in this novel is anywhere near as terrible, awful, vile and amazing as Amy Dunne (nope, not even crazy Zadie).

That being said Reconstructing Amelia definitely has its own vibe and I liked it. McCreight, in the creation of Amelia’s prep school prestige and the “secret” sororities led by the richest, meanest and prettiest girls, sets the stage well for a plot full of twists and turns. I liked the Gossip Girl vibe – the prep school background and the rise to sudden popularity and lightening quick fall of a likeable character. It’s all very dramatic.

But what really makes this book enjoyable is Amelia – as far as characters goes, she has to be one of the most likeable, sincere and genuine characters I’ve come across in recent literature. She is so composed and self-accepting – which is impressive in anyone but in particular a 15-year-old. At first you might think this composure’s not realistic, but based on the voice McCreight gives her, the quiet confidence and strength she continuously demonstrates, it is believable. She’s a kid any parent would be proud to call their own.

It’s interesting how McCreight demonstrates the way Amelia deals with her tormentors, instead of presenting Amelia as unable to deal with her fall from grace and the fear and isolation she’s feeling she stocks her up with unbelievable grit and love. Amelia fights through the pain of a broken heart and the bullying being dealt to her (lead by the borderline psychopathic Zadie – that girl makes Regina George look like Mary Tyler Moore – I say Mary Tyler Moore because she just seems so nice you know?) Despite her world falling apart Amelia doesn’t allow herself to break in order to protect her best friend – even though that same best friend is beyond self-involved, and it’s worth questioning whether she’d have done the same.

There are a lot of relationships – most of which are clearly unhealthy – in this story, each one plays its part perfectly though I have to say I wanted more insight into Kate’s relationship with her nasty co-worker Daniel and less of the emails between her and the tree-hugger guy. I mean I understand the purpose those emails played – the fact that she used him as an idealized version of the father she wished Amelia had but still Daniel was so much more fascinating. Then again the awful characters always are.

What Reconstructing Amelia lacked was suspense. It was all a little too obvious and a little too easy. And perhaps not nearly as salacious as it’s hyped up to be – instead really it’s a sad glimpse into the life of a teenage girl who made a lot of stupid mistakes for love and in doing so paid for it with her life. If you focus less on the actual mystery and more on the relationships it’s easy to enjoy this book.

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars

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Author: John Green

Publisher: Dutton Books

Date published: January 10, 2012

Number of pages: 313

What’s it about?

Hazel Grace Lancaster, a terminally ill cancer patient is coerced by her mother into attending a support group for youth where she meets and eventually falls in love with cancer survivor Augustus Waters.

I actually had to read this book twice before I could sit down and write about it. Not because it’s bad (because it most definitely isn’t bad, unless we’re using the Ebonics form of ‘bad’ which then suggests something is in fact good in which case this book is incredibly bad.) I fell in love with this story and both Hazel and Augustus so deeply that I didn’t think I could actually put into words how I was feeling. It’s a difficult book to define, part philosophical journey, part tragic romance yet filled with unbelievable hilarity The Fault in Our Stars is a book you can read over and over again – and never get bored of.

Part of what is so striking about The Fault in our Stars is how well Green portrays teenage angst – and how he does so with unbelievable humour and warmth. Augustus’ obsession with having a meaningful life – being a hero, combined with his astonishing sense of ennui (the existentially fraught free throws) kind of sums up being a teenager. And yet because both characters have had to face their own mortality – their maturity, the level of intelligence and wit these characters display allows them to acknowledge their suffering without allowing it to control them.

But let’s just talk about Augustus Waters for a minute. First of all Augustus Waters – why is that one of the greatest literary names ever? Furthermore, he’s kind of totally swoon-worthy. Self-assured, intelligent, thoughtful, kind and funny, Gus is a nice change of pace from all the bad-boys-with-a-heart-of-gold-that-they-have-to-hide-because-they-need-to-be-tough that seem to currently permeate YA novels (Jace Wayland, Will Herondale, Patch in the Hush Hush series, Four – not that they’re not swoon-worthy in their own right.) It’s just that Gus is normal yet extraordinary.  Everything he does is just a little amazing because of how he does it; he displays a sense of selflessness that’s not generally expected of 17-year-old boys. This quality isn’t something that only comes out with Hazel; his entire relationship with Isaac demonstrates Gus’ kindness and understanding (not to mention his slightly perverse sense of humour.) The ‘night of the broken trophy’s’ as Hazel calls it and the egging of Isaac’s ex-girlfriends house (done while at the height of Gus’ illness) are just some of the examples that come to mind.

There’s also the fact that despite the serious disappointment that Van Houten proves to be, Gus continues to write to him, asking for help with his eulogy for Hazel and demanding he answer her questions – further demonstrating the extraordinary thoughtfulness and love Gus possesses.

What really grabs you with this story is how bittersweet it is – you always know it will end sadly, the entire book kind of prepares you for it.  But Green takes you on this journey, he leads you through the process of dealing with mortality and the inevitable and he does it in a way that is neither condescending nor pathetic. You watch these characters as they live their lives with the burden of cancer and marvel at the humanness, the fight, the hope and despair – that Green creates, all done with so much flair and humour – real humour – not forced, it’s all so natural. The conversations between Hazel and Augustus are believable – you could imagine having those same conversations with your own friends. The progression of their relationship and the feelings of fear and frustration Hazel feels, Gus’ persistence in pursuing her and the inevitable heartbreak that comes with his death – make this story seem so much bigger than your average YA novel but quite frankly, that’s what makes this book so charming and real. It’s the underlying sadness coupled with the distinct voices Green saddles his characters with that makes The Fault in Our Stars such a standout story.