Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Silent Wife

The publisher of A.S.A. Harrison's novel, Silent Wife, seems to have thought that touting it as somehow "like" Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl would be a good selling point. And it probably was. But that's really as far as the 'point' goes, unless it can be said that any novel about the dissolution of a marriage is like every other novel about the dissolution of a marriage. Which, of course, it can't. Given the expectations conveyed in the advertisement, it is not surprising that quite a number of readers, apparently, came away disappointed. They had expected to read Gone Girl again, but found themselves wrestling with a very different creature instead.

Silent Wife is a deep study of the nature of men and women, the expectations that the genders bring to love and marriage, their response to infidelity, their differing capacities for both love and outrage. It is a study, also, of the deeply ingrained foundations of character strengths and weaknesses that each participant brings to the marriage. In some sense, the thing is a settled matter before it even gets started - settled long ago in the essential events of childhood. For each couple, according to the nature of gender expectations, the mythologies in force, there exists a fair playing field, with mutually recognized boundaries, upon which the relationship may proceed without fatal injury. The field is wide, the options are many; and yet there are certain lines which, when crossed, constitute an unforgivable transgression - both of the marriage contract and of the safe boundaries of the individual psyche.

I have rarely found myself so immersed in a story, so involved - such that I felt that I knew the characters personally and, over time, more and more completely, and was taking part in their personal drama. Like the title, it is all "quietly", and very artfully accomplished. Ultimately, one knows what the characters will do because he has learned who they are as individuals.

Sadly, Ms. Harrison passed away while at work on a second novel, and so Silent Wife must remain a standalone experience. Happily, however, the novel easily bears the depth to be read again in the future.

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