Since reading Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl nearly a year ago, I, like many others, have been desperately searching for an equally thrilling read. I’ve Googled lists of recommended reads and scanned Pinterest post after Pinterest post, seeking the holy grail of psychological thriller/mystery literature; and friends, I’ve only found disappointment.
A.S.A. Harrison’s novel The Silent Wife, published in June 2013, seems to have gained popularity following the publication of Flynn’s Gone Girl as readers like myself search for what I have dubbed “GG 2.0”. Harrison’s novel fits neatly into the subgenre of writing titled “Domestic Noir” that has grown in popularity as housewives everywhere (apparently?) began fantasizing about killing their husbands. (Note: When I read that last sentence, I feel wholeheartedly ashamed to admit I find the genre absolutely delightful. Disclaimer: I have no reveries of slaughtering my husband.)
Harrison’s tale is that of a suburban psychiatrist housewife, whose cheating husband, we are told at the beginning of the tale, will die before the book is over. Readers are also made privy to a somewhat anti-climactic detail, within the first two pages of the story: the wife — our title wife, that is — will become a killer.
Yes. Page two of the book. Harrison drops that bomb on page two of her novel; and the pages that follow are only read, it later seems, in a furious dash to determine whether or not the story will have an actual climax. Spoiler: That was it.
Jodi, the star of the novel, is a spoiled, anal-retentive housewife of the “Irritatingly On-Top-Of-It-All and Despicably Trim to Boot” variety. She runs a clinic from the comfort of her lavish condo, seemingly on a whim, a few hours daily. Her exchanges with Todd, her spouse, are mundane and forced; which, I will admit, is one portion of the novel I found believable. The couple has never been formally married, which later plays a key role in Jodi’s fate; and Todd has engaged in numerous and regular affairs with other women. His most recent tryst — with the twenty-something daughter of his childhood best friend — has resulted in pregnancy and disillusioned love.
Readers are informed that Todd feels remorse for his promiscuity; however, Harrison crafts Todd with undertones of a perfectly stupid, lumbering, sex-monger. His character is so unbelievably superficial and idiotic that by the end of the book, I found myself rooting for his death so that both he and I would be put out of our misery.
Perhaps the most bothersome feature of the read is the narrator. The novel is written from the third-person omniscient perspective, allowing the reader to access the emotions and thoughts of both of our major characters. Thus, the reader encounters phrases like, “At forty-five, Jodi still sees herself as a young woman,” and “Having shown Miss Piggy out, she proceeds to the lower level of the condominium, where she lifts weights and cycles 10K.” Had the story had a brilliant climax, had the characters been more — believable? relatable? ingenious? — Harrison could have gotten away with the play-by-play, simple-present tense perspective. Unfortunately, the story lacks the thrill readers seek, and the verb tense becomes an annoyance — quickly.
On top of this sundae of disappointments is the lack of truly thought-provoking themes/central questions. In failing to create believable characters with depth, Harrison fails to create any scenarios or questions that invoke “What if?” contemplation. Sure, one could argue that the tale itself — a straying husband, a pregnant lover, a wife nearing psychotic break — poses dozens of valid questions. Unfortunately, Harrison’s lackluster narrative never captured my attention on those points. Rather, I spent my time scoffing at the characters’ reactions and cringing at the narrator’s irksome voice.
The book has enough appeal to pick up for an afternoon at Starbucks, where your attention can no doubt be supplemented via the sport of people watching; but if you’re looking for another Flynn, keep steppin’.