Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Literary Wives #17

The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison
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I had to chuckle to myself as I posted a comment on a recent discussion at The Socratic Salon regarding separation of books and authors--how much does your knowledge about an author influence your enjoyment or reading or even selection of his/her books? It is rather obvious I do little to no 'research' prior to reading a book, since I asked the other co-hosting Literary Wives bloggers if we were going to complete and post an interview with the author of this book. Oops. She died. In 2013. Yep, not much to very little research...well, usually, NO research before reading a book. Uhm...no author interview this time either. And what a shame that she will not be publishing any other novels. This was her debut and I found it to be fascinating. It was such a psychological study on so many levels and in so many ways. 

Click here for more information on Literary Wives, including the bloggers currently on hiatus from the "club"! :)

Be sure to check out the other co-hosting bloggers' reviews: 
Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J
Naomi of Consumed by Ink
Kay of whatmeread
We inevitably represent a variety of reactions to each read, which makes it fun! I would like to thank the publisher for a free review copy in exchange for an honest review! 

I love psychology/sociology and have a distinct appreciation of the way Harrison depicted the underlying rationale and justifications used by both Todd and Jodi as they made choices/decisions in their respective individual lives and their life together as a couple. Part of the sense of isolation I felt for Jodi was depicted by the description on page 1 of their apartment on the 27th floor with only "a vista of lake and sky." This was definitely an 'exclusive' building and my first thought was that anything could happen to anyone in this setting with no one discovering it for quite some time... Talk about sinister foreshadowing:
...she is deeply unaware that her life is now peaking, that her youthful resilience--which her twenty-year marriage to Todd Gilbert has been slowly eroding--is approaching a final stage of disintegration, that her notions about who she is and how she ought to conduct herself are far less stable then she supposes, given that a few short months are all it will take to make a killer out of her.
  If you told her this she would not believe you. Murder is barely a word in her vocabulary, a concept without meaning, the subject of stories in the news having to do with people she doesn't know and will never meet. (4)
What a courageous start to a suspenseful book! Harrison has basically summarized this whole story in these few lines...and yet, there is so much more to learn about both Jodi and Todd. My best friend and I (also named Lynn) have always said we all create our own reality, and this book is a well-constructed clear depiction of just that. Each of us use various rationalizations and theoretical foundations to create our lives, just as they have done. 

Of all the ironies, Jodi is a psychologist who is financially able to limit her practice to only two appointments per day, and she meets with them in her own apartment, therefore she is very isolated from casual, purely social interactions overall, except with Todd. She is a very routine-driven person for whom the daily schedule is all-important. However, she met Todd in a very non-routine way--they quite literally ran into each other--well, their vehicles did, and talk about 'road rage':
  You crazy bitch. what in God's name do you thing you're doing? Are you some kind of maniac? Where did you learn to drive? People like you should stay off the road. Are you going to get out of your car or are you just going to sit there like an imbecile?"
  His tirade that day in the rain did not give a favourable impression, but a man who's been in a car crash is going to be irate even if it's his own fault, which in this instance it was not, so when he called a few days later to ask her to dinner, she graciously accepted. (6)
I'm sorry, but right here, on page 6, I am (in my head) yelling loudly at her to pay attention to this red flag--this guy has an anger problem and he is, at the very least, verbally abusive in his anger. And talk about rationalization, no, not every man is going to act like this! Exactly why was it 'gracious' for her to accept his invitation? I thought it was just plain stupid. I would have avoided this guy like the plague! But...I have had experience with this type of behavior in a long-term relationship, so when I was her age, I might have done the same... (Hindsight is always 20-20, eh?) :) So for those reasons, I can somewhat understand her reaction...maybe! :)

Todd gives the impression he has money and he is quite solicitous, kind, and gentle, on that first date. Of him Jodi states
He's a man whose touch is always warm, a matter of animal significance for someone who is nearly always cold. (10)
Uhm...okay, but really, a good blanket might serve virtually the same purpose, mightn't it? This just struck me as a bit strange, she definitely seems cold and aloof...but then we learn that Jodi, as well as her younger brother Ryan, has endured trauma at the hands of Darrell, her older brother as a six-year-old, and although no details are directly written about this trauma imposed upon the two younger siblings, one can only assume the worst:
The memory had borne its burial well, had returned to her intact, untarnished, fully dimensional, part of her living history, complete with visceral analogues--tastes, smells, sensations--actual voltage....Initially, the explosion within had been all pain and alarm, but later on she learned the trick of surrender, came to understand that capitulation was her means of disengaging, her ticket out.(254)
Sounds like physical/sexual abuse at the hands of her older brother, and her only coping mechanism was to disconnect from the reality and accept it...that would definitely warp your expectations and ability to connect with others later as an adult. 

His impatience with domestic work stems from the fact that his expansive energy overshoots the scale of the tasks to be done. You can see it in the way he fills a room, looming and towering in the limited space, his voice loud, his gestures sweeping. He's a man who belongs outside or on a building site, where his magnitude makes sense. At home, he's often at his best asleep beside her, his bulk in repose and his energy dormant in a kind of comforting absence. (16)
This totally felt like making excuses for the man, rationalizing his lack of attention to domestic tasks of any kind. Although to his credit, he is ambitious and a hardworking entrepreneur who has made his own money. I felt as if these two people weren't truly connected to each other emotionally, but rather theirs was a marriage of convenience (simply routine?) more than anything else, perhaps? 

Then we learn from Jodi,
She is grateful for the stability and security of her life, has come to treasure the everyday freedoms, the absence of demands and complications. By forgoing marriage and children she has kept a clean slate, allowed for a sense of spaciousness. (17)
Wait! Wait! What?!? Yep! She's not even really married to this man! Not that I have a problem with unmarried people cohabiting, but...
There are no regrets. Her friends of course know her as Jodi Brett, but to most people she is Mrs. Gilbert. She likes the name and title; they give her a pedigree of sorts and act as an all-around shorthand, eliminating the need to correct people or make explanations, dispensing with awkward terminology like life partner and significant other. (17)
I do understand this idea of not disabusing others in their assumption that you are 'married' to your significant other, as an "older female" in a relationship with an "older man" to whom I was not married, then after marrying him, it is amazing just how much more comfortable most people are when you claim to be 'husband and wife' rather than anything else... Unfortunately, however, this can leave you very vulnerable legally (and especially financially) if you haven't signed the legal paperwork to be 'married'. 

We learn that Jodi thoroughly vets and greatly limits the clients she will work with since one of her young clients committed suicide early in her practice. Now that would be heartrending, and leave you with quite a sense of guilt/responsibility with which to deal. 

1. What does this book say about wives or about the experience of being a wife?

Although this relationship resembles a marriage in virtually every way to onlookers, Jodi and Todd are NOT legally married. However, that doesn't make a difference to the people in the relationship unless they want it to, in my opinion. Ironically, the partner who cheats is the one who wanted to be legally married... I'm not sure why, really. It is just pure confusion and disbelief for me to imagine supposedly 'loving' someone and then having sex with other people. <shaking my head> That just does not compute for me. Jodi knew Todd cheated:
  Cheaters prosper; many of them do. And even if they don't they are not going to change, because, as a rule, people don't change--not without strong motivation and sustained effort. (24) 
Other people are not here to fulfill our needs or meet our expectations, nor will they always treat us well. Failure to accept this will generate feelings of anger and resentment. Peace of mind comes with taking people as they are and emphasizing the positive. (24) 
I agree with this statement to a degree, though I think most of us have limits beyond which we refuse to accept a partner's specific behaviors--infidelity is one for me! And I believe such limits are healthy and help prevent individuals (especially females) from being totally exploited.
Jodi seemingly provided all the things a 'good wife' should: a clean nicely decorated home, home-cooked gourmet meals for supper, and constancy in being home when he arrived home, etc. She seemed to rarely go out with friends or do anything for her own enjoyment without Todd. She believed that if she did all this and overlooked his affairs with other women, all would continue as it had been for 20 years... Her life was built upon and dependent upon routine and as long as that was uninterrupted, she was okay with his transgressions, though she did exhibit passive/aggressive behaviors by frustrating him in little ways as a form of revenge, occasionally misplacing his belongings, and other trivial irritating acts. So she did care on some level, though she claimed not to.

Then the other extreme is represented by Natasha, whom Todd thought 
had made him young again, but now he understands. The women who start to think they own you and the obligations that can break a man. You have to keep moving in life. You have to move fast so they can't pin you down. (268)
Just as Todd has this realization and can better appreciate Jodi's forbearance of his indiscretions and lack of controlling behaviors, he dies.  

  She feels that in killing him off she killed off parts of herself as well. But at heart she knows that those parts perished long ago--the parts that were guileless and trusting, whole-hearted and devout. Places where life once flowed, having lost their blood supply, became dead spots in her psychic tissue, succumbed to a form of necrosis that also invaded the thing that was neither her nor him but the ground between them, the relationship itself. (300)

2. In what way does this woman define "wife"--or in what way is she defined by "wife"?

While Jodi enjoyed the fact that others believe her to be Todd's wife, she was supposedy relieved that she was 'untethered.' However, it was the routine that she most valued, so as long as he continued in the expected routine, she was satisfied with her role as "wife," though she was not his wife in the legal sense. Although Jodi defined her own role as 'partner'/pretend 'wife,' she soon learned that without that legally binding agreement as an official wife, she was financially at risk since Todd legally owned the apartment where she/they lived, etc. And, of course, the problem with a 'philanderer' (I love that word...don't you?) is the risk that he will decide to attach himself to one of these other women and ditch you! Personally, I don't understand why marriage was ever setup in our laws as such a powerful legal relationship. As far as I'm concerned marriage is a religious construct. I think all resulting legal matters should be attended to between/among individuals with no "marriage" laws involved. Each individual should have a will and update it as life changes occur, and "couples" should work out their own legal agreements regarding property, etc. But I digress. Perhaps one of the most commonly known similar situations is that of Stieg Larsson and his long-term partner, Eva Gabrielsson, leaving us with the lesson that if you eschew the legalities of "marriage," you must create the legal documentation to protect each other financially, or else...the long-term partner may be left with no legal claim to your estate. To defend her home, Jodi does the unthinkable, plotting and planning for Todd's death, though if we know her at all, we realize her routine is definitely the MOST important part of her life, and losing her home would, she believes, irreparably disrupt that routine... In this regard, Jodi displays a very common reaction to childhood abuse--to create a life based strictly upon routine, within which to protect yourself. 

In the end, Jodi's definition of "wife" or 'long-term committed partner' includes little to no emotional attachment to another person, but her adult life is committed to very loose attachments due to childhood trauma, in my opinion.

I was pleasantly surprised that this book wasn't 'scary' to me as I feared it might be, except for the fact that we all select and rationalize our life's choices, and that can be a very dangerous proposition, not only for each of us, but for those within our immediate surroundings. Have you read it? I fear it might not be as enjoyable for those who don't like to examine characters' underlying psychological motivations, but perhaps it is... I considered it an amazing examination of "marriage." What are your thoughts? 


  1. I knew that Jodi had suppressed some serious memories, but I hadn't thought it all the way through like you did, contributing it to the way she seems content to live as a wife without the emotional attachment most of us would want. I think Emily might have touched on this, as well.
    I found this book very interesting, reading about the way Jodi and Todd both viewed their relationship, etc. And, yes, to think that the very tactic Jodi took to try to protect herself backfired on her. I did feel bad for her, although I didn't really like either of them very much, except to pick apart and examine. :)

    1. I love your comment, "except to pick apart and examine"! That was exactly what I felt this book was all about! :) Interesting that we all seemed to have pretty much the same reactions to this one. That rarely happens! :)

  2. You are spot on with the idea that Jodi has created her own reality, as we all do. I guess hers is a little more twisted and disturbing, and I think the fact that she would turn to "murder" to solve her problem shows just how much further she has taken that reality. I mean, she ignored all of Todd's bad behavior in order to keep it intact, and like you said, I think it is a result of her childhood trauma.

    1. I also couldn't believe that up until the very end of his life, Todd was still searching for that one woman whom he thought would make everything 'right' in his life. He was just as pitiful as Jodi, in my opinion! Ironic that she was a psychologist! :)