Monday, February 1, 2016

Literary Wives #19!!

A Circle of Wives 

Welcome to the review and discussion of our 19th Literary Wives book--
A Circle of Wives by Alice Laplante!

This one book will count toward both #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks and 2016 Cloak and Dagger Reading Challenge.

Our format has changed just a bit as we are now considering only this question...

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

And, believe me, this book had plenty to say about that!!
...what do you do when your husband not only turns up dead, but already married? (14)
Especially when this is true for not just one woman, but...two?!? 

Cover ImageAs usual, I did not complete much research about this book prior to reading, so I was a bit surprised that it was as creepy to me as it was! Not horribly...but enough! As regards the mystery portion of the story, it definitely kept me interested enough to feel as if I just "had to know" what had really happened! My immediate thought upon finishing this book was, "I definitely do not understand a woman who would remain in a sham of a marriage just to retain her 'social standing'..." And yet it is probably grossly unfair for me to utter such a judgment since (1) I have never been even close to having any 'social standing' to retain! :) and (2) I, myself, remained in a loveless marriage in which I had no true happiness for 12 years, due to the need to raise my children...and it seemed I had no other viable options, at least none with which I was comfortable at the time. I am reminded of the old axiom: "People in glass houses should not throw stones." So while I may never have been in the exact same situation as Deborah, I made my own choices which I'm certain seemed insane to others! :) And since there are no "do-overs" in life one must simply persevere and remember lessons learned, hopefully applying them to our future decisions! 

I loved how LaPlante juxtaposed Sam and Peter's relationship against those of Dr. Taylor and each of his three wives. There is some humor as Sam describes her own relationship...
The fact that I use the words beautiful and smelt together in a sentence shows what living with Peter has done to me. (2)
<chuckling> :) And though they have been together for a decade, 
...I hesitate to call myself committed. It's not a word I would use, ever, to describe myself. (2)
  And here's something else you should know about me. I'm also a quitter. I'm not ashamed. I find that it often takes more courage to stop doing something you despise than to continue blindly along the wrong path. You usually save yourself, and others, a lot of grief by acknowledging your failure and moving on. (3)
However, I would argue that the need to change is not always due to "failure," but perhaps more often just due to a mismatch between yourself/your expectations and needs and the situation, whatever that may entail. I do believe semantics make a difference--for me, using the word "discomfort" rather than "pain" helps cope with osteoarthritis 'glitches.' Hence a "mismatch" rather than a "failure." :) Of course, it would truly be your failure if you simply didn't try to succeed... In composing this review I recognize this as pertinent foreshadowing in the very first few pages of the book! 
As she and Peter role play an interview she realizes he is very angry. 
Bad idea on my end, to open the door to honesty. Destructive stuff. Such behavior, such words, even if said in jest or role-playing, have the potential to poison. (157) LaPlante saying that one should never communicate honestly with a partner? Hmmm...

Sam can't seem to relax with Peter for their first shared evening meal after a whole week.
This used to be enough, us together at night, over simple but good food. Though it has been growing less satisfactory. Something left wanting. Something about the John Taylor case and its web of love and deceit is souring what used to sustain me. 
  "People do crazy things for love," I tell him. "Or for what they think is love." 
  "Do they, now? And how would you know?" Peter isn't smiling as he says this. (87)
Ooohh...trouble in paradise! 
Sam's parents had divorced the year after her brother died.
  My inability, or my refusal, to make commitments began back then, I believe... That back and forth [between my mother's and father's houses] for nine years until I went ot college took its toll. I learned to compromise, but never to commit....I never had to choose. I didn't even choose Peter. He chose me, and somehow that was easy.
  Still, sometimes I find myself yearning for more. To give myself over to something. Not to waver. To embrace passion. Whatever John Taylor lacked in his life, whatever hole he was trying to fill by marrying multiple times, he certainly had passion. And I'm not sure I ever did. This is the conversation Peter and I agreed not to have. It makes him miserable. 
  Passion. I decide it must be the root of everything in life. And I feel that it will be at the root of the John Taylor case. (116-117)
It is true--Taylor was passionate in all areas of his life, except perhaps with Deborah? I never did quite understand why he allowed her to call the shots, except perhaps he really did deep down still love her and that was his way of showing it? 

John Taylor began his extramarital affairs rather predictably, once their youngest child was out of the house and it was only himself and Deborah. Once he started drinking and they were doing nothing but fighting, Deborah conceded...
He could have a serious relationship. He could seek love. He could even get married again, if he found someone he loved who loved him back. But whoever she was, she was not to know about me. she was not to have entrée into his public, professional life--he had to choose an outsider to our world. I was Mrs. John Taylor. And he had to be home by 5:30 every morning, to shower, dress, and eat breakfast in our house before going to work, before making his rounds. (59)
Once he had met and married MJ,
I continued to organize his life. I controlled the household, paid the bills, and kept his calendar. I kept him straight. I even booked his flights down to LA when he found someone there, too. (59)
It was at this point that I shivered a bit, considering just how disconnected she had to be from him to do all that...and yet she refused to give up her role as "the wife." And is that really being a "wife"? Not to me...I mean, an efficient personal assistant could do all that, couldn't he or she? 
But Deborah admits
I owe MJ. And my debt is not a trivial one. (121)
We later learn just a bit of what she means by this statement...when MJ confesses...

MJ muses while at the funeral.
  We had agreed, in our wills, on cremation....I'd found the idea of cremation to be reassuringly final and safe. If I can't have him, no one can. Crazy thoughts--being jealous of even the earth for embracing him so wholly when I can't.
  He never knew how jealous I was, how I carefully watched him when we were out in public for any sign that he was looking at, perhaps evaluating, other women. But he never gave me a moment's worry. Funny, isn't it? (17)
Well, not to me it wouldn't be funny! Of course he wasn't looking at other women! this point MJ wasn't even aware of the third wife! 
It seems MJ is the only one of these three women who ever truly saw John in a rage, about the garden. She had evidently trimmed a hibiscus plan too closely, prompting him to yell and throw a dozen eggs at the wall.
"I don't expect much of you, MJ....But I do expect you not to mess with my garden." 
We never spoke of that incident again, but it made me tread more cautiously around him than before. And that he called it his garden. Not ours. Never ours. (199)
So with all that passion there may well have been some anger and negative displays, too! 

Helen is the third wife, having only been married to John for a year prior to his death. She is a pediatric oncologist and John seemed to value very highly their shared interest in higher level professional knowledge. However, once she discovers she is pregnant...

  I'm finding it difficult for the first time to do my job; my dread grows from the minute I step through the hospital door. And there is guild, too--not an emotion I am overly familiar with. Because I know that if John had lived, this child would not have. It was in our agreement: no children. How can you weigh one life against another? Yet that is what I have done. And decided. (154)
Oooohhh...and just how far did she go with that decision?
In speaking of her bipolar father, whom she prefers to remember as a "reader," Helen states that
Studies have shown that a good dose of poetry, spoken at the right time, can impact the same parts of the brain as the pills we use to medicate bipolar patients today." (186)
She had proven this to be true by calming him with poetry recitation. 
Sam speaks with Helen one last time.
  "A man is dead," I say, "And one of you three almost certain did it."
  She smiles again.
  "If you can guess who," she says. "You win the prize." 

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

Although Sam cares for Peter, she feels as if she is in a rut with this relationship. She doesn't choose to become Peter's "wife" least not yet. 

Deborah, the only wife listed in the obituary publication, is so cold-blooded, in my opinion! I cannot imagine continuing in a marriage just for the social status it gives you and THEN not only condoning but actually scheduling your husband's life around not only one, but then TWO other "wives"? So, what spoke to me is this: One's role as wife is totally dependent upon what you 'believe' that role to be. (This reminded me of Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff--how can we ever be sure what our partner's motivations are with regard to our relationship with them?) For example, both MJ and Helen 'believe' themselves to be married to Taylor, but their "marriages" are not legally binding since he was still legally married to Deborah. Interestingly, it was as if he fulfilled different areas of his own needs with each of these other two wives: with MJ he was an avid gardener and lover of nature, and with Helen he was quiet and more of an academician. Although we do learn from Deborah that he was also a passionate artist, who had registered for a drawing class while completing his residency. He would sketch people as they sat in the park and invariably the subjects would offer to purchase the sketches which he would gladly gift to them instead, always proudly signing them when asked to do so! However, Deborah said he absolutely could not be "fragmented in that way," that she "needed him to focus," and he replied, "Deborah, one day you will kill me." More foreshadowing? 

I suppose Deborah got what she wanted in the end, although she was angry that Helen had defied her "agreement" with John and gotten pregnant. I liked the fact that LaPlante left this 'up in the air,' so to speak at the end of the book. It leaves many questions regarding Helen's child and the future. Helen is definitely self-sufficient financially, so perhaps there won't be any legal dispute relating to money. Although there would technically be a fourth heir to John's fortune, supposedly this unborn child could pursue a legal claim to John's fortune. Though how much money did this one man have? I kept asking myself throughout this book. How did he amass so much money that he could afford everything in his multi-family life? Perhaps that is just my ignorance, but it seemed as if his practice/clinic wasn't necessarily supporting him in that grand a lifestyle? Though I'm sure Deborah managed it all...right down to the last penny! I did feel some sympathy for her when she realized that she couldn't even stand for him to touch her any more, though she also realized she still loved him...or perhaps the idea of him. I believe that living this type of life lacking any intimate contact and maintaining such a 'surface only' relationship with her "husband" had driven away most any affection she may have been able to muster... 

Though in reminiscing, I believe Deborah reveals to us the one man with whom she had a very close relationship, even if not a physically intimate one. Seven months pregnant and sitting on the couch beside Gerald, he takes her hand...

"Are you flirting with me?" I asked him as a joke, but he didn't smile. "You are!" I said, and laughed, pointing to my belly. He still didn't smile. But I saw that calculating look...and he reached out with his free hand, pulled my face to his and kissed me. It was a hard kiss. Just a hint of tongue and enormously erotic. I was astounded. I had genuinely thought passion was behind me. 
  Then [Gerald's wife] Joyce  stumbled out of the bedroom and whatever might have happened stopped cold. 
  Whether or not things would have progressed further turned moot a week later. Gerald was in a head-on collision....Both he and Joyce were killed outright....But I often wonder what might have happened, had Joyce not disturbed us, or had death not taken them. 
  Death. Always interrupting things. (106) 
A bit of dark humor there! 

I felt this particularly came out in the scene where she and Helen talk and visit. That was rather surreal, in my opinion. But then she literally pulls MJ (unknowingly) into her (or their?) plot to rid them all of John, permanently. Although there was no absolute proof that Deborah had plotted and carried out John's death, there certainly appeared to be enough circumstantial evidence. and I believe Helen would have had no qualms in providing the murder weapon--a hypodermic needle filled with potassium chloride. I had no problem believing she would rather have him dead than to lose him to "the FOURTH woman." And for John and Claire to believe she wouldn't have known about their scheme for him to divorce Deborah, was, in my opinion, very stupid. This woman personally planned every detail of his life! And she would have certainly noticed changes in him, his attitude, etc., even if not spoken aloud, she would realize something was "off"... And trust me, Deborah would have gotten to the bottom of it! Immediately! :)

And what of "young love" between Sam and Peter? As Peter states,
"Sam....What you don't understand is that we've got what people hope to have after the passion and initial excitement have burned out. We're best friends. It's what you want when you're fifty, sixty, and beyond. The marriages that last get here. After all the other stuff is finished. Where we were lucky enough to start."
  "So you're saying we're already done with that...stuff," I say. "Shit, Peter!" I'm speechless for a moment, which is good, because bad things are coming, terrible things. "Do you think I want to go through life missing one of the most profound human experiences there is?" 
  "And what's that, may I ask?" Peter says.
  "Falling in love," I say. 
  "Well!" Peter says, and stops...."That's a pretty damning statement." (242)
Once she returns home after confronting Deborah one last time, she realizes that all Peter's things are gone from their is he...

Overall, I really liked this book. It was not what I would term a "favorite" read, but it was definitely a good one and gave me much to consider regarding marriage and relationships and how well we can ever truly know another person and his/her motivations for a relationship. I rather felt John got what he deserved in a way, though I can't believe he would willingly allow Deborah to 'run his life' the way he did. Perhaps it was mostly due to his extreme patience and passion! I felt that MJ was the only woman of the four who had a truly loving relationship with John. Though in fairness, we never learn much about his relationship with Claire. 

And is Peter correct? Is that what happens in long-term marriages? I would agree with him to a great extent, though I also agree with Sam, no one should miss that once-in-a-lifetime "falling in love" feeling...should they? 

Have you read this one? Or another by Alice LaPlante? 
I own a copy of Backlash and will be reading it in the near future.

Don't forget to check out the other co-hosting bloggers' reviews!
Noami of Consumed by Ink
Kay of whatmeread
Click here for more information about Literary Wives and other 
co-hosting bloggers currently on hiatus!
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And we will welcome back Ariel of One Little Library for our next read in April!
And that book is How To Be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman!
Check out these 3 quite different covers!

Image result for how to be a good wife emma chapman cover imageImage result for how to be a good wife emma chapman cover imageImage result for how to be a good wife emma chapman cover image


  1. I like how you've dissected each person and relationship. Especially Samantha's and Peter's! I just commented on Kay's blog that maybe we are meant to compare and contrast these different relationships and their levels of commitment, especially since Samantha's is in stark contrast to the other supposed marriages.

    1. Thanks! I thought this book to be so much more compelling due to that juxtaposition. For me, it wouldn't have been nearly as interesting with just the 3-4 women involved with John and those relationships. I think you're right about the compare/contrast! Thanks for stopping by. I'm hoping to get the opportunity to read everyone else's reviews today!

  2. It's so interesting to see what we each decided to pick from the story, or not. You and Emily both include quite a bit about Samantha and Peter, while Kay and I mostly ignored them.
    I like what you say about "One's role as wife is totally dependent upon what you 'believe' that role to be." So true! And the roles of the 3 wives in this book were all so different, which helped make the book more interesting to read. I think I have said this on all the comments so far, but I would love to have known what John was thinking, especially when it came to woman #4!

    1. Isn't that the truth?!? Claire. What made her so compelling to him? Was it just that desire for youthful 'perfection'? 'Cause she was certainly described as being a 'perfect' physical specimen. Plus they did have the shared dream of establishing a 'free' clinic! However, I thought that was definitely just as much of the 'mystery' plot as was John's murder...

  3. Unfortunately, for the second time, Kay of whatmeread was unable to post a comment on my blog. Here is her comment: I have a theory about Claire. I think that she was sort of the middle age crisis woman. I think Deborah basically provided the drive to his live that he didn't have himself. MJ allowed him to relax and avoid pressure. Helen seemed to be his match in every way but she was only available to him a few days a month. Because John had something lacking in himself, he seemed to be trying to find it in other people. I think that Claire was almost like a younger, more beautiful Deborah in that she went for what she wanted, which was probably the social standing and the money, regardless of his three wives. We have seen that she leaked the information about the wives to the press, even though that didn't really accomplish anything except shock for the wives. (You could say that it forwarded the police investigation, but that was already going forward.) I saw her as sneaky and manipulative.

    1. I think you are spot on with your analysis, Kay! I felt Claire would be a "trophy wife" in his later years. I, too, felt as if he and Helen were the more closely matched regarding work life and shared interests. And MJ did allow him to relax. I felt that he was being either naive or stupid thinking he could skirt Deborah and get what he wanted... Thanks for stopping by, even though you couldn't leave a comment! :)