Monday, August 1, 2016

Literary Wives #22!!

by Emma Chapman
Honestly, at 188 pages I was willing to put this one down. 
This writing did not resonate well for me. I was BORED. 
Overall, by the book's end I feel Chapman accomplished 
what she wanted to accomplish,
which is to "create a conversation," according to 
her interactive website for this book.
(The title is linked to that website, if you care to investigate.)
I only placed about 15 markers in this book, 
which is way less than usual. 
Obviously there was much less that truly 
'got my attention' than with most books I read.
In the end, I guess the real question is who do you believe?

Be sure to check out the reviews of the other co-hosting bloggers:
Emily @ The Bookshelf of Emily J
Ariel @ One Little Library
Naomi @ Consumed by Ink
Kay @ whatmeread
And last, but by no means least, our newest co-host,
Kate @ Kate Rae Davis 

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Access all our previous reviews on my Literary Wives page!

If I had not known my maternal aunt who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia so well, and hadn't worked with mentally ill/emotionally challenged clients in case management, I might not believe it possible for Marta to have imagined everything. However, I believe it is very possible. It is so scary what the mind can do...and unless you've been up close and personal to someone or those whose minds "trick" them, as my aunt used to say, I think it is unbelievable. Do you agree? Or disagree?

How To Be a Good Wife is actually the title of the book Marta's mother-in-law, Hector's mother, gave to her as a wedding present. She also came over on Saturdays to instruct Marta how to be a good wife to her son, Hector. Hector is much older than Marta. Hector is rather obviously a bit strange himself.
Hector had insisted we clean the house from top to bottom, 
and though it seemed pointless to me if she was to do it all over again, I did as he asked. Everything needed to be perfect, he repeated, she would notice the slightest mark. 
It was only later, his mother tutting under her breath as she corrected my work while Hector 
stood with his fists clenched, that I saw he had involved me in a lifelong battle between them. (7)
By page 7 I have determined all three of these people are all messed up. (Okay, that's the nice version of what I was really thinking.) :) Really. What mother-in-law would act like that if she wasn't a bit cuckoo? And what a strange relationship she and her son have. This scene made me shiver. Yuck! This is just icky. 

Hector has bought Marta a china doll each of the 25 years they have been married. They all 'live' in a china cabinet with a glass door and today, one of them is turned around backward! This is not how they are kept. Who could have done this, Marta wonders. Marta has not been taking her pills. She had stopped taking them years ago, too, when Kylan (their son) was 11 or 12 years old.
...I stopped taking my pills because I wanted something to happen. 
I suppose I wanted him to notice me again.
I almost welcomed the weariness that came without them: 
the heavy darkness I dimly remembered which began to follow me around again. (13)
Kylan is their only child and as so many of us mothers do, she put all her energy into raising him, but once he started becoming his own person and not needing (or wanting) her all the time, she became unmoored...and very bored. Unfortunately, Marta had no real hobbies or interests other than caring for her child, the house, and her husband...because, after all...she was supposed to be "a good wife." 

Interestingly, as Marta keeps recalling her own daily routine: by this time she is on her way to the market, by this time of day is starting to cook supper, etc., I couldn't help but think of my aunt. She was very similar in organizing her time and days--extremely regimented. I used to think that was a bit strange, but it worked for her and she certainly got things done. 
...Kylan isn't here again and the silent house makes me want to scream. 
He isn't coming back this time, and there's no reason for me to hold it together.
There is even less to do these days. 
Skipping my pills is like an experiment, one I allow to continue because in my worst moments,
I long for something bad to happen. If it does,
maybe Kylan will come back and help to take care of me. (14)
So, by page 14 there has been virtually nothing 'normal' about her, her husband, or her mother-in-law. On page 1 she is smoking a cigarette, admitting she didn't realize she was a "smoker." I keep shaking my head while reading this, trying to make sure the words match what I think I'm reading... 

And poor Kylan. He is totally clueless. He's just a young adult trying to make his own life, but...she keeps trying to hang on. Meanwhile, Hector appears to be a 'normal' father to Kylan, allowing him to make his own life, etc. He doesn't appear to try to control his son's life, just his wife's. Which could be more 'normal' than not, if she indeed does suffer from mental illness. 

Marta keeps having visions of a girl. Hector keeps telling her there is nothing, that she is imagining everything. 
I don't want to push the girl away, to deny these things I have been seeing. 
There's a sense that it would be fruitless anyway: like trying to sink a cork in a basin full of water.
It will always rise to the surface again. (79)

Obviously, Hector is quite overbearing. I would say he acts like an abuser typically acts, wanting to control every aspect of their life/her life, and expecting 'perfection' from her. Although he has been and is solicitous, there seems to be an undertone to everything he says and does of control for the sake of control. I was reminded of Old Nick and Ma in Room as I read this book. Though Donoghue's writing in Room definitely kept my attention, whereas I really had to keep trying and trudging along through the first 188 pages of this book. I guess it felt the way life was feeling for a fog, dreamlike much of the time, disconnected, so if that was Chapman's intent, she accomplished her goal, but for me, it was no fun. I admit, however, throughout the last 100 pages or so, it worked for me. Well, "worked" might not be an accurate description, but it did at least grab my attention. At least it was interesting to me. 

Then Hector admits he's been suspended from his teaching job while investigation continues into charges of an inappropriate relationship between himself and a female student. Marta observed him hugging one of his students outside the school building after hours. She suspects him of other such relationships, too. Hector has always forbidden her to leave the local area. Why? For her own good...or his? She thinks she remembers a name. But her son, who searches online is unable to find anything related to that name. Someone else lives at the address she remembers and they have no specific information about the former occupants. 
I could believe either of them is telling the truth.
Though I believe the fact that Kylan cannot locate any mention of her name online
rather forced me to believe Hector over Marta. 
Though just because you search, doesn't mean the results will be comprehensive,
and it is always impossible to open each and every link returned by a search, 
many times there are thousands or tens of thousands. 
I could believe the worst of Hector. I really could. And that was very creepy. 

And now for the overall Literary Wives question:

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

Per Hector and his mother, a woman must always be perfect 
to be a wife/"good" wife. The book. That was sick. 
Especially the quotes Marta would throw out:

Comfort him in times of stress.
Talk to him in a low, soft voice to reassure him of your support. (66)

Find little jobs that will make his life easier and more pleasant. (63)

Clear away any untidiness. 
Catering to his comfort will give you an immense sense of  personal satisfaction. (63)

Take small mouthfuls of food, like a baby bird, 
and make sure to chew daintily with your mouth closed. (46)

Let your husband take care of the correspondence and finances of the household.
Make it your job to be pretty and gay. (15)

Children need order and routine: to be surrounded by stability. (13)

You must persevere when cleaning glass, mirrors and silver.
The smudges cling on: they do not want to be removed. (6)

Your husband belongs in the outside world.
The house is your domain, and your responsibility. (4)

Make your home a place of peace and order. (1)

Are you gagging yet? 'Cause I was at the very first one on the very first page. When was this supposedly written in the 1930's? Wait! Maybe medieval times? EGAD! Talk about subservience! So per Hector (and his mother, Mildred) 'following the rules' as set forth in this book is the role of a wife. 'Just do as your told, little girl! And everything will be all right.' Being a wife to Hector involves waiting on him hand and foot and doing whatever he tells you to do. There is absolutely no consideration or thought for your happiness; that obviously does not count. It is meaningless, not even in the overall equation of marriage. It is as if he is willing to 'help' Marta only when she and/or her behavior becomes inconvenient for him. 

Now, with all that negativity I just spewed, admittedly, some of these dictums are common sense. We should strive to make our home a place of peace and order. Typically, everyone is happier when that occurs. As partners, we should comfort each other and try to help make each other's lives less stressful. Though there is no mention or thought of the husband being emotionally supportive of his wife. I want to write the book entitled How To Be a Good Husband as a counterpoint! ;) Being Hector's wife is strictly a one-dimensional role/relationship--do everything to please him, period! Never think of yourself. Never consider yourself. Period. 

I would love to have read the message Marta left for Katya in the copy she gifted her.

I felt very sorry for Marta. 
Either way, whether she was 'right' or Hector was 'right,' her life was hell.


  1. On the issue of whether to believe Marta or not, you made a good point. Hector does behave like an abuser. I think I believe Marta (Emily almost had me doubting her), but I understand that there is still a possibility that she is delusional.

    1. It's true, isn't it? I just cannot decide one way or the other and feel certain! Interestingly, when I read of her discovering the room and entering it, I thought to myself, "Ah, now there's the proof!" But then I remembered some of the hallucinations my aunt would experience, and I was unable to feel as if this was concrete evidence, because it, too, could have been a 'figment of her imagination.' It is good for discussion and dissection!

    2. You're bringing a whole new perspective to the problem, but then how do you explain the moment when Hector tells her that the room has been removed?

    3. Ah...but he did clarify it further by saying there was nothing "there now." NOW. Uh-huh...

  2. Ooh, I think you make a great point about the China dolls. I just filed that away in the "creepy things Hector does" file, but you're right that it's actually symbolic of the fact that she herself is on display, and that Hector expects perfection from her.

    I don't at all blame you for not liking this book! I thought it was fascinating and well-written, but none of the characters appealed to me. I do believe Marta, but I didn't feel much empathy with her as a character.

    1. I admit I rather believe her, too, just because Hector really is such a creep. It is so very easy for me to imagine him doing that...

    2. I missed that, too! Great, Lynn!

  3. This is a lovely review, and I'm so glad I found you through Naomi's website, Consumed by Ink! I wonder if this book is less impactful on people who have read other books with narrators you can't trust due to mental illness or being confined to a space by someone with authority (in this case, the husband). You said you read Room; have you read other books with women who are under mental duress?

    1. That Naomi...she's a good one, isn't she? :) Glad you're here! :) So typically I do not read "psychological thrillers," 'cause I'm such a wuss. I do NOT like to be scared. *As I shiver just thinking about it!* Good question about other books. Definitely Saving Grace by Jane Green. The Bishop's Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison? Though her duress was from sexual and physical abuse. I think that's about it. I just don't read these types of books very often...purposefully! :)

  4. Your thoughts on how such hallucinations and tricks of the mind are possible resonated with me. I think they are most likely. I was thinking about this book when watching the new Netflix series with my daughter called Stranger Things. In it, a boy is kidnapped and his mother can communicate with him through the lights/electricity and even "sees" him in the walls. As viewers, we know this is true because we saw it and the show is about "strange" things. However, the rest of the town doubts her for a while. They see her as a grief-stricken mother who is imagining things to avoid dealing with grief. And in real life, the most plausible explanation is the right one. If you set a glass of milk outside and it is empty the next morning, did fairies drink it? Probably not. A cat most likely did. So, I'm thinking about this book in terms of the show and in terms of logical fallacies and I can see why everybody who heard Marta's story might not have believed it. It wasn't the most plausible explanation. Good review, Lynne!

    1. Overall, I think most of us are very quick to totally discount anything or anyone who is "too different" as unreliable/untrustworthy. And if someone else is talking it up about how crazy you are...that just confirms it! Though I myself often toy with the idea of alternate realities, especially as physics keeps exploring with quantum theory, etc. Do some people have the ability to perceive what the majority of us cannot? I've always wondered about that with regard to hallucinations and such. An interesting thought...

  5. I have often had thoughts like that, that some people who we deem crazy just have perceptions that we don't have.

    1. Yep! Whose to say? or know? I personally believe our minds/brains have much more potential than most of us have developed.

  6. I think you're right, Lynne, whether Marta is right or whether she is I'll, Hector is creepy.
    One thing I still wonder about, is that he seemed like such a good Dad. That whole visit withtheir son was excruciating but fascinating. Marta's behavior was appalling, but I also felt so sorry for her. I imagined she was desperate not to be left alone with Hector.
    Great review! :)

  7. Sick, not I'll. My tablet refuses to write the word i-l-l. :)