Reviewed by Sara Hodon
The Silent Wife
by A.S.A. Harrison
Paperback, 336 pages, June 25, 2013, ISBN-13: 978-0143123231
Equal parts chaotic and classy, frenzied and fluid, The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison is the story of a marriage barreling head-on into disaster.
The novel starts out innocently enough. Todd Gilbert and Jodi Brett share a 20-year romantic history, although on the surface they seem like opposites. Jodi, a cool, put-together woman who thrives on routine, is a part-time psychologist. Todd, the more outgoing and gregarious one, is a property developer. Jodi has the innate ability to focus only on what she wants to see—in her world, their relationship is fine. In reality, Todd has a healthy extracurricular love life and he is preparing to leave Jodi. To further complicate matters, he’s fallen in love with the daughter of one of his best friends—and she’s pregnant. This discovery sets the rest of the book’s chain of events into swift, terrible motion.
The entire novel is told in third person, but the primary focus of each chapter alternates between Todd and Jodi. Even by using the third person, Harrison effectively captures the essence of both characters. In Jodi’s chapters, the pace is steady, the word choice measured—perhaps Harrison plotted these chapters in advance as Jodi would likely do. Jodi is portrayed as a woman utterly in control of her life; a bit emotionally detached, actually. Todd’s chapters move at a brisker pace, as though reflecting the big changes in his life that seem to be happening all at once. Todd is a busy man juggling many things, and as sometimes happens, the changes he sets into motion start to catch up with him—close in on him, even. He is an emotional roller coaster—alternating between the thrill of new love with Natasha, the mother of his child, and he comforting familiarity of his past with Jodi, often from one moment to the next. He sends mixd signals to both women, reflecting the frenetic pace of his current life. He is clearly a man teetering on the edge of collapse.
The supporting characters, namely Jodi’s friend Alison and Todd’s ex-friend (and Natasha’s father) Dean should not be overlooked. They appear in only a few scenes, but both characters’ presence have a direct influence on the plot.
The Silent Wife is not a long book—a little over 200 pages—but Harrison manages to fit a gripping tale into those few pages. The story is told almost entirely in present tense, so it gives the reader an almost unsettling feeling of voyeurism—we’re absolutely watching these characters self-destruct in real time. There is some backstory offered as a way to explain how Todd and Jodi were shaped by their families (clearly dysfunctional in Todd’s case; less obvious in Jodi’s). There is also minimal dialogue, especially in Jodi’s case, which again creates an image of control—we hear her thoughts and see her actions, so why wouldn’t we think that she knows exactly what she’s doing? When Jodi’s carefully built world of denial and self-control begins to crumble, some readers may feel a bit smug. Has she been delusional all along? Perhaps. Naïve? Not exactly. When reality hits her, it hits her in a big way and she finds herself unable to cope. This actually makes her seem a bit more relatable—she comes across as a bit too cool and aloof at first (except for the drugging scene in an earlier chapter—this kept me riveted, and I almost wished she’d carried out a few other actions that were despicable, yet subtle enough that Todd thought he was merely losing his mind), and Jodi’s response to Todd’s actions bring her back down to earth. In Todd’s case, at times it seems as though he is merely carrying out someone else’s decisions (his lawyer, Natasha) and that he really doesn’t want this new life. At other times, readers might feel he rightfully gets what’s coming to him in the end.
Gripping, engaging, and utterly readable, The Silent Wife is the perfect choice for readers who like to be kept on their toes.
About the reviewer: Sara Hodon’s work has appeared in History, Young Money, WritersWeekly.com, and The Valley: Lebanon Valley College’s Magazine, among others. She is also the “Date and Relate” columnist for Online Dating Magazine (www.onlinedatingmagazine.com). Read more about her trials and triumphs in the writing life on her blog, http://adventuresinthewritinglife.blogspot.com