Final Thoughts: ⭐️
The Silent Wife narrates a story of deception and infidelity, witnessing the struggle of Jodi and Todd, an affluent Chicago couple, and the motives that, ultimately, lead them to murder. Todd, a casual cheater, continues to abuse Jodi’s feelings, until he knocks up his mistress and decides to leave his partner. The consequences of his actions are swift and drastic. Ripe with denial, betrayal, jealousy, and psychological insight, A.S.A. Harrison examines the catastrophic conclusion of love gone wrong.
I’m going to start this review with a disclaimer. A.S.A. Harrison unfortunately passed away in 2013, and this novel was released posthumously. In legacy of her memory and hard work, I feel that it is only fair to continue writing an honest review, but despite my thoughts outlined below, I would’ve looked forward to her future work.
Simply put, I do not think that this novel is a strong example of the thriller/suspense genre.
First of all, no spoiler alerts are necessary. The description on the back of the book states that “much is at stake…as she, the killer, and he, the victim, rush haplessly toward the main event.” With such a bold reveal already let loose before you even open the book, I was intrigued by what content may lie in the lead-up to the murder. Obviously, if someone is going to reveal the climax on the back cover, it must mean that the rest of the book will have thrilling twists and turns, right? Wrong. The murderous conclusion happens, just as the description says, but the entirety of the prior action is not thrilling or suspenseful. We spend much of the book learning about the backstories of the two protagonists, learning the motives behind their behavior and what drove them to their troubled conclusion. When the final killing scene comes around, it is the opposite of “out of the blue.” Not only was the climax unsurprising, but despite having an entire book of motives and explanations, I still don’t feel that I understand why the characters made such destructive choices.
Much of the context for these characters struck me as incredibly unrealistic. Jodi is a therapist, working out of their downtown condo, who is selective about her clients and abundant with her free time. Todd is a land developer, who’s twenty-year career including pulling himself up by bootstraps until he ascended to wealth and success. The condos that Jodi and Todd supposedly live in run in the $2,500 to $3,000 range. Condos on the waterfront in the Loop are worth no small fortune. You’re telling me that a financially conscientious land developer can afford this lifestyle while his wife afforded a doctorate degree, spends oodles at the spa, and meets with clients for about three hours a day before going to the gym and strolling through Millennium Park with her dog? As a native Chicagoan, don’t I wish we could all live that life? They make several comments that make me think they are as out of touch with the middle class as the current U.S. administration. When Todd is trying to evict Jodi from their condo, he suggests that she’ll have to move out of the city. “It won’t be anywhere central, given her income. She’ll have to move to a suburb, someplace like Skokie or Evanston…” It’s almost as if Chicago is only made up of lakefront condos in his mind. Todd, you do know that Chicago is a large city with an abundance of neighborhoods that don’t cost an arm and a leg? Also, he suggest Evanston, which is no frugal choice either. I take Chicago content pretty seriously, and it sounds like the author is writing about places she googled during research phase of the novel. Later on, Jodi tries to convince us that she wasn’t raised wealthy, and that her middle-class instincts are still in touch. “…she was the one who managed, found ways to cut corners. She even made a point of learning how to cook.” Oh boy, nothing says impoverished childhood like cooking skills!
Secondly, I know characters don’t have to be likable, but these folks were just flat-out impossible to relate to. Todd is a macho man who wants to live his life, sleep with whoever he wants, and eventually, make an heir. Mind you, he doesn’t want the whole child-bearing experience-he just wants to pass on his genes. Our first introduction of him is when he’s sexually harassing his business assistant, and then proceeds to talk about the benefits of loving younger women. I shan’t ramble, but he is, in all definitions of the word, a huge creep. Most glaringly, however, as he moves farther away from Jodi into the arms of his expecting mistress, he regularly bashes his lover, and compares her to the shiny excellence of his ex-partner. When she gets worked up, he ponders in the most patronizing, misogynistic of ways. “He’s beginning to wonder when life with Natasha is going to settle down…more like what he had with Jodi. Natasha behaves in such unexpected ways. She certainly isn’t glowing and contented, as pregnant women are supposed to be.” Wow. Bro, if you’re gonna cheat, get a girl pregnant, buy her a River North apartment, and vow to be a good father and husband, maybe don’t pine for the women you abandoned? I don’t know who I was supposed to root for, but I definitely didn’t sympathize with Todd.
Jodi, unfortunately, isn’t substantially better. She claims to be well educated, backed up by doctorate degree and her own therapy practice. She has poise and grace, and I think she’s supposed to be a general power woman. She often strikes me, though, as privileged to a point of stupidity. When she gets word from her lawyers that Todd is trying to move her out of the condo, she reacts with surprise, understandably. However, when the lawyer asks if they had any contracts of marriage or otherwise, she is stumped. “…he’ll have to support me…because he always has. It’s our arrangement.” I would have paid to see the look on the lawyer’s face as she explained that Illinois has no provisions for common law marriage, and that Jodi’s assumptions aren’t worth their own weight in a court of law. You’d think a women of power and influence would be less stubborn in arguing with what her lawyer is telling her. We also never learn why she didn’t actually marry Todd, instead relying on common-law marriage, which doesn’t exist in Illinois. Seems like poor, short-sighted strategy to me. When she eventually commits murder, she does the classic act of realizing the depth of her guilt after the fact. Oh my gosh, I just murdered my husband, the police might suspect me! Big surprise, Jodi. At the funeral, her friends crowd around and congratulate her on the death of her husband, telling her she deserves this. I get the gesture-abusive, disloyal husband dies? Good riddance! But what a strange thing to say at a funeral…
Finally, just a few bits stuck out like sore thumbs to me. When Todd and Natasha commit to raising their unborn child together, they celebrate by going out to get tattoos. It is pretty common knowledge that you aren’t supposed to get tattoos while pregnant. Glaring error, if you ask me. Secondly, Todd gets jealous when he suspects Jodi of living the single life. He gets jealous enough to suspect her of having sex with their fifteen-year old neighbor. Ew. Just, ew. The rest of the book is littered with strange assumptions of gender roles-that all men are predators, and that women are defenders of their husbands terrible actions.
Harrison’s prose was smart, and catchy. Her figurative language was pretty, and when left to her own musing, the book felt intelligent. She managed to make questionable content palatable through her high-quality delivery. However, all the writing skills in the world couldn’t make this plot strong. The story-telling was lost, and without even a suspenseful climax to rely on, this book fell very, very flat.