If You Liked Gone Girl, You'll Find Fresh Thrills in The Silent Wife

Hollywood would rather make Rocky 2 than Rocky.

Publishers would rather release Gone Girl 2 than just about anything.

You can't blame them. In 2012 Gone Girl was the Fifty Shades of thrillers, with two million copies sold. (A year after publication, the publisher is in no rush to produce the paperback; think September.) Now the movie is on the way, starring Ben Affleck and --- take your pick --- Natalie Portman, Jessica Chastain or Emily Blunt. Ka-ching!

So you can't blame the publishers of The Silent Wife for hyping it as "the new Gone Girl"

It's not. It just might be better.

I say this because Gone Girl is not nearly as good as its fans think it is. I liked it when I wrote about it, then realized it was built backward --- there was a trick ending the author thought of before she wrote the book. But there was a problem, and I didn't see it the first time through: To get to that ending, she needs her character to do something not just beyond probability but beyond credulity. In essence, the last third of the book is bullshit.

The Silent Wife, by A.S.A. Harrison, is, like Gone Girl, the story of a marriage told from alternating "his" and "her" perspectives. It lacks Gone Girl's physical thrills. But unlike Gone Girl, it has the virtue of meticulous characterization and reality-based plot.

Jodi and Todd are in their 40s. In their two decades as a couple, they've built what someone (not me, but someone) would call "a nice life." Their apartment is on the 47th floor of a condominium that overlooks Lake Michigan in Chicago. He is a successful property developer. She is a psychotherapist who has the luxury of choosing her clients.

Are they happy? No. They pretend to be, but really, they co-exist. Are they nice? Not especially. Todd sleeps around; Jodi knows it but never confronts him. For an educated woman, Jodi has a annoyingly small life: cooking, the gym, a few patients, some dull friends, having Todd's cocktail ready when he gets home.

I'm told that many people live this way, that this is a familiar situation to many readers. It's not familiar to me; in fact, it's exactly the kind of life that would make me nuts. From the excerpt, sample this:

Trimming vegetables and chopping herbs, she throws herself bodily into the work. She likes the intensity of cooking--the readiness of the gas flame, the timer marking off the minutes, the immediacy of the result. She's aware of the silence beyond the kitchen, everything rushing to the point in time when she'll hear his key in the lock, an event that she anticipates with pleasure. She can still feel that making dinner for Todd is an occasion, can still marvel at the stroke of fate that brought him into her life, a matter of rank chance that did not seem to favor a further acquaintance, much less a future of appetizing meals, lovingly prepared.

I'm not married to a woman like this. No one I know is. Maybe they're all in Chicago.

But forget all that and ponder this: Why does a mouseburger this cool and stiff decide to kill her husband?

Ah, now the book gets interesting. To avoid spoilers, I'll be vague from here, but let's just say that he has a secret and she has a secret and their secrets are on a collision course.

Direct confrontation? Then this wouldn't be an intellectual thriller.

The many pages of Adlerian psychology? If they weren't here, the book would be less than 300 pages. And that would break some sacred rule of publishing. No matter. You have learned to skip. And you always knew, as the tension mounts, how to gnaw at your nails.

[Re-posted from HeadButler.com]