My initial step in deciding whether or not to spend time with an author and the book he/she has written is to study the front cover. I was intrigued by the image depicted on The Silent Wife; a shadowy female silhouette floating on a storm-gray haze over which the title is superimposed. The font is bold-white, sharp-angled and razor-thin; the initials H, I, and F dagger-pointed and tipped in blood-red. It’s about murder; I considered. Was the woman the murderer or the person murdered? And what did a “silent wife” have to do with this?
Next, I familiarize myself with organizational structure. The Silent Wife is divided into a two-hundred sixty-nine paged Part One: Her and Him, and a fifty-three paged Part Two: Her. What happened to Him, I asked? As a result, I was eager to read A.S.A. Harrison’s novel.
Set in Chicago, opening early September and covering a period less than three months, the chapters alternate between the perspectives of two characters; Her (Jodi Brett) and Him (Todd Jeremy Gilbert). The unmarried childless forty-something pair has lived together for twenty-years; Jodi is a part-time Alderian psychologist and Todd, a developer. They have an opulent condominium with a pet Golden Retriever, Freud; Todd’s substitute progeny, Jodi says. My question about the murderer’s identity was answered on the first page of Chapter One when Jodi states“…given that a few short months are all it will take to make a killer out of her.”
Harrison’s point of view shows us Jodi’s and Todd’s different reactions to events, details their characters plus advances the plot with twists and turns. We peek at their personal histories via flashbacks and glimpse the saga of their relationship from romance to stability then disillusionment and decay.
Jodi and Todd are revealed as complex and tormented. There are interviews from an earlier period of Jodi’s life with her Adlerian therapist, Gerard Hartmann plus a letter from Todd’s lawyer, Harold C. Le Groot. Snappy dialogue plays second to narration; the minimal attribution during the Todd-Natasha exchanges deftly illuminating their growing discord.
As the story unfolds, the author unveils how dysfunctional family dynamics shaped Jodi and Todd and left unresolved, laid the foundation for the conflicts central to this book. Though convinced they’d escaped their childhood demons, this was not the case.
Jodi’s crutch was silence manifested in myriad forms: denial, detachment, routine and pretense. Her childhood situation with her older and younger brothers, Darrell and Ryan is intimated throughout the book and the abuse she’d suffered when six years old substantiated at the end. Unable to confront her parents with the truth, her decision to withhold it from her therapist, Gerard Hartmann further testified her damaged psyche.
Todd was a chronic womanizer who battled depression; fears of emulating his despicable father haunted him. Dean Kovacs, his childhood friend, current business associate and father of his pregnant girlfriend, Natasha played a pivotal role. Representing Todd’s past, present and future, Kovacs helped us grasp how the tragic boy became the wretched man.
The author presents both Jodi and Todd as neither absolute villain nor maligned innocent and holds them contributors to the disintegration of their relationship. Part One culminates with a horrific act and Part Two commences on an ominous note. Dean Kovacs’ fate caused me residual uncertainty as to whether or not he’d been served justice.
The bleak ending of The Silent Wife was consistent with its desolate undercurrent and woefully summed by one of its last lines. “Anyway, the story is really about the two men, the boyhood friends, one dead and one as good as dead.” Both cheerless and riveting, the novel proved a provocative read.
With respect to concluding notes, the precision of Harrison’s language merits commenting. Instead of “carpet,” she selected “kilim,” a Persian rug, to describe Jodi’s office as indication of her predilection for finery. Other examples include her Fendi leather handbag, Valentino skirt and robust amarone wine at dinner. By having Todd reference Natasha as a “jackal” and “viper”, the deterioration of their relationship is obvious. Todd’s deceitfulness is heightened with “cached numbers” for women to contact when Natasha unavailable.
Many of Harrison’s sentences caught my breath. For example, Todd’s “…love mixed with other things…” when trying to make sense of feelings for his father gave way to his belief, “…..life is a mixed bag.” As he and Jodi were having dinner post his condominium departure, he utters “The elephants in the room are alive and well” to sum their superficial conversation. And Jodi’s chilling remarks at Todd’s funeral; “Even the sermon is familiar….Once dead were all alike….” Jodi’s declaration in Part Two, “She didn’t know then that life has a way of backing you into a corner. You make your choices when you’re far too young to understand their implications, and with each choice you make the field of possibility narrows.”
What of the title, The Silent Wife? In Part One, Todd affirms Jodi’s silence is her great gift” and “also her weapon.” In Part Two, Jodi declares “Her default mode when bullied or badgered is silence.” Silence enabled Jodi to survive and though she never forgave herself for the violation of her childhood, it allowed her to “…forget what she didn’t want to know…” Silence was a weapon of self-protection and according to the final paragraph, “…Jodi had no problem with the blurring of facts….some things are best left unexamined.”