Day 435: Literary Wives: The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress

Cover for The Wife, the Maid, and the MistressToday is another Literary Wives posting, where along with several other bloggers, I post reviews of the same book with the theme of “wives.” For more information, see my Literary Wives page.

The famous disappearance of Judge Crater, who like Jimmy Hoffa was never heard from again, certainly has potential for a noirish whodunnit. I just wasn’t that satisfied with Ariel Lawhon’s version of the story.

For one thing, although the plot has all the elements of a noir mystery, the writing style doesn’t reflect the cold crispness and snappy dialogue I expect from noir. It is merely pedestrian.

At the beginning of the novel, Judge Crater’s wife Stella meets Jude Simon, the detective who was on the case, years later in 1969 to give him a confession. Then we return in time to 1930. The bulk of the novels flits restlessly between different days and times around and before this period, returning occasionally to 1969 to Stella and Jude’s meeting.

This time shifting was one of my problems with the novel. I do not remember dates readily, and it was difficult for me to keep my place in time. Possibly a fault that will be cleared up in the published book (I was reading an advanced reading copy) is the problem of the dates at the beginning of sections, which sometimes are there to signal a change in time and sometimes are not. The first time the time changed with no indication, I thought it was a mistake, but then it happened several more times.

In addition, a few scenes that return to an earlier time have no apparent purpose. Perhaps they are intended to establish something about the Craters’ relationship, but I find them unnecessary to the story. The example that comes to mind is a dinner scene where the judge tells Stella where he wants her to shop from then on.

For the plot, the judge disappears at the beginning of the book. His mistress Ritzi is hiding in the room when he is taken, so it is no surprise to find out who took him. His wife Stella and their maid Maria also have some guilty knowledge. Maria sees her husband Jude plant some money in the house after the judge’s disappearance, and Stella removes money from the house and all their assets from the bank before reporting the judge as missing.

Overall, I found the novel mildly entertaining. It does manage a surprise at the end, which I didn’t expect because the novel seemed otherwise predictable. I also think more could have been done to make the time period and the setting more evocative.

Now to our questions for Literary Wives.

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

There are two prominent wives in the novel–Stella and Maria. The judge sees his wife’s role as being an ornament and an asset on his way to the top, and Stella seems to have agreed to take this role, although she obviously has lost her respect for him over time. There are some references to happier times, but we frankly can’t see that he has any redeeming qualities. Stella’s only other concern seems to be to make sure she has money after the judge’s disappearance.

Maria’s relationship is more loving. She seems to see her role as to protect and support her husband and to try to become a mother. However, we don’t really see very much of Jude and Maria together, and Jude seems to be preoccupied with his difficulties at work.

In what way does this woman define “wife” or is defined by “wife”?

Except for one central act, which I don’t want to give away, both women are essentially defined by their roles as wives, which are fairly stereotypical for the time. Stella is the society wife. Maria is the religious little woman. This defining act tells us there is more to both of them, but we don’t really understand these women very well as people, and this act is only revealed at the end of the novel, giving us no opportunity to view them in another way. I think Ritzi is the most fully developed character, and although she is actually a wife as well, that part of her character isn’t really explored.

Be sure to view the posts of the other “wives,” as follows. An interview with Ariel Lawhon is posted on Audra’s blog, Unabridged Chick.

Ariel of One Little Library
Audra of Unabridged Chick
Carolyn of Rosemary and Reading Glasses
Cecilia of Only You
Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J.
Lynn of Smoke and Mirrors

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21 thoughts on “Day 435: Literary Wives: The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress

  1. Ariel Price December 1, 2013 / 11:07 am

    Very fair review. I didn’t really like the bouncing back and forth in time, but it didn’t really hinder me from understanding or enjoying it. There was a lot going on in the book, with telling all three women’s stories and creating the mystery. I definitely agree that Ritzi was the most developed character, and I would’ve like to get to know her more. But I did really like Maria and Jude’s relationship—I thought it was one of the positive marriages we’ve seen in the series so far.

    • whatmeread December 1, 2013 / 11:50 am

      Hi, Ariel, I found myself a few times having to look back to see if she signaled a time change, although I always eventually figured out where I was. But because I am not number oriented, I had to go back once or twice to see which day Crater disappeared to know whether the events were before or after. I’m interested in reading your review! I did think Maria and Jude’s relationship was good, but there was very little of it, it seemed.

  2. Cecilia December 2, 2013 / 8:43 am

    So interesting to read everyone’s take on it today. I did enjoy the book, though I think my expectation going in was that it was going to be more of a “women’s book” (for lack of a better expression) for some reason. Also, for some odd reason I was able to keep up with the date changes, something I’m not normally great at. I think this was because I started googling Joseph Crater to compare the story against the actual events, and “August 6” became stuck in my mind. From there everything was either “before disappearance” or “after disappearance” and so that helped.

    • whatmeread December 2, 2013 / 8:53 am

      Maybe the title, Cecilia! I am just not date or number oriented. It helped if you paid attention to that date from the beginning! The tricky part was when the time changed without notification!

      • Cecilia December 3, 2013 / 3:49 pm

        I missed that! I must have kept reading and thinking I was in one time zone when I was really in another…

      • whatmeread December 3, 2013 / 3:55 pm

        The first time it happened, I went back and checked to see if it indicated a time change. It did not.

  3. Audra (Unabridged Chick) December 2, 2013 / 11:22 am

    I had fun with this one — I adore noir and thankfully didn’t think it would have that feel, so I wasn’t disappointed in that case. I definitely found this in the vein of, say, The Paris Wife and Call Me Zelda — more women’s biographical fiction — so the ‘quieter’ tone worked for me.

    • whatmeread December 2, 2013 / 11:25 am

      I guess I saw it as a missed opportunity. I still am meaning to read both of those books. Which one would you recommend most?

      • Audra (Unabridged Chick) December 2, 2013 / 11:36 am

        Yes, I can appreciate that. I’m leaning more toward the Paris Wife, I think, especially since it’s one of the earlier Lit Wives picks.

      • whatmeread December 2, 2013 / 11:39 am

        I will look at your review again. Thanks!

  4. Emily J. December 2, 2013 / 9:41 pm

    I had trouble with the time shifting as well. I think my lack of knowledge about this historical event also confused me. What helped with the situation and characters was the little bios about everybody at the end. I, like you, wonder if the time shifts will be a little more clear in publication.

    • whatmeread December 3, 2013 / 7:36 am

      I don’t think I noticed those bios until I was halfway through the book! I think just indicating the time change every time would have helped, but I also needed to make a better note of when the main event happened. I am just bad at keeping dates in my head.

  5. Carolyn O December 3, 2013 / 2:45 pm

    Maybe the sense of the book being “women’s” fiction is part of what annoyed me so much. I’d just come off reading The Big Sleep, so I was expecting crisper writing, especially given the subject matter. And why didn’t she do anything with FDR?!?

    • whatmeread December 3, 2013 / 2:49 pm

      That’s exactly my response except I didn’t think of FDR! I thought she did nothing with the time or setting, and very little with the actual crime. It’s a shame, though, that “women’s fiction” should mean we lower our expectations.

      • Carolyn O December 3, 2013 / 2:56 pm

        Yeah, don’t get me started on that . . .

      • Cecilia December 3, 2013 / 3:52 pm

        Interesting and good point. Yes, now that you mention it, it was a “domestic” story.

      • whatmeread December 3, 2013 / 3:56 pm

        Yes, definitely not what I expected.

  6. Lynn December 3, 2013 / 9:15 pm

    Ha! Ha! I love our diversity of opinions and reactions! So, Kay, what you felt was “merely pedestrian” noir, was exactly what I enjoyed about this book, “just a bit noir,” in my world, but enough mystery and characterization to keep my interest and the plot moving. Interestingly, I rarely consider “women’s fiction” as a category. I guess this one would qualify. Thank you for your insights. Each review gets me thinking about a different part of the book…

    • whatmeread December 4, 2013 / 7:39 am

      Well, it wasn’t that I thought it was pedestrian noir so much as it wasn’t noir at all, and the writing was pedestrian. Did you post a review yet? I checked yesterday but didn’t see any update to your blog. I am interested to see what you have to say!

      • Lynn December 4, 2013 / 9:32 am

        Sorry to have misunderstood your comment, Kay! I am no noir aficionado and perhaps that is why this book felt like noir for me. Unfortunately, due to technical glitches I was unable to post my own review until about 6PM EST yesterday, December 3. 😦 Although I had the basic review written before leaving town on November 28! Technology is fantastic when it works. 🙂

      • whatmeread December 4, 2013 / 9:36 am

        Oh, that’s what happened! I kept looking for your review. Glad to see it up!

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