Today 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.