Day 842: Literary Wives! A Circle of Wives

Cover for A Circle of WivesToday is another review for the Literary Wives blogging club, in which we discuss the depiction of wives in modern fiction. Be sure to read the reviews and comments of the other wives! If you have read the book, please participate by leaving comments on any of our blogs.

Ariel of One Little Library
Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J.
Lynn of Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi of Consumed By Ink

Welcome back, Ariel!

My Review

As a detective for the Palo Alto police department, Samantha Adams does not have to deal with many violent crimes. So, when a prominent plastic surgeon is found dead in a local hotel room, registered under an assumed name, the assumption is that he died of a heart attack. But the medical examiner finds bruising on his body and what seems to be an injection site.

The first interviews around the possible crime seem routine. Dr. John Taylor’s wife Deborah is a commanding and cold presence, but nothing seems out of the ordinary. Then someone leaks shocking information to the police. Dr. Taylor had not one but three wives.

To her surprise, Sam finds that although second wife MJ and third wife Helen are completely unaware of the existence of the other wives, Deborah knows all about them. Love having departed their marriage years before, Deborah has compromised to avoid divorce by allowing John to have other wives.

MJ is a middle-aged hippy who has two grown sons by her first marriage and is close to her brother. She works as an accountant and has had a difficult life. Helen is a successful pediatric oncologist living in L.A., who was happy with a part-time married life while John worked in Palo Alto. The coroner’s opinion being brought in as murder, Sam seems to have a choice among three ready-made suspects.

This novel certainly hooked me in, although it never really answered my questions about the kind of man who would do this. As a mystery, it is also complicated. I was able to figure out how to break one character’s alibi, but the solution was more complex than that.

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

If we don’t count Samantha’s relationship with Peter, which she doesn’t admit to even being “committed,” this novel looks at three marriages. For Deborah, her marriage seems to be concerned solely with wealth and prestige. She has pushed John into his career because of its potential for making money, his only insistence being on sticking with reconstructive rather than elective plastic surgery. He has stopped doing the things that used to give him pleasure because of her opinion that he isn’t that good at them and they are a distraction. It is not such a surprise that he would have wanted a divorce but more of a surprise that he didn’t just get one. But Deborah’s will seems to have been stronger than his, he seeming to be one of those men who will do almost anything to have peace in the house.

John’s marriage to MJ is based on his having the upper hand. She is so happy to find him that she meekly accedes to all his rules about their relationship, which she later learns were designed to keep her from learning about his original marriage. She does not call his office and just accepts his odd schedule unquestioned. This marriage of six years was the least clear to me. John and MJ seem to have little in common, and the attraction seems to have to do with MJ being from such a different sphere and not being demanding. MJ herself gave the impression that what held them together wasn’t sex.

Literary Wives logoHelen and John are still in the honeymoon phase of a six-month marriage. Although Helen is a private, self-contained woman, she is in love and happy with John. Because her career is so demanding, she has no problem with a marriage where they see each other only a few times a month. Theirs seems like a marriage of equals, but it obviously isn’t, because he has lied by omission about his previous marriages and another worse lie is to come. The newness and seeming happiness of their relationship makes a discovery about a decision of John’s inexplicable.

What the novel seems to say about marriage in general is that a lot depends upon where the balance of power resides. But I think we only get a very surface look at any of these marriages. This novel doesn’t really deal in subtleties.

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7 thoughts on “Day 842: Literary Wives! A Circle of Wives

  1. Naomi February 1, 2016 / 7:54 am

    I feel the same way about wanting to know more about John and why he made the decisions he made. Especially his last decision. What is it about ‘C’ that has him acting so uncharacteristically?

    • whatmeread February 1, 2016 / 8:24 am

      Yes, that was my big question, and why would he want to cheat on Helen, who seemed to me to be his most equal choice as a wife?

      • Naomi February 1, 2016 / 9:42 am

        Exactly! That part of the book didn’t make sense to me at all.

  2. Emily J. February 1, 2016 / 5:12 pm

    The part where you described Samantha and Peter’s relationship as not “committed” makes me think that perhaps we are meant to kind of compare both types of marriages, or all kinds. Deborah and John were committed, yet things fell apart. He also had different sorts of commitment with different women. Is Samantha’s relationship a commentary on old school versus new school relationships?

    • whatmeread February 2, 2016 / 7:25 am

      I guess I was taking our mandate literally, that we were talking about wives, and Samantha and Peter weren’t married, were they? I don’t know how much I made of Samantha’s relationship. After all, she points out that she has trouble committing to anything, and only fell into police work accidentally. That being said, the one thing she seems committed to is the police work, to the detriment of her relationship. But she also isn’t getting any support for her decision to work hard at it. On the other hand, I think the only reason John was committed to Deborah is she wouldn’t let him go. He could have gone anyway, of course, but that’s one reason why it would be better if we had more insight into his character. He was going to each woman to get different things from them, sure. It’s harder to figure out what they were getting from him. And clearly, he didn’t feel himself committed, because he was going to leave them all.

  3. Lynn @ Smoke & Mirrors February 2, 2016 / 7:35 am

    I like your analysis of MJ. She did indeed just accede to his demands. Their relationship is also the only one where we get a glimpse of him ever expressing anger…perhaps because he knew he could get away with that with her? Hmmm…boiling it all down to a balance of power. I can see that though for me it went beyond that to a degree, John definitely had to have the power and control to make multiple marriages work. I felt “C” represented the stereotypical older male desiring a ‘trophy’ wife, though they did share a dream of and plan for establishing a ‘free’ clinic which was an important passion in his professional life. And they were both doctors, as were he and Helen. I don’t know for certain, but I felt that was one of the biggest mysteries in this story! 🙂 I love your perspective…it definitely made me think more… 🙂

    • whatmeread February 2, 2016 / 7:45 am

      Maybe his need for power and control was in stark contrast to his lack of control of Deborah, although I didn’t see his relationship with Helen as being one of control. BTW, I just sent you an email with the post I was trying to post to your blog. Second time in a row that I am unable to post to yours!

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