Today 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.
Welcome back, Ariel!
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.
Helen 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.