Review 1622: Literary Wives! Every Note Played

Today is another review for the Literary Wives blogging club, in which we discuss the depiction of wives in fiction. If you have read the book, please participate by leaving comments on any of our blogs.

We’re sorry to lose Cynthia, who is discontinuing her blog.

Be sure to read the reviews and comments of the other wives!

Eva of Paperback Princess
Lynn of Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi of Consumed By Ink

* * *

Lisa Genova has certainly identified her niche, which is, with her knowledge of neuroscience, to write a compelling story that also allows readers to understand what it is like to suffer from a neurological disease. In this novel, the disease is ALS.

After a difficult divorce, Karina and Richard have had little to do with each other. Both are harboring a great deal of anger and resentment.

Richard, a world-class pianist, has put his career ahead of his marriage and family. However, he has been diagnosed with ALS and is becoming less able to care for himself.

Karina has avoided the friends the two had as a couple, but she finally attends an event and feels she is being blamed for the breakup. It is there she learns about Richard’s condition. She goes to see him, but the visit is toxic.

Eventually, though, she visits him again, only to find that even with home health care, he needs help, round-the-clock care. He broke with his family years ago, so he has no one. Karina arranges for him to move in with her.

Although at times I felt that some of the descriptions of the illness or the treatment were a little too detailed, I was ultimately very touched by this novel. Genova gives herself a tougher job this time by making the patient a less likable character, but she handles the situation insightfully.

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

This is a novel that saves some of its insights into Karina’s character for the end. We know that both Karina and Richard are angry with each other, but it is much clearer why Karina is angry than why Richard is until well into the novel, so I don’t see how I can discuss this without spoilers.

The immediate causes of the breakup of their marriage seem to be Richard’s serial infidelities and his neglect of Karina and daughter Grace over a period of years. However, as the novel progresses, we learn of Karina’s contribution to the failure of their marriage. First, she changed from classical piano, in which she was more gifted than Richard, to jazz piano, partly because she loved jazz but partly so as to not compete with Richard. She made a place for herself playing in clubs in New York, but then Richard took a position in Boston without consulting her, and there was no jazz scene in Boston.

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Passive aggressively, Karina made excuses for herself not to try to continue her career—pregnancy, motherhood, resentment of Richard—and then more resentment as he began neglecting them and womanizing. Finally, there is the aggressive act of making sure she can’t conceive while pretending to try to conceive.

What makes the novel more than a litany of marriage complaints is how the situation causes both characters to understand the other, to acknowledge their own faults and trespasses, and to forgive.

Related Posts

Still Alice

The Dutch House

The Blazing World

12 thoughts on “Review 1622: Literary Wives! Every Note Played

  1. Naomi March 1, 2021 / 12:06 pm

    I liked how she made us dislike Richard at first, but then she starts changing our mind about them both. And that she doesn’t try making either of them particularly likable. Who would be under those conditions?

    I’ve enjoyed all her books so far. Inside the O’Briens is the only one I haven’t read.

    • whatmeread March 1, 2021 / 1:28 pm

      Yes, she did that well. I have only read Still Alice besides this one.

      • Naomi March 1, 2021 / 4:15 pm

        I think that’s still my favourite.

  2. The Paperback Princess March 1, 2021 / 12:24 pm

    I really appreciated that Genova gave these characters the space to come to forgive each other. Given where they left things in their relationship, it took something massive to get them there but I really appreciated that Richard made that final decision so that Karina could have a second chance at the life she should have had.

    • whatmeread March 1, 2021 / 1:29 pm

      Yes, it doesn’t really do anyone any good to be living in anger all the time.

      • The Paperback Princess March 1, 2021 / 2:42 pm

        It really doesn’t! And yet, I think a lot of people do live like that!

  3. Lynn Gerrard March 1, 2021 / 1:29 pm

    I thought it was rather clever not to reveal Karina’s own transgressions until near the end of the book. Kinda made me reconsider my attitude toward Richard just a bit…though not a ton. BTW, my ex-husband’s name is Richard, so this seemed a bit personal at first! LOL

    • whatmeread March 1, 2021 / 1:30 pm

      Yes, she cleverly made us feel as if it was all Richard’s fault, but it seldom is just one person’s fault, is it?

      • Lynn @ Smoke & Mirrors March 2, 2021 / 11:33 am

        Perhaps not. However, having been cheated on by my ex-husband and considering the comments of his own family members in the wake of my divorce, I feel absolved of most any responsibility for our breakup. ๐Ÿ™‚ All depends upon your perspective…

      • whatmeread March 2, 2021 / 11:45 am

        I said seldom, though, not never.

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