Literary Wives: The Silent Wife

literarywives2Literary Wives is an on-line book club that examines the meaning and role of wife in different books that have the word “wife” in the title. Every other month, we post and discuss a book with these two questions in mind:

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

2. In what way does this woman define “wife”—or in what way is she defined by “wife”?

Don’t forget to check out the other members of Literary Wives to see what they have to say about the book!

16171291The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison

I have been looking forward to reading The Silent Wife; it’s been marketed as a psychological thriller. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as thrilling as I had hoped. However, I liked it for other reasons. Just don’t read it if you are looking for some thrills.

(May contain spoilers)

The Silent Wife is a close look at the (common law) marriage of Jodi and Todd. We get an inside view at the way they see themselves, as well as the way they see each other. After 20 years of being together, they have their roles to play, and think they have their partner’s role figured out as well. Then Todd meets Natasha, and what follows throws everyone for a loop. Natasha insists on winning Todd and Todd doesn’t seem to know what he wants, so he goes along with it. This has never happened before, and Jodi starts to panic; her carefully constructed life is coming apart.

Jodi is the silent wife. For years, Jodi has been keeping silent about Todd’s affairs. She thinks everything is/will be fine as long as they don’t talk about it. She is confident that he loves her best and will never leave. She is his home; she keeps the house neat and comfortable, cooks him delicious meals, even pulls back his covers and lays out his pajamas. On the surface all seems well with Jodi, until we discover her passive aggressive ways of evening the score.

It simply doesn’t matter that time and again he gives the game away, because he knows and she knows that he’s a cheater, and he knows that she knows, but the point is that the pretense, the all important pretense must be maintained, the illusion that everything is fine and nothing is the matter. As long as the facts are not openly declared, as long as he talks to her in euphemisms and circumlocutions, as long as things are functioning smoothly and a surface calm prevails, they can go on living their lives, it being a known fact that a life well lived amounts to a series of compromises based on the acceptance of those around you with their individual needs and idiosyncrasies, which can’t always be tailored to one’s liking or constrained to fit conservative social norms.

Todd also thinks of Jodi as his home, his rock. He is anchored to their life together. None of his affairs have been serious until now; he has believed that “men aren’t made for monogamy”. But, things have gone differently with Natasha. She wants a family and marriage. Because Todd and Jodi have never had children, Todd feels tempted by the prospect of having a family, and lets himself be taken over by anything Natasha wants. As he begins to lose his life with Jodi, he becomes unravelled, starts to fall apart. I almost felt sorry for him.

There is a creepy feeling throughout the book, knowing that something bad is going to happen, but it doesn’t really get suspenseful until the end. The big event has finally happened (the killing off of the straying husband),and now Jodi is waiting to be found out every minute. “She can’t shake the feeling that the walls are closing in on her.”

181368981. What does this book say about wives or the experience of being a wife?

2. In what way does this woman define “wife”—or in what way is she defined by “wife”?

1. Jodi tries to tell herself that Todd’s cheating doesn’t bother her; she ‘knows’ Todd loves her and would never leave. She also believes “the quiet, steady guy may be a myth”. But we can see in her need to control everything else around her that their way of life takes a toll on her. Everything else about her life is orderly and predictable. “Daily routine is the great balm that keeps her spirits up and holds her life together, warding off the existential fright that can take you by ambush any time you’re dithering or at a loss, reminding you of the magnitude of the void you are sitting on.”

And, let’s not forget the actions she takes against her husband to help even the score; a “tit for tat to keep the grievances at bay” and to prevent resentments from building.

Jodi’s actions don’t line up with her belief that everything is fine. I think that, ultimately, Jodi is disappointed in her experience of being a ‘wife’. I’d even say that she has become someone she does not want to be, and that her old/true self has been buried.

2.  Jodi didn’t want to get married. Despite Todd’s repeated proposals, Jodi held her ground. She didn’t want to end up like her mother; trapped in a marriage with an unfaithful husband. In the end, she fell into exactly the same trap, and has also coped with it the same way – by holding her tongue and allowing it to continue. Does it make any difference that she is not legally his wife? In fact, in her case, things are made worse by the fact that they are not legally married. When Todd starts planning his new life with Natasha, he and Jodi are informed by their lawyers that Todd is not legally required to help Jodi out financially in any way. Jodi feels deeply angry that 20 years of being together can just be thrown away with nothing to show for it; like it had never even happened.

I like this passage about what it’s like when a marriage is falling apart, or has already fallen apart, due to loss of trust and faithfulness.

She feels that in killing him off she killed off parts of herself as well. But at heart she knows that those parts perished long ago – the parts that were guileless and trusting, whole-hearted and devout. Places where life once flowed, having lost their blood supply, became dead spots in her psychic tissue, succumbed to a form of necrosis that also invaded the thing that was neither her nor him but the ground between them, the relationship itself… the process was subtle, insidious, all but imperceptible. It happened the way your face changes as you age: Every day you look in the mirror and every day you fail to notice the difference.

Acceptance and compromise in a marriage are supposed to be good things, but where do you draw the line?

… the cost was high – the damping of expectation, the dwindling of spirit, the resignation that comes to replace enthusiasm, the cynicism that supplants hope. The mouldering that goes unnoticed and unchecked.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and its exploration of a dysfunctional marriage, all the more interesting because the characters themselves were in denial of it. What did everyone else think? Do you think it’s possible to have a happy, functional marriage if there are affairs going on the side, acknowledged or not? 

Next, we are reading and discussing The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan. Read along if you would like to join in!

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23 thoughts on “Literary Wives: The Silent Wife

  1. whatmeread says:

    I liked your point about Jodie needing to have control of everything around her. Of course, you can’t help but notice this tendency, but I didn’t really think it through to a conclusion. In answer to your question, not really, no.

    • Naomi says:

      It was also interesting that, as a psychologist, she couldn’t see these things in herself. I guess it is easier to see things in others than it is to see them in yourself.

      • whatmeread says:

        Yes, it was like she was denying her own profession. But remember, she also started screening her patients after one committed suicide, so that she was taking the ones who only had minor problems. I thought that was very telling. She didn’t want to have any major pressures in her life.

      • Naomi says:

        Yes! I remember wondering about her capabilities as a psychologist when I read that – that maybe she was is the wrong profession.

      • whatmeread says:

        My first reaction was total surprise. I would think that if you chose a profession like that, you would want to work with the people who need the most help, not the least.

    • Naomi says:

      It is sad, and sadder still that she didn’t know how to get out of it. Instead, she told herself it was normal; her way of accepting the flaws of her spouse, while at the same time recognizing that not everyone would agree with this view. Another reason not to talk about it.
      And, so true that it is easy to end up in a role we were hoping to avoid, which was another thing I liked about this book. Yes, their relationship was dysfunctional, but it is so easy for any one of us to end up in a dysfunctional marriage/family/relationship. No one ever means for it to happen. The situations her characters ended up in rang very true.

  2. Don Royster says:

    I gotta tell you. The Todds of the world never know what they want. That’s why they are Todds. Once they decide, watch out. Sparks fly. All heck breaks loose.

  3. The Paperback Princess says:

    I had forgotten about the fact that they were not married. I think that makes all the difference in the way that Jodi reacts to this latest betrayal. She used to just try little things to even the score, to take back some of the control. But when she finds out that she stands to lose it all, that her decision not to get married is going to make it like it never happened, she can’t deal.

    • Naomi says:

      I thought that was so interesting. The very thing she thought would help protect her, ended up making things worse.
      I have to admit I found it amusing reading about her score-keeping. We all do that to some degree, don’t we? Jodi was just more extreme about it.

  4. Emily J. says:

    You have emphasized the “silent” part of her wifehood, which I think I completely looked over. As it is in the title, I think it is important. I guess we learn in some ways that Jodi’s playing of the “silent” wife, or what men stereotypically wish they had in women, backfires. We see that being silent is not ideal and it doesn’t work, not that a wife’s job is to strive to keep her husband. But both of them, being silent on the essential elements of a relationship, ultimately hurt the.

  5. Lynn @ Smoke & MirrorsP says:

    I agree with Emily in that I appreciate the way you emphasize the ‘silence’ in this relationship and that it really required that both of them remain ‘silent’ to some degree, not just Jodi! I used the same quote about killing him and at the same time killing parts of herself…so telling, I thought. As you should realize by now my answer to your question is a resounding “No!” I realize it works for some other people and/or they’re willing to forgive and retain a long-term relationship, but it doesn’t for me. My opinion is that if you made the conscious decision to cheat once, you’ll do it again and I can’t handle that. I have made many conscious decisions NOT to keep talking to someone to whom I initially felt attracted, etc., and if I can do that, so can my partner! Or not… It was very ironic that what she felt would threaten her the most–a legal marriage–was, in effect, what stood to harm her the most. Definitely not a book to read for “thrills”!

    • Naomi says:

      I thought there were so many great quotes to use from this book that gave a good sense of what was going on, and the views Jodi and Todd had of their relationship and themselves. I liked it a lot as a study of a dysfunctional marriage.

    • Naomi says:

      We are aware that we’re missing out on some great books to do with wives just because of the titles, and have been discussing ways around it. Thanks for this suggestion – I will keep it in mind for when the time comes… 🙂

    • Naomi says:

      I didn’t like the characters much either, but I did find them interesting to read about. I felt pretty much the same way about Fates and Furies (although, I did like Fates and Furies more).

  6. DoingDewey says:

    Wow, this sounds like a great book. I love the writing in the snippets you shared and I really like emotional books with a lot of suspense. I was aware of this book club, but I think this is the first discussion I’ve read for it and I really like how thoughtful your answers to the questions were.

    • Naomi says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Katie! It’s fun to read and discuss the books together, more than anything else (which is what I love about your nonfiction book club), but also cool to pick apart the role of the woman.

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