#LiteraryWives: War of the Wives by Tamar Cohen

Literary Wives is an on-line book group that examines the meaning and role of wife in different books. Four times a year, we post and discuss a book with this question in mind:

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

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


War of the Wives by Tamar Cohen (2015)

Goodreads synopsis: Selina and Lottie are complete opposites. Where Selina is poised but prudish, Lottie is quirky and emotional. Selina is the dutiful mother of three children and able manager of their stylish suburban home. Lottie lives with her eccentric teenage daughter in a small city apartment fit to bursting with color and happy chaos. But these women also have one shocking similarity: they’re married to the same man…and they’ve just found out he’s dead.

Contains spoilers!

My first impression of the book is that we’ve seen this before – upon the death of a husband, we find out he has more than one wife. Not only that, but the wives are very different from each other. It’s not a bad book, but it didn’t offer me anything new or different to think about.

I like this description of Selina’s anger…

My anger is a living thing, throbbing inside me, growing and growing. I see through its eyes, it’s inside my thoughts, my veins, my marrow. Sometimes I think it’ll grow so big it’ll end up choking me. Hettie doesn’t know how that works. Hettie thinks anger is in your head. She thinks it’s contained. She doesn’t understand how your heart can pump it around your body so it gets into every single cell, every hair follicle, every pore. My glands secrete it, I sweat it, I cry it, I mix it with bits of food in my mouth and swallow it down.

I also liked that the children were involved in the fallout. In fact, those were probably my favourite parts of the book. I would like to have seen more.

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

Being very different people, Selina and Lottie also had different experiences as wives. Even to the same man. Selina is the traditional stay-at-home mother with three kids and an organized calendar. Lottie is more of a free spirit, and she and Simon seem to have more of an emotional connection.

I think the overall message I got out of this book is the importance of trust in a marriage. Most of us, I hope, are safe from finding out our spouse has a whole other family somewhere. But trust is a big deal. If you don’t have trust, can you really have a successful marriage?

Both wives seem to have trusted Simon – it didn’t seem to occur to them that he might be cheating. I think the realization of finding that their trust had been broken was more devastating than anything else.


Next Literary Wives discussion: The Dutch House by Ann Patchett – June 1, 2020 – Join us! 

30 thoughts on “#LiteraryWives: War of the Wives by Tamar Cohen

  1. whatmeread says:

    Whew! When I didn’t see your review, I thought everyone forgot, because you always have yours up before me! I didn’t much like this book, as you may be able to tell, and I see you didn’t get much out of it. I also didn’t have much to say about our question.

    • Naomi says:

      I was also disappointed. I would probably have liked it more if I had never read anything like it. I did think it could have been shorter. (Or maybe I just wished it!)
      Off to read your review…

  2. annelogan17 says:

    Not only have I seen books like this before, I’ve heard of it happening in real life! Good friends of mine discovered their father had an entirely other family, kids and everything. He wasn’t dead (which would have made things easier probably LOL) but he got divorced from the original wife and the second ‘wife’ left him too. Clearly he got what he deserved…

      • annelogan17 says:

        Hmm not great? But it was a few years ago, and they were forced to deal with it, so they just…did. But this person’s reputation is forever ruined, and I doubt anyone trusts him anymore

  3. Rebecca Foster says:

    I’m reading a novel about a bigamist with two separate families; the one knows about the other but not vice versa, I think (Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones). Too bad this book didn’t give much food for thought.

  4. Karissa says:

    This seems like such an extreme situation and yet it pops up not infrequently in fiction and everyone seems to know someone who knows someone this happened to. (In my case, a friend of mine swore his aunt found out her husband had another family.) To me, it just sounds exhausting. but obviously a horrifying thing to discover about your spouse.

    The Dutch House should be interesting one to examine for this series. Will look forward to your thoughts on that one.

  5. wadholloway says:

    I enjoy following your Literary Wives reviews (my ex-wife has been my best friend for 20 or more years, so we’ve been over my defects as a husband pretty thoroughly!). This seems to have been more a War of the Widows, so not so much about the relationship(s)

  6. Cathy746books says:

    Sounds like a missed opportunity. Funny, the book I am reviewing today is about a man with two families so there is definitely something very novelistic about the situation.

    • Naomi says:

      I think it’s a topic that can lead to interesting stories, if they are done right. This one was just too predictable. The one you read sounds better!

  7. Susan says:

    Yeah it seems trust is essential in a marriage among other things. This husband sounds pretty selfish. I have read The Dutch House … and its marriage is not the best either. I will join you then.

  8. buriedinprint says:

    I suppose it depends on your definition/expectations of marriage? I recently read a book by Emily St. John Mandel (I won’t say which one, and because I’ve read all five of her books in preparation to review her new one, my comment isn’t spoilery – it could be any of them!) in which one of the characters makes a clear decision to “marry” for economic reasons and it’s interesting to read about (and I’d say it’s successful overall). Too bad you didn’t enjoy this one though – especially as I know you have hundreds of books you’d like to be reading instead of something that’s not floating your proverbial boat. Hee hee

    • Naomi says:

      Exactly. But the discussion part is always fun!

      But if you marry for money, you still need to trust your partner not to run off with it?? 😉

      • buriedinprint says:

        It just changed the whole paradigm. Like, it was not expected to last, so it was only expected to be effective for a short time anyway. And it wasn’t about trust so much as it was about the agreement working for them both for different reasons (until it didn’t). You’ll just have to read it – I mean, all of them. 😀

  9. The Paperback Princess says:

    I did really like how angry Selina becomes. She basically wants to burn everything to the ground and I thought that was the most honest thing about the novel. But the rest…ugh. I couldn’t get past the financial betrayal! To me, that was so much bigger than the fact that he had two families going.

    • Naomi says:

      You read that fast!
      Yes, I liked Selina’s reaction, too. And I’m hoping her daughter has freed herself from her boyfriend! (I think she does, but I can’t remember if it’s very clear.)

      • buriedinprint says:

        So this discussion actually makes me want to read the book now, even though none of you really seemed to enjoy it all that much, because I want to see just how bad the financial betrayal was, that it could play second fiddle to someone lying about having a whole other family: wow!

  10. Claire 'Word by Word' says:

    I don’t know why I seemed to have unfollowed your blog, maybe there was a change to it, I think that sometimes happens. Happy to have resurrected it now anyway. I’ll be interested to see what you make of The Dutch House as well.

  11. Lynn Gerrard says:

    I remember reading Selina’s anger description. But I couldn’t get past the fact that she did know Simon was seeing someone else and actually wanted to divorce her many years ago. I guess she assumed he just ‘got over it’ and let the other woman go. But then she lied to him to keep him in the marriage. So neither of them was honest or trustworthy with each other. Whereas I believe Simon and Lottie did have a much stronger emotional connection, as all of you noted. I really felt Lottie got the worst deal in the end. since she actually valued Simon and their relationship as well as his close relationship with their child. I was rather glad to see Selina have to move down the socioeconomic ladder. I believe that might make her a better person in the end. And it did seem to… I felt as if only one psychopath/sociopath would have been enough, however! 😉

    • Naomi says:

      I didn’t feel a whole lot of sympathy for Selina, either – maybe for the same reasons as you. I wasn’t sure if she knew about Lottie, or just suspected… Or I can’t remember anymore!

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