Friday, May 9, 2014

Friday Reads: "The Silent Wife" is "Gone Girl" Meets Realism

In the summer of 2012 the craze was for Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, just last month released in paperback, with a movie following hard on its heels.

And rightly so: a very fun thriller. It's opening paragraph alone, philandering husband Nick Dunne musing about the qualities of his wife's head, sets the tone for a taut thriller—half mystery, half suspense—that I think many of us were captivated by.
Harrison's psychological thriller, more real than "Gone Girl"

There were, however, a contingent of intelligent readers who disliked it on the merit that the characters were almost caricatures of psychology: "Gone Girl" might express a dark undercurrent of anxiety among the American married couple, but it does so with thick brushstrokes: we are as much liable to laugh nervously in the height of our thrill, because so much of what drives Flynn's thriller is darkly comic.

For these readers, and for readers who enjoy a more subtle thriller, the book for you is "The Silent Wife" by A.S.A. Harrison, a book that went largely unnoticed when it was released last June, but works at portrait painting compared to Flynn's Pollack-esque splashings.

The premise is the same—a philandering husband, a vindictive wife—but where Flynn dismisses motive for sensation, Harrison approaches the tension completely on the motive. In this case, two motives are at play. The first comes on slowly, as Jodi, a pragmatic and methodical licensed therapist, realizes her near-subconscious to kill her husband Todd, who is having an affair with a younger woman. The second motive is why Todd is cheating in the first place, and how he struggles to understand himself and make things right even as they go horribly wrong.

Like the Dunnes, Jodi and Todd begin a clash that can only end in disaster. Unlike the Dunnes, the clash is entirely examined by the reason behind their choices. Their age has something to do with this: both in their middle years, Jodi and Todd have enough experience to see the error of their way, so a writer must be careful as to why they choose the errors they do. While the Dunnes are young enough to not fully understand their inhibitions (and for a reader to not really care one way or the other), the real tension for Jodi and Todd lies in exactly why they can or cannot see their inhibitions, which we be their undoing.

Harrison, just before "The Silent Wife" was released, died of cancer at the age of 65, in Toronto. So, in a publishing world where a writer of mystery and thriller is almost expected to be prolific, sadly her first book was her swan song. And that's too bad, since what we see in "The Silent Wife" is a careful and entertaining writer doing the genre of "thriller" some real credit.

"The Silent Wife" would be a great mother's day gift for mothers who appreciate taut character thrillers. For other mysteries that have been released in hardcover or paperback, look at my Mother's Day Mysteries post, here.

~ James Maynard, May 2014

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