I like a good domestic drama/mystery from time to time. I’m not sure what this says about my recent taste in novels, but this month’s two selections are linked thematically by this retro cartoon:
Maybe Freud would have something to say about my choosing two books in the same month with a film noir-type theme (cynicism meets sexual motivation with flashbacks and a dash of existentialism) or maybe he’d just keep on puffing on his stogie. (That in itself a bit Freudian–and even William Clintonian, if you will.)
Titles are linked to Amazon and there are NO SPOILERS ahead. Except maybe a warning that one book stinks like spoiled tofu-gruel. And the other smells of sex and candy.
First up, is a second title for the writer who debuted last year with SAD DESK SALAD, Jessica Grose. Ms.Grose is a youngish writer whose work has already appeared on an honor roll of both hipster and serious publications, and is now is editor-in-chief of Lena Dunham’s “Lenny” newsletter.
Soulmates: A Novel, by Jessica Grose. William Morrow-An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2016. 278 pages.
Intriguing premise? Check. Domestic bliss gone bad? Check. Interesting characters? Check. Or so I first thought.
I grabbed this book off the new releases shelf at my local library and was pulled in by the blurb on the inside cover.
Young, ambitious lawyer, Dana Morrison Powell is on the fast track to make partner at her NYC law firm. She lives for work and works to support writer/dreamer Ethan Powell, the college sweetheart she met and married in Minnesota not so long ago.
From Dana’s perspective, everything seems to be going great in their marriage until Ethan runs off with his graveyard-shift work buddy turned yoga partner, Ruth “Amaya” Walters.
Two years later and still reeling from her MIA husband, Dana picks up a newspaper and learns Ethan and his yoga-slut, Amaya have been found dead in a New Mexico cave. From Namaste to Nomore.
So when Dana hears from a New Mexico lawman who is trying to solve the mystery behind the deaths of the yoga power-couple and hypothesizes a murder-suicide, Dana knows she’s got to get involved. She knows Ethan better than anybody, and Ethan would never do such a thing.
I wanted to love this book. Such a great set up. But after a wonderful premise, the first hundred pages of the book was really just backstory. It did little to further Dana’s quest to solve the mystery. And the sheriff, who I thought would make a promising sidekick, was relegated to the status of a minor, uninspired cardboard cutout.
As I read, I found my attention wavering. I should have been turning pages, but I was really just turning off.
Grose makes some good points about cults and New Age “spirituality,” but her message was bogged down with contrived plotting and multiple points-of-view that all seemed to read the same.
Case in point: The gruff old father-in-law from Montana AND the old yoga hippie-chick who hailed from 1960’s Haight-Ashbury AND workaholic lawyer Dana all sounded the same. If each chapter hadn’t been labeled with the narrator’s voice, a reader would be hard-pressed to identify the speaker.
As the story plodded along and there was just too much wild coincidence for this reader. I found, in the end, that I just didn’t care that much about what happened to the characters. Most were pretty flat.
As for Ethan, the dead husband, he was a dumb-ass. The smartest thing he did was marry Dana. But then he just devolved into selfish, lazy, entitled, whiny giant penis looking for spirituality in all the wrong places and then biting the big one in a cave. Analyze that, Mr. Freud.
This is not a story that I will think about in the coming days with any degree of wonderment. Except maybe to wonder how a major publisher got behind this book.
The second book I read this month is
It’s bad enough to lose your husband–a man who swept you off your feet when you were still quite young and inexperienced.
A man who took you from your parents’ home to your wedding bed without leaving you any time between in which to find yourself, grow up and become an independent woman.
A man who was hit by a bus.
This is the situation for the widow, who after her husband’s death, is thrust into the invasive media spotlight.
Everyone wants an exclusive with Jean.
You see, Jean’s husband,Glen, has been accused of a horrific crime–the abduction of precious toddler, Bella, from her front yard. Every parent’s worst nightmare.
And there’s some pretty damning evidence. But nothing is as it seems.
I liked this book. It is told in alternating points of view–first person from the widow herself, and third person from the detective on the case, the reporter who has aced out all the others, and the mother of missing Bella. Readers even get a chapter narrated by Glen the accused, the husband, and the alleged monster.
Perhaps I am the only avid reader these days who didn’t pick up THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN or GONE GIRL, but many are comparing this book to those titles. Barton is a competent writer–and one can surely see her former profession as a journalist reflected in the content of the book–insider knowledge on how these things play out, if you will.
I also liked the fact that the setting and narrator of this book is British. As a people they seem much more restrained than we Americans. Because of their cultural mores and norms, the pacing of the book was on-point. Had this book been set in America, widow Jean would have to have been penned differently.
It’s not that American women will not stand by their men no matter what, it’s just that the dull monotony of Jean’s marriage and placid acceptance of all things Glen seemed contrary to modern American women who are, generally, large and in charge.
But The Widow is small-town, almost pastoral England. And not all marriages are between people who cherish one another equally. Sometimes there is ugliness behind a closed door. And sometimes, a marriage makes for strangely co-dependent bedfellows.
If you enjoy a good British domestic drama with some dirty little secrets, grab THE WIDOW. (But if deviant sexual content bothers you–even though it is not extremely overt and not at all descriptive, skip this one.)
Barton’s writing is skillful and engaging. All in all, a satisfying read.
Barton’s second book in this series came out May 30, 2017, and I will likely read THE CHILD.