Jodi and Todd bask in creature comforts galore: a condo with stunning waterfront views, a Porsche (his) and an Audi coupe (hers), an indulgent lifestyle afforded by his real-estate development business. Jodi sees just two clients a day in her psychotherapy practice, leaving plenty of time for Pilates, flower-arrangement classes and preparing the gourmet meals they both enjoy. Their obligatory golden retriever is named Freud. Their days and nights lack spice, but 20 years after meeting in a car collision, they’re still together, if not officially married.
But the gloss on their existence is cracking. Todd is a serial cheater, and Jodi knows it. He’s aware that she knows, even as his latest fling turns from casual to life-changing. By the second paragraph of A.S.A. Harrison’s “The Silent Wife,” readers learn that Jodi will become a killer; her trip to the tipping point makes each subsequent page a waiting game.
Told in alternating “Him” and “Her” chapters, the back stories of Todd and Jodi reveal their discontents and quirks. He keeps a stash of marijuana in his desk and justifies his affairs, even one with his best friend’s daughter. She ponders the lives of her absent brothers — one troubled, the other successful — and skates past thoughts of Todd’s philandering, grateful that he hasn’t strayed with any of her friends. Neither character is likable, although Jodi’s passive denial inspires a mix of sympathy and impatience. Just leave him!
She won’t, of course, but Jodi does take a wicked step, serving Todd a mug of sedative-laced Ovaltine after finding a prescription vial labeled with a woman’s name in his khakis. “Eleven pills . . . round blue tablets like buttons on a baby’s smock. . . . If he ingested the pills they would disappear, and in the process, the score between them would be settled.” But the outcome is only a severe hangover for Todd, and a flicker of regret and relief for Jodi. That dissolves quickly as her world implodes: Todd moves out, and Jodi discovers the financial nightmare of being a woman scorned.
Jodi’s choices and Todd’s realizations play out at a measured gait toward the promised homicide. The only discordant note is struck by flashbacks to Jodi’s long-ago conversations with her therapist. Formatted like dialogue in a two-person play, these hint at secrets but hamper the present-day narrative.
Harrison was noted for her nonfiction, but as this first novel demonstrates, she also had a flair for make-believe, with clever twists and elegant writing. Her death in April at the age of 65 makes the book a bittersweet pleasure to the reader, who knows it won’t be followed by another tour of ordinary lives fraught with doubts and deception.
Blumenstock is a Washington writer.
THE SILENT WIFE
By A.S.A. Harrison
Penguin. 326 pp. Paperback, $16