Sunday, November 05, 2017

Review: The Wife Between Us

With all the PR and media hype (without teeth or accepting responsibility), women's value has not changed since the beginning of mankind's memory. Women are seen as brood mares or status symbols and not as having a value beyond their ability to produce children.

In those few marriages where children are not wanted--likely because the husband wishes to retain cock of the walk fawned over by all females present--his wishes dictates remain unchallenged once the women learn their place. That place is under constant surveillance and under threat. Nothing and no one she loves are tolerated to ripple the placid waters between then. What follows is either reward and, more often, punishment.

The woman who does not follow the man's dictates and does not respond by changing her attitude and falling into step two or three paces behind him will be cast into outer darkness. Divorced.

For the woman who actively pursues her freedom, often after the death of her favorite companion (a dog purchased for protection when the husband is out of the house), she will look for opportunities to distance herself, gain a modicum of freedom, and inveigle an option, suggesting her husband take advantage of a co-worker's needs and flexibility over her own sickness, urging him, with her permission of course, to take her place.

The problem with such machinations is that the wife is putting some other unsuspecting and undeserving woman her place with the same dangers and well known outcomes since she has begun to figure out how well shackled she was in his prison. It may have looked like heaven, but it was closer to hell, and now that she is finally free of him, she must in good conscience help free the woman she threw into the villain's evil clutches. No one, not even an unsuspecting younger woman falling into the same trap, should be forced to suffer that.

While Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen thought that when they put their heads and experiences and knowledge together to write The Wife Between Us, it was apparent to me their literary skills may have been firmly entrenched in the societal norms of how women are treated by men and, worse, by each other, blaming their comrades in the battle between the sexes and clinging to the man who has been so good to them, and who looks far too good to be true.

There is a vertiginous feeling when beginning the novel. It seems straight forward. A young woman who is a grade school teacher and lives with her friend is giving up her job in order to be with the man who has asked her to marry him. He doesn't want her teaching other children when she will have to teach and care for her own children after they are married. She moves out of town into the suburbs of an exclusive community and gives up her friends and everything she worked for to take a leap up into her brand new husband's rarefied world. She is getting use to dealing with her sister-in-law. She is after all her only in-law and she is so good to her younger and oh so accomplished brother. She even has a solid, strong, and faithful dog to protect her in her stunning suburban home and she doesn't miss her friends or her remaining family member while she tries to fill her time in the palatial and protected suburbs. Except that she cannot get pregnant and is soon cast out of her idyllic wealthy life, divorced, replaced by the other woman she made room for in her husband's life.

But she is free.

She is safe.

Or is she?

She has to clue her replacement in to what she is in for as she gives up her grade school teaching job and is forced to move into the secluded and exclusive life that has been cloned for her. The replacement wife may be luckier than she and may well give her ex-husband the child she could not, but she must be warned before it is too late. Or is it already too late?

Hendricks and Pekkanen deliberately created a situation where the obvious gas lighting and abusive cycle are blurred and the reader is not sure what is going on and who is trying to protect whom. On that level, they succeeded admirably, creating a modern version of Ingrid Bergman's danger at the hands of her unscrupulous husband as he drives her slowly and inexorably insane, questioning her sanity and reality, until at last either Ingrid or Charles Boyer will win and the truth will finally surface or one of them will be dead and broken, ruined.

As a psychological thriller, The Wife Between Us succeeds admirably to the point that the reader is also drawn into the trap and may not survive the ride. That is not too difficult since women are often their own worst enemies when vengeance and men are concerned. I see Hendricks and Pekkanen urging the trapped fox to chew off its own foot in order to be free, except that the fox trapped is not the fox you would expect, but the fox firmly caught in the trap urging the other caught fox to chew off its foot. There is no honor among contestants for the privileged life . . . and, considering the recent falls from grace, there may never be. There never has been.

Women are ornaments, chattel, brood mares, arm candy. As in Islam, so in the enlightened western world. There is no honor among women when men are concerned. Puts a different spin on Stand by Your Man.

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