the silent wife

I received a copy of The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison from a friend several months ago (a year?) and finally decided to read it in March, being a perfect fit for the KC Library Love on the Rocks Adult Winter Reading Program. From Goodreads:

Jodi and Todd are at a bad place in their marriage. Much is at stake, including the affluent life they lead in their beautiful waterfront condo in Chicago, as she, the killer, and he, the victim, rush haplessly toward the main event. He is a committed cheater. She lives and breathes denial. He exists in dual worlds. She likes to settle scores. He decides to play for keeps. She has nothing left to lose. Told in alternating voices, The Silent Wife is about a marriage in the throes of dissolution, a couple headed for catastrophe, concessions that can’t be made, and promises that won’t be kept. Expertly plotted and reminiscent of Gone Girl and These Things Hidden, The Silent Wife ensnares the reader from page one and does not let go.

I know I’m not the first to say it, and I totally agree—the comparisons to Gone Girl are way off. Sure, it’s a messed up marriage, like in Gone Girl. But The Silent Wife is less thriller than Gone Girl, for starters. While the final “act” is set up in the blurb above (and I kind of wish the blurb hadn’t given that away), Jodi and Todd are less conniving and sociopathic  than Amy and Nick, but still pretty awful to each other. Psychology is a huge element in this novel, with Jodi even being a psychologist herself. There were plenty of twists and turns in the story but I saw a few of them coming, and the ending wrapped up just a little too neatly for me.

This was deliciously dark fiction, though, with plenty of sinister moments, and Harrison’s writing style and pacing keeps you turning the pages for more. I loved how she made Chicago another character in the story, mentioning specific locations, however, the language wasn’t quite right for Chicagoans in spots. I didn’t grow up in Chicago but I’ve been many, many times to visit family there, and never once have I heard anyone I know from Chicago say “hell’s bells.” This would make a great book club choice, since there’s a lot to discuss: cheating and what you do or don’t do about it, what a marriage looks like after 20+ years, childhood trauma, and so on. The Silent Wife came out a couple of years ago so I’m sure many have read it already, but I don’t want to give out spoilers!

Basically it was a good book—not quite great, but still an enjoyable read if you’re into dark fiction about marriages and interpersonal relationships. I was sorry to find out later that Harrison died right before The Silent Wife was published, making it her only novel. I would have been interested to read more from her as she developed her style and voice past her debut.

The Silent Wife is my fifth book of five for the KC Library’s Love on the Rocks Adult Winter Reading Program.

Read from March 15 to 20, 2015.

shotgun lovesongs

Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler made the rounds on book blogs last year, and it came up as available on audio through my library last month. I didn’t realize it until I was almost finished, but this book is a great fit for the KC Library’s Love on the Rocks program. From Goodreads:

Hank, Leland, Kip and Ronny were all born and raised in the same Wisconsin town—Little Wing—and are now coming into their own (or not) as husbands and fathers. One of them never left, still farming the family’s land that’s been tilled for generations. Others did leave, went farther afield to make good, with varying degrees of success; as a rock star, commodities trader, rodeo stud. And seamlessly woven into their patchwork is Beth, whose presence among them—both then and now—fuels the kind of passion one comes to expect of love songs and rivalries.

There was a lot I liked about Shotgun Lovesongs. First, yay Wisconsin! It’s not everyday that you experience literary fiction set in Wisconsin (my home state), especially with it being another subtle, accurately portrayed character in itself. I’ve since learned that Butler is a Wisconsin resident, so that obviously makes the setting click, with its spot-on references. I was easily taken by the five friends and immersed in their world, as I have first-hand experience of small, rural Wisconsin towns myself. Their interpersonal relationships and struggles were realistic and easily relatable. Though Little Wing is fictional, I love the nod to Stevie Ray Vaughan (who died in a helicopter crash in Wisconsin) and Jimi Hendrix. Beyond that, with basing his main protagonist on Bon Iver’s leader Justin Vernon (a Wisconsin native), obviously music is a big inspiration for Shotgun and I loved that aspect of this book.

While I said the Wisconsin references were spot-on (and they were), occasionally they were a skosh heavy handed (John Deere and Leinenkugels [almost no one says the full name] and Carhartts oh my!), and the women didn’t feel fully fleshed out for me. Butler shatters some stereotypes with the men, but sadly plays right into others with the women of his fictional rural town (babies on the brain, frumpy clothes for farmer’s wives? come on). I thought it was great that on the audio each character was read by a different actor in the alternating-viewpoint chapters. The actors didn’t sound like they were from “up-nort” (forgivable) but thinking back, the characters all “spoke” in sort of the same voice… their inner monologues were rather similar.

I enjoyed Shotgun Lovesongs very much, though—it was just the right kind of escapism I’ve been needing lately. I’ve also found out that the movie rights have been secured; I can see this translating to film quite well!

Shotgun Lovesongs is my fourth book of five for the KC Library’s Love on the Rocks Adult Winter Reading Program.

Listened to audiobook from February 14 to March 15, 2015.

dept. of speculation

Onward with my reading challenges! My latest pick for the KC Library’s Love on the Rocks program was Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill. From Goodreads:

Dept. of Speculation is a portrait of a marriage. It is also a beguiling rumination on the mysteries of intimacy, trust, faith, knowledge, and the condition of universal shipwreck that unites us all.

Jenny Offill’s heroine, referred to in these pages as simply “the wife,” once exchanged love letters with her husband, postmarked Dept. of Speculation, their code name for all the uncertainty that inheres in life and in the strangely fluid confines of a long relationship. As they confront an array of common catastrophesa colicky baby, bedbugs, a faltering marriage, stalled ambitions—the wife analyzes her predicament, invoking everything from Keats and Kafka to the thought experiments of the Stoics to the lessons of doomed Russian cosmonauts. She muses on the consuming, capacious experience of maternal love, and the near total destruction of the self that ensues from it, as she confronts the friction between domestic life and the seductions and demands of art..

Well, hmm. Perhaps I’m in a slump. I’ve heard almost nothing but awesome things about Dept. of Speculation and it just didn’t grab me the way I expected. I enjoyed it overall, but I think the subject matter is deep and complicated, but being such a short novel (only about 170 pages) I feel like some of the situations and feelings “the wife” had were glossed over. The free-flowing thought prose jumped around and I had trouble staying focused on the when/where/what. She obsessed over microscopic details in her life and marriage—can’t see the forest for the trees? I just never felt invested in the characters, or had any empathy for them. However, I did find the writing style fresh and interesting, with some very lovely, compelling phrasing, almost on a poetic level. I have had a trying few weeks here, so maybe it’s me and I’m in a slump. I think if I had been able to really concentrate and focus on this novella in one or two sittings, Dept. would have had more of an impact for me. I would definitely give it a re-read at some point.

Dept. of Speculation is my third book of five for the KC Library’s Love on the Rocks Adult Winter Reading Program.

Read from February 18 to 28, 2015.

in the house upon the dirt between the lake and the woods

After seeing it reviewed by Rory at Fourth Street Review, In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell has been on my radar. A few weeks ago, it became available on audio through my library. From Goodreads:

In this epic, mythical debut novel, a newly-wed couple escapes the busy confusion of their homeland for a distant and almost-uninhabited lakeshore. They plan to live there simply, to fish the lake, to trap the nearby woods, and build a house upon the dirt between where they can raise a family. But as their every pregnancy fails, the child-obsessed husband begins to rage at this new world: the song-spun objects somehow created by his wife’s beautiful singing voice, the giant and sentient bear that rules the beasts of the woods, the second moon weighing down the fabric of their starless sky, and the labyrinth of memory dug into the earth beneath their house.

This is a tough book to review! I was very intrigued by the darkness of the premise, and though I felt like giving up a few times I’m glad I ultimately stuck it out. In the House has so many converging elements, including magical realism, horror, folklore… even some action and mystery thrown in. “Mythical” is just about the perfect word to describe it overall, too. The breakdown of the couple’s marriage is painful, the husband’s descent into fury is kind of frightening, even. It just made me think, how far is this man going to go? Is this even about having children anymore? It was really thought-provoking. Charlie Thurston narrated this audio version, and I had to set it to 1.5x speed—normal was just a little lethargic for me! But the clip of his voice at 1.5x made the poetic nature of the prose much more theatrical.

I don’t think In the House is for everyone—ratings on Goodreads are starkly divided. Once I let go of things making sense and just went with the dreamy quality of the story I enjoyed it a lot more.

I’m counting In the House as book two of five for the KC Library’s Love on the Rocks Adult Winter Reading Program.

Listened to audiobook from January 13 to February 5, 2015.

power politics

In anticipation of the lecture on Monday, last week I squeezed in Power Politics by Margaret Atwood instead of what I had otherwise planned on reading. From Goodreads:

Margaret Atwood’s Power Politics first appeared in 1971, startling its audience with its vital dance of woman and man. Thirty years later it still startles, and is just as iconoclastic as ever. These poems occupy all at once the intimate, the political, and the mythic. Here Atwood makes us realize that we may think our own personal dichotomies are unique, but really they are multiple and universal. Clear, direct, wry, unrelenting—Atwood’s poetic powers are honed to perfection in this important early work.

I’m no expert when it comes to poetry—I usually don’t have the patience to let the words completely soak in—but I love Margaret Atwood and have heard that Power Politics is a decent place to start with her poems. She had me from the very first page:

you fit into me
like a hook into an eye

a fish hook
an open eye

Badass.

I didn’t quite get a sense of separate poems—it was more like one long poem. There is a very strong sense of love, pain, violence, and betrayal. The jilted lover’s intense focus on “You” is especially powerful. There were parts of the collection that resonated deeply and made me reflect on the dark, angry thoughts and feelings that I may have experienced after particularly arduous breakups. I was pretty busy last week, otherwise I’m sure I could have read the whole collection in one sitting (even less than an hour) rather than over a few days. I’m counting this as one of my reads for the KC Library’s Love on the Rocks Adult Winter Reading Program.

Read from January 29 to 31, 2015.