The Silent Wife is the debut novel from non-fiction author A.S.A. Harrison (who died in April at age 65). In this confident foray into fiction, Harrison applies extensive knowledge of psychology to her portrayal of a relationship’s rapid disintegration.
Jodi is 45 years old and mildly concerned about the erosion of her youthful beauty. Otherwise, life is good. She has a satisfying career as a psychotherapist and lives in a beautiful Chicago condo with her long-term partner, a developer named Todd. In the opening chapters, Jodi insists her life with Todd is ideal. Though they have never wed, they share the comfortable intimacy of a long-married couple.
Because they have no children, they possess time and energy to indulge in fulfilling hobbies: Jodi does Pilates; Todd sleeps with other women. Jodi has convinced herself that Todd’s dalliances are of no concern. All relationships are built on compromise, she rationalizes to herself. A husband who occasionally cheats is a compromise that Harrison’s silent wife seems willing to accept.
Given this premise, readers might expect the female protagonist to unravel, and sure enough, on the first page, an omniscient narrator reveals that Jodi will become so unhinged she will eventually resort to murder. But Harrison’s skilful narrative does not rely on traditional suspense to engage the reader. The delight is in the details of Jodi’s descent – in the how rather than the what.
Harrison demonstrates familiarity with the work of Freud, Jung, and Adler, lending depth to the narrative and only occasionally veering toward didacticism. For the most part, Harrison’s psychological references are subtle and even comic. The couple’s dog bears the name Freud – a warning not to discount their childhood backstories, which initially seem irrelevant or meandering. Ultimately, The Silent Wife is about two individuals living out their parents’ mistakes while trying to ignore their very real problems in the present. Harrison’s novel is an astute and gripping account of the high cost of mute acceptance.