Reviews this summer called “The Silent Wife” a “must read.” They were right! The story is expertly written in alternating chapters titled “Him” and “Her” that detail the lives of Jodi and Todd. The author hooks the reader in at the outset and doesn’t let go.
Jodi and Todd aren’t married, but they have lived comfortably together for 20 years, the last several in Chicago. Todd owns his own construction business, which he started by himself about the time he met Jodi. At that time, he lived in a sleeping bag in a 19th century mansion that had been made into several apartments. He converted it back to its original purpose.
Jodi is a part-time therapist who chooses her patients carefully. She doesn’t take patients with eating disorders, who are addicts, who suffer from chronic depression or who are bi-polar or schizophrenic. Todd wanted to have children, but Jodi didn’t, so they are childless. They have a carefully ordered life in a beautiful condo overlooking Lake Michigan.
But not all is perfect. Jodi knows that Todd is having an affair. At first, she isn’t overly bothered by it. “The point is that the pretense, the all-important pretense must be maintained, the illusion that everything is fine and nothing is the matter,” the author writes. Based on her psychological training, Jodi knows that many cheaters do prosper. But to her, “Peace of mind comes from taking people as they are and emphasizing the positive.” So Jodi is silent, thinking she knows what is going on in Todd’s life.
Todd has been seeing a young college student in her twenties, Natasha, who happens to be the daughter of his best friend, Dean. Todd has known Dean since high school, and he has known Natasha since she was a baby. Todd and Natasha spend many hours during the weeks at a hotel, and everything is fine until she announces that she is pregnant. Natasha wants to marry Todd, and he agrees.
When Dean finds out that Todd has been sleeping with his daughter, he hits the roof and calls Jodi. She doesn’t confront Todd, hoping things will all get back to normal. But Todd moves in with Natasha and starts paying all the exorbitant bills for their wedding, which Dean refuses to attend.
Jodi remains silent until she gets a notice that she will have to vacate their condo because she legally has no claim to it.
She hires a lawyer, who informs her that Illinois is not a common-law state, and even though she and Todd lived together for 20 years, Jodi is entitled to nothing because they weren’t married.
Then she finds out that Todd isn’t going to pay her credit card balances any more. Jodi decides she no longer likes what the future holds.
Meanwhile, Todd is beginning to feel squeezed by Natasha financially as well as socially. And whether he’s aware of it or not, he’s given several individuals reason to do him harm.
The suspense continues right up to the last page.
“The Silent Wife” is a quick read. The rising tension between the main characters calls to mind the bestseller “Gone Girl,” but “The Silent Wife” has a power and plot all its own. The author, A.S.A. Harrison lived in Toronto but died of cancer before her story was published.
Maggie Braun is a teacher at Manhattan High School.