Category: The Bestseller Code 100 (page 2 of 11)

#BestsellerCode100: Seeking Meaning In Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris is a bit different from the other books we’ve read so far for The Bestseller Code 100 Challenge. For that reason, this review is also going to be a change of pace.

This post contains spoilers.

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: This small book is a collection of short, fable-like stories featuring anthropomorphic animals. Regardless of the format, these are most definitely not tales for children.

Rather than reviewing every short story in the book, I thought I’d pick out one and delve into it more deeply.

The Mouse and the Snake

Number six out of a total of sixteen stories, this fable featured a mouse who kept a baby corn snake as a pet. She adopted the snake when she saw it hatching from an egg. Over time, the mouse became extremely attached to it, even to the point where she began to shun other relationships. She justified bringing home baby toads for it to eat, and lied about the mole she’d captured. One day a mother toad and mother mole stopped by looking for their offspring, but no one answered the door. Just as well, because the snake had eaten its mouse benefactor and would have eaten the two of them as well if it had the opportunity.

Like most of the short stories in the book, this one has a dark edginess. Bad things happen. It may be that Sedaris choose to feature animals as characters to give some distance and perspective to the events, but they are still hard to swallow (sorry).

Each of these stories has layers of meaning. For example, we could interpret the love of the mouse for the snake to represent a bad relationship, when we love people who aren’t good for us. These unhealthy relationships can make us do terrible things and aren’t likely to end well.

You could also interpret the snake to mean a destructive habit, like drug use or alcoholism. Drug or alcohol abuse can make a person do things they wouldn’t normally do, and the addict can’t always see the harm of their actions. Sometimes the addiction (snake) wins.

Although it isn’t a pleasant book to read, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk is complex and at times profound. Each story is short and quick, but the collection is likely to stay with you long after you finish.

Have you read Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time after the discussion starts.

77.  And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini (2013) – Discussion begins September 18, 2017
Genre:  Historical fiction

#BestsellerCode100: Number 78. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listSquirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris.

This post does not contain spoilers.

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  This small book is a collection of short, fable-like stories featuring anthropomorphic animals.

Note:  Regardless of the format, these are not stories for children. If you’re curious, NPR has a review with an excerpt.

 

david sedaris

 

Have you read Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time after the discussion starts.

77.  And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini (2013) – Discussion begins September 18, 2017
Genre:  Historical fiction

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Review of Daddy’s Gone A Hunting

Time to explore Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark from a writer’s perspective. The discussion began here.

This post may contain spoilers.

Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:   Why does Kate Connelly ask a retired employee Gus to meet her at the family’s antique furniture museum at four thirty in the morning? What were they doing when the building explodes, leaving Gus dead and Kate in a coma?  Are they victims or perpetrators?

(Public domain photo via Visualhunt.com)

 

Plot

In the Acknowledgements, Mary Higgins Clark writes that her editor of nearly forty years, Michael Korda, was the one who suggested “DNA” of the plot. As an example of domestic suspense (defined here), it centers around members of the Connelly family.

The story unfolds in a unique way. Clark writes a multitude of short chapters (97!) each revealing a small bit about a select group of characters before jumping to another. Because the chapters are so short, most only 2 to 5 pages long, the pages fly by.

At first it isn’t clear how the characters relate to one another, but over time the different threads start to come together until all is revealed at the end.

Characters

Daddy’s Gone a Hunting has many, many characters. The cast includes the members of the Connelly family, the Schmidts, the Sloane’s, the fire investigators, various police and private detectives, plant managers, lawyers, etc. The list goes on and on. Some characters seem to be included solely to serve as love interests for others. The main character is Kate Connelly, who ironically is in a coma for the majority of the book while others piece together how she ended up there.

As we’ve read through The Bestseller Code list, I’ve noticed a trend that more experienced authors have many more characters in their books than debut authors.  The debut novels The Silent Wife and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet have a limited cast of characters, whereas Easy Prey, the 11th in a series, has many characters. The most glaring exception is Primary Colors, which has the largest number of characters of any book we’ve read. Perhaps that is due to the fact the author is a reporter with many published articles before he wrote a work of fiction.

In the past I’ve tried to cut back the number of characters in my novel, but based on these bestsellers, perhaps that isn’t necessary or even desirable.

Setting

The setting is various regions of New York City. Clark seems to assume the reader is familiar with the city and treats locations in an offhand way.

Discussion

Although I generally enjoy domestic suspense, I struggled with this novel. Each character was given such brief coverage, and the story jumped around so much, I found myself not caring what happened to any of them. I did wonder, however, if switching back and forth between different characters, plus the topic of family, were the reasons the computer algorithm picked it.

That said, I’m not ready to give up on this author. I’m going to look for some of her earlier titles.

Have you read Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark? Are you a fan of hers? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time after the discussion starts.

The next book is number 78. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris (2010) – Discussion begins September 4, 2014
Animal-themed humorous short stories

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark

Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.

This post does not contain spoilers.

Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

The Queen of Suspense

As the author of thirty-seven bestselling novels, Mary Higgins Clark is known as the Queen of Suspense.  According to Clark’s website, her novels have sold over 100 million copies in the U.S. alone.  That’s a lot of books!  As the Queen of Suspense, one would be safe in assuming that Clark has the suspense novel format down pat.  Since this is not a genre I read very often, and I have seen Clark’s books continually on the bestseller tables at bookstores, I expected great things from Daddy’s Gone A Hunting.  And, while I enjoyed it, I didn’t find it to be great.  Yes, there is suspense, but as a relative novice to the suspense novel, even I figured out the major plot twist long before it was revealed.

Too Many Characters

A major issue I have with Daddy’s Gone A Hunting is the massive number of characters throughout the book.  It is difficult to keep track of all the different fire marshals, police officers, and other characters, and several times I had to read back a couple of pages to figure out exactly who was in a particular scene .  Off the top of my head I count 22 characters in a book that is only 352 pages long.  That’s a lot of characters to keep track of.

In addition to too many characters, I felt that Kate, the sister in the coma, is the forgotten character.  It is her memory that reveals the pivotal piece of the story, so why is her character not developed to the same extent as, say, the homeless Vietnam veteran?  I realize it might be difficult to develop a character that spends most of the book in a coma, but more of Kate’s story might have added to the suspense of the novel.

Fast Pace

Even though I’ve not read any of Clark’s other books, I suspect that Daddy’s Gone A Hunting is likely not one of her best.  You don’t get to be a bestselling novelist by writing lackluster stories, but after a few dozen bestsellers, I can understand how an author might write a book that isn’t quite up to her usual.  I do have to wonder, though, why this particular novel of Clark’s is the only one to have made The Bestseller Code‘s list of 100 novels that we should read.  Is it due to the pace, the scene-by-scene rhythm discussed in The Bestseller Code?  Daddy’s Gone A Hunting is fast-paced, creating a feeling of a regular rhythm or beat to the story, and that rhythm kept me avidly reading to the very end.  The chapters are short and alternate between the different characters, keeping us moving forward with the multi-faceted plot.  Daddy’s Gone A Hunting would be a good book to read while on vacation or during a long cross-country flight.

Have you read any of Mary Higgins Clark’s many novels?  Which would you recommend I read that might be a better representation of this author’s bestselling writing? And why do you think none of Clark’s other novels were listed in The Bestseller Code as a must read?

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about Daddy’s Gone a Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark ? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time after the discussion starts.

The next book is number 78. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris (2010) – Discussion begins September 4, 2014
Animal-themed humorous short stories

#BestsellerCode100: Number 79. Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark.

This post does not contain spoilers.

Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:   Why does Kate Connelly ask a retired employee Gus to meet her at the family’s antique furniture museum at four thirty in the morning? What are they doing when the building explodes, leaving Gus dead and Kate in a coma? Are they victims or perpetrators?

Have you read Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark ? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Daddy's Gone a Hunting

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about Daddy’s Gone a Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark ? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time after the discussion starts.

The next book is number 78. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris (2010) – Discussion begins September 4, 2014
Animal-themed humorous short stories

#BestsellerCode100: Reader’s Review of The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  This novel is categorized as Literary Fiction.

This post contains spoilers.

 

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

I Am Ready

The Art of Racing in the Rain is a rather unusual story, in that it’s told from the viewpoint of a dog, Enzo.  Enzo belongs to Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver.  But Enzo knows he isn’t just a dog; he’s a dog on the cusp of being reincarnated as a man.  Enzo watched television and he heard on a program about Mongolia on National Geographic Channel that, “When a dog is finished living his lifetimes as a dog, his next incarnation will be as a man.”

Not all dogs return as men, they say; only those who are ready.

I am ready.

Themes

Racing is a major theme in this novel by Garth Stein.  Every major plot turn is prefaced with a short chapter describing some aspect of driving a race car.  As a reader that is a race fan, I really enjoyed these chapters that give insight to how a race car driving thinks and reacts when on the track.  Early in the book Denny explains to his wife Eve why he is able to race in the rain more successfully than many other drivers:

“When I was nineteen,” Denny said after a moment, “at my first driving school down at Sears Point, it was raining and they were trying to teach us how to drive in the rain.  After the instructors were finished explaining all their secrets, all the students were totally confused.  We had no idea what they were talking about.  I looked over at the guy next to me–I remember him, he was from France and he was very fast.  Gabriel Flouret.  He smiled and he said: ‘That which you manifest is before you.’ “

This is a recurring thought throughout the novel, “That which you manifest is before you.”  Sounds a bit New Age, doesn’t it?  But Enzo contemplates on Denny’s statement and I have to agree with his conclusion:

Such a simple concept, yet so true: that which we manifest is before us; we are the creators of our own destiny.  Be it through intention or ignorance, our successes and our failures have been brought on by none other than ourselves.

Creators of Our Own Destiny

Roberta stated in her Writer’s Review that she felt manipulated by the string of bad luck that Denny endured.  Was it all bad luck, though?  When Eve became ill, it seemed logical to Denny that Eve and Zoe should with Eve’s parents.  Eve’s parents had more money to provide care, more space for hospital beds and such, and they were retired, so they had the time to devote.  How would Denny cope with illness and hospital beds and Zoe’s care and still be able to work?  And yet he was setting himself up for long-term heartache and legal troubles.

We are the creators of our own destiny.  Be it through intention or ignorance, our successes and our failures have been brought on by none other than ourselves.

 

Enzo, Race Car Driver?

Throughout Eve’s illness and then the subsequent custody battle, Enzo does his best to provide Denny with moral support and companionship.  In one memorable scene near the end of the novel, Enzo is able to change Denny’s mind when Denny has decided to give up on the custody battle, and the way he does so makes his message impossible for Denny to misunderstand.

I first read this book in 2012 and enjoyed it thoroughly then.  Five years later, I found it to be just as enjoyable.  Enzo does his best to provide Denny with moral support and companionship.  In one memorable scene, Enzo is actually able to change Denny’s mind when Denny has decided to give up on the custody battle. In the last chapter, we discover whether Enzo was successful in his desire to be reincarnated as a human, and more specifically, a race car driver.  Was he ready?  I hoped all along that he was.

 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Have you written about The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 80. Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris (2010) – Discussion begins August 21, 2017
Gothic mystery

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Analysis of The Art of Racing in the Rain

Let’s take a look at The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein from a writer’s perspective. The discussion began here.

This post contains spoilers.

 

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Plot of The Art of Racing in the Rain

Literary fiction rarely unfolds in strict chronological order. In this case most of the story is an extended flashback as the narrator remembers his life. The very last section flashes forward into the future, which is a bit of a stretch because he is no longer available to tell the story.

Characters

The story is told in the first person from a dog’s point of view.  Th narrator is Enzo, a lab-terrier mix, who lives with race car driver Denny Swift, Denny’s wife Eve, and daughter Zoë.

Having a dog for a narrator has advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, the author doesn’t have to delve as deeply into his human characters. For example, if Denny was the narrator the reader might expect to sit in the car as he races around the track. Because he isn’t the narrator, the reader gets the TV-viewing dog’s analysis of events instead.

Disadvantages include:

  •  Ability to travel is restricted. Enzo can’t go to the trial with Denny, for example.
  • The dialogue is tricky because the dog doesn’t speak. Enzo can only report dialogue he overhears.
  • The dog has physical limitations, like having no thumbs and having limited color vision. The author must keep track of all these differences to realistically limit his character.
  • It also leads Enzo to be a bit unreliable because he can only guess what is going on from his narrow observations and memories.

Setting

The story is set in Seattle, but we don’t get a strong feeling of setting because of the limitations of a dog narrator. It might have been informative if the author had described what Seattle smells and sounds like from a dog’s perspective.

 

Public domain photo via VisualHunt.com

Themes and Symbolism

As a work of literary fiction, The Art of Racing in the Rain has deeper themes and symbolism than a genre fiction title might have. One of the symbols is the toy zebra who runs amok in a surrealistic scene. He symbolizes what can go wrong in life, and possibly helps with foreshadowing.

There is a strong theme of death and dying, and both Eve and Enzo die before the end of the book. There is an emphasis on Enzo’s idea of reincarnation and that death is a step towards becoming human.

On the other hand, it is also about love and relationships, particularly the unbreakable bonds between Denny and Enzo, Denny and his wife Eve, and Denny and his daughter Zoë.

Discussion

Because Enzo could only report what he witnessed, it had the effect of distancing the reader from emotional lives of the human characters. Some readers don’t find that troubling and report crying in all the appropriate tissue-wringing spots. Other readers see the gap between dog’s reporting and what the people are feeling as too artificial. In fact, the author may have added the long stretch of tear-inducing bad luck to counteract the emotional insulation of having a dog narrator.

I think we’ve all known people who’ve had more than their share of misfortunes, such as multiple deaths in their families, economic troubles, etc. That said, the string of bad luck Denny endures seemed unbelievable at best and blatant manipulation of the reader’s feelings at the worst. This isn’t the first time I’ve felt manipulated by literary fiction (see my discussion of Olive Kitteridge, for example), which may be why I don’t enjoy it as much.

Have you read The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 80. Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris (2010) – Discussion begins August 21, 2017
Gothic mystery

#BestsellerCode100: Number 81. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Told from the first person (dog) point of view of Enzo, a lab-terrier mix who lives with race car driver Denny Swift.

Have you read The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Have you written about The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 80. Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris (2010) – Discussion begins August 21, 2017
Gothic mystery

#BestsellerCode100: The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison, A Writer’s Review

Let’s look at our next book from The Bestseller Code 100 list, The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison, from a writer’s perspective. (The discussion began here.)

This post contains spoilers.

 

The Silent Wife: A Novel* by A. S. A. Harrison

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 A. S. A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife explores the dynamics of a marriage on the rocks. It is a treasure trove of examples of writing techniques that aren’t often used in novels.

Plot

Present Tense

Although most novels are written in the past tense, Harrison writes The Silent Wife  in the present tense.

The dog, a golden retriever with a silky blond coat, sits at her feet as she works at the cutting board.

Does it work? Yes. It doesn’t take long to adjust to the change and it gives the book a sense of immediacy.

Prolepsis

By definition, thrillers reveal the killer/antagonist early on in the book. In this case the author states flat out in the second paragraph that the protagonist is going to kill her husband. This is an example of prolepsis, or telling the reader from the start what is going to happen.

Does it work? Believe it or not, the book remains suspenseful regardless of the early reveal. We wonder whether she’ll actually do it, how it happens, and whether she’ll get caught. A twist at the end keeps the reader on tenterhooks the entire time.

Character

One way Harrison is able to pull off the prolepsis is because her protagonist, Jodi, is an unreliable narrator. Normally I’m not a big fan of full-blown unreliable narrators, but this one is mild. She withholds information and shows signs of psychological weakness, but she isn’t a bad person. For example, she says she’s married, but we soon learn she and her partner have lived together for twenty years without getting married. Looking at her routines, we see evidence of an obsessive-compulsive disorder, but she is still functioning fairly well. Her worst defect is her memory issues. She seems to forget many things rather than dealing with them.

The main antagonist is Jodi’s partner, Todd. He lies, he cheats, and when he gets a much-younger woman pregnant, he doesn’t tell Jodi he’s moving out until the last moment. He gives Jodi plenty of motive to kill him.

The novel flips between the point of view of these two characters so we can see that Todd is also crumbling under the stress of his actions.

Dialogue

The dialogue in this book is incredibly sparse. Pages and pages go by without a single conversation. What little dialogue there is occurs mostly in the sections told from Todd’s point of view. Jodi speaks very little, partially because she is alone a lot, but also because she uses her silence to control herself and others (hence the title of the book, as Karen explains in her review.) Her conversations are short and clipped down to the essential conflict.

Limited dialogue is a technique I’d love to learn because I tend to try to carry too much of the plot through conversations. Although writing books suggest breaking up narrative with blocks of dialogue is good because it speeds up the pace, in this case the density of the narrative doesn’t slow things down. The pace remains tight and quick, regardless.

Setting

The novel is set in the city of Chicago. Most of the action takes place in a high rise apartment along the shore of lake Michigan. Her descriptions were good, but the novel could have been set in any city, or almost anywhere for that matter.

Photo via VisualHunt

Discussion

A. S. A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife breaks the thriller mold with some less-commonly-used techniques, but still has the reader guessing what’s going on until the very end.  It is exceptionally well written for a debut novel. Sadly, we can’t find out what more she had to offer, because the author passed away shortly after it came out.

Have you read The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time after its start date.

The next book is number 81. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (2008) – Discussion begins August 7, 2017
Literary fiction told from a dog’s point of view

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison

The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  This novel is categorized as a Psychological Thriller.

This post does contain spoilers.

 

The Silent Wife: A Novel* by A. S. A. Harrison


*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

In The Silent Wife, we are introduced to Todd and Jodi, a couple who appear to have it all. Todd is a building contractor in Chicago and Jodi is a psychotherapist that sees a few carefully selected clients (no difficult cases or life-threatening issues) from her home. They’ve been a couple for over twenty years and live in a beautiful twenty-seventh floor condo overlooking the lake. Jodi takes great care and pride in keeping herself in good physical shape, careful grooming, and providing the perfect home atmosphere for Todd – fresh flowers, hors d’oeuvre and wine as soon as he gets home. And yet, all is not perfect. Todd often doesn’t come home and Jodi knows the reasons why, but carefully ignores the affairs. Todd’s business dealings are always on a knife’s edge, threatening to implode, but he never tells Jodi about any financial problems. Silence is the name of the game.

It’s The Title, Again

In my review of The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, I wrote about the importance that The Bestseller Code algorithm attributes to the title of a book. In Chapter 5 of The Bestseller Code the authors explain that book titles beginning with “The” are much more common on the bestseller list than those that begin with “A.”

The specificity of the word “The” asks us to trust that this goldfinch has more relevance – enough to hold an entire story symbolically, emotionally, or structurally – for more than three hundred pages.

“The” remains the most successful way to begin a title because it is a word that implies agency focused somewhere, be that focus on a place, on an event, on an object, or somewhere else. The title gives us a clue about how to relate to the story that follows.

In addition to the title beginning with “The,” this title also includes a sociocultural role:

When it comes to sociocultural roles, the word “wife” is popular in bestselling titles, but it is always qualified. The title is not just The Wife. She has more to contend with than this. Titles about a woman in marriage that hit the lists are titles such as The Silent Wife, The Paris Wife, A Reliable Wife. The names of these novels are meant to make us wonder what happens to this woman when put in relationship to Paris, to silence, to reliability as well as, given what “wife” implies, to her husband. How do her options and her likely conflicts change?

…any quick look at the bestseller list will tell you that troubled marriage appears to be a big hook for the reading market at the moment. The books making the lists are evidence of our contemporary fascination with the roles of women in their place in the family, in marriage, and in the public sphere.

The Bestseller Code by Jodie Archer & Matthew L. Jockers. Chapter 5. Pages 150 – 154

Silent AND Wife

So here we have The Silent Wife and both words – silent, wife – have major implications in the novel. Jodi is silent, prides herself on her silence, whether it be about events and issues from her childhood or dealing with Todd’s recurring infidelities. Silence means she can ignore the issue. If it’s not talked about, it doesn’t exist. Both Jodi and Todd view silence as power and it’s been a sustaining feature of their relationship.

He breaks the connection and it dawns on him that this is typical of his and Jodi’s life together: the stubborn pretense, the chasms of silence, the blind forging ahead. He must have known this, but the weirdness of it, the aberrance, has somehow never struck him. Other couples are loud, vocal, off and on again, working things out, but with Jodi and him it’s all dissimulation. Put up a front, go through the motions, don’t say a word. Act as if all is well and all will be well. Jodi’s great gift is her silence, and he has always loved this about her, that she knows how to mind her own business, keep her own counsel, but silence is also her weapon. The woman who refuses to object, who doesn’t yell and scream – there’s strength in that, and power.

Jodi considers herself to be Todd’s wife and passes herself off publicly as Mrs. Gilbert, but she never actually married Todd, even though he proposed to her several times. The lack of a marriage certificate is a major contributor to the complete breakdown of their relationship and, ultimately, murder, and we learn in the second paragraph of the book who will be murdered and who will be the murderer.

Psychological thriller

I don’t consider this novel to be a “thriller” as much as it is suspenseful. As stated above, we are told right off who will be killed and who will do the killing. The questions to be answered are why and how. The suspense comes in watching the disintegration of the “marriage” – Jodi’s carefully structured world and Todd’s lifetime of self-delusion shatter in pieces – and in seeing just how far a person can be backed into a corner before self-preservation takes over. While neither Jodi or Todd are particularly lovable, they are believable and it doesn’t take too much of a leap to understand how any one of us might act similarly, given similar circumstances.

Author A. S. A. Harrison was a psychotherapist, in addition to writer, so Jodi is a believable psychotherapist, at least to one who has never gone through any type of therapy. Sometimes the technical descriptions of psychoanalytical theories is a little heavy, but overall, they play well into the story line and provide insight into both Todd and Jodi’s characters. Both Todd and Jodi had deeply flawed childhoods that impacted who they became as adults and how they view marriage and life, although Jodi is able to gloss over and “forget” the worst of her experiences. Jodi naming her dog “Freud” is a not-so-subtle reminder, though, that no experiences are ever truly forgotten.  They dwell in our unconscious mind and govern our behavior throughout our lives. Harrison’s message in The Silent Wife seems to be that, instead of using silence as an avoidance technique, Jodi and Todd (and maybe each and every one of us?) would have benefited by bringing issues and experiences to the light of day, examining them, and coming to some sort of resolution. Considering the end resolution for Todd in this novel, who can argue with that message?

 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

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If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time after its start date.

The next book is number 81. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (2008) – Discussion begins August 7, 2017
Literary fiction told from a dog’s point of view

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