“In an instant, I became the woman they assumed I’d been all along: the wife who lied to protect her husband.”
The Wife asks us: how far should a wife go to protect those she loves? A question we all think we know the answer to. A question we all think we can answer ourselves. This assumption, the arrogance we have thinking we know simple answers to complex questions, is precisely where Alafair Burke wants us.
From the very beginning we know a few things. We know that there’s a detective on Angela’s doorstep. One who has been involved with their family before. We know her husband is under some sort of suspicion, that the detective wants to know where he was the previous night. We know Angela lies. We know a woman’s missing.
“I should have slammed the door, but she was baiting me with the threat of incoming shrapnel. I’d rather take it in the face than wait for it to strike me in the back.”
As the story unfolds, we find out that the innocent encounter with an intern that Jason told Angela about, may be closer to harassment than he portrayed. We see how quickly Jason falls out of favor from the University he works at, and with the news stations he is a reoccurring guest on. How fast he is condemned in the world before charges are even brought.
When a new woman brings harsher allegations, sexual assault, with evidence, a simple misunderstanding becomes harder to explain. As Jason works with his lawyer to defend himself, pieces of Angela’s past start rising to the surface. Pieces that she desperately wants to keep hidden.
“I’ve told him it has nothing to do with the past. It’s rational for me to be more afraid than he is.”
To make things even more complicated for Angela, she desperately wants to protect their son Spencer from all the rumor, gossip, and speculation. Private school in New York is nothing if not deadly in the court of public opinion. Spencer is one of my favorite characters in this book. Though he loves Jason and calls him dad, he is loyal to his mother in a way that single mothers will recognize. He lives for her, and she for him. It isn’t just her own secrets that she is so determined to protect.
Burke writes sharp characters with a sharper commentary on society at large woven into the plot. Even though we don’t know exactly what happened, as the story unfolds we are given a scrap of information at a time. Burke gives us emails, news reports, clips from police reports, along with the perspectives of the detective, Corrine, and Angela. With each new piece of information we have to shift, examine what we thought we knew, and form new opinions.
The way Burke leads us down the path to assumptions is brilliant. She gives us the characters own biases and opinions when presenting the new fact, or perspective. This all helps build the narrative. The one where we think we’re being unbiased. Where we think we know where the information is leading. Each bias, each new piece of information, builds the doubt, and yet somehow, you still think you know where we are heading.
“To know something, he argued, was not the same as to be certain beyond all doubt. And to believe something was definitely not the same as to know it.”
In a world of viral news, The Wife is a stellar examination of the reality we live in. When does an allegation become fact? When should it? Beyond just the ideas of what we think our opinions are, Burke constantly knocks us off balance by presenting a different side to the same piece of information. How drastically can one side vary from another, and both feel true? In a world of twisting perceptions, how can we ever really know the truth?
We go through the court of public opinion and end up in an actual courtroom. Throughout it all we get the details as the investigation uncovers them. But, it isn’t just the pieces of information in regards to Jason that Burke presents to us and uses against us. It’s also the secrets of Angela’s past. Just like she presents the facts in regards to Jason, we get a slow unveil of her past.
The Wife is a more subtle exploration of what it is to be a victim. To be victimized. Is Angela the victim? The accusers? The accused? Burke shows us every side, shifting and changing the second we feel confident of our answers. This is an exercise in judgement. How we find it. How we wield it. It asks the question: can we ever hope to find it.
I loved this book! It isn’t just the nuance of thriller or mystery that makes it excellent. The ending blind sides you. We don’t ever get complete answers to some of the questions we’re presented with, but we discover, that doesn’t really matter. It’s a reality check that we can’t ever really know the truth of a person. We never really know who they are. What they’re capable of. No matter how many angles we look from.
Tracy from @thepagesinbetween and I are hosting a #wickedreadalong this month for this book! We hope you can join us!
March 16: pages 1 – 171 on my Instagram page @jenabrownwrites
March 30: pages 172-338 on Tracy’s Instagram page @thepagesinbetween
And please! Check out our very first #blogsquad joint review on The Obscurist, the new blog for the subscription box Paper Obscura. Go give us some love! And if you end up joining, (which you totally should), use my code WICKEDJENA for a wicked discount!