The Hippo


Nov 16, 2019








Cover of The Wife Between Us

The Wife Between Us, by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
St. Martin’s Press, 346 pages


 Gillian Flynn didn’t invent the plot twist, but after the success of Gone Girl, America’s appetite for mind-bending, didn’t-see-that-coming novels seems to have turned into a craving. The latest arrival in the genre is The Wife Between Us, a dizzying tale about a divorced woman intent on preventing the upcoming wedding of her former husband and her younger, prettier replacement.

A caveat: That’s possibly what it’s about.
As the book jacket warns, what’s really happening might not be what you think. 
Like another psychological thriller recently released, The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn, The Wife Between Us debuted as a blockbuster in the making, having already been optioned for film. The authors are two women with a history of working together — one as an editor at Simon & Schuster, the other as a novelist — and their prose is accordingly polished, if at times disappointingly robotic.
The book starts with the promise of an unreliable, unsympathetic and possibly alcoholic narrator, Vanessa, who is working as a saleswoman at Saks and living with her aunt in the aftermath of a devastating divorce. The marriage lasted less than a decade, and Vanessa and her husband had no children, which seems to be part of the problem. 
The couple had tried for years to conceive, with no success even with aggressive fertility treatments, and Vanessa, who recently learned from a friend that her ex is engaged, is wrecked by the thought that Richard’s girlfriend and soon-to-be wife might be pregnant.  She’s determined to break up the relationship, which she warns us with ominous lines such as “She has no idea what will happen if she continues like this. None at all.”
As Vanessa skirts the line between spurned wife and stalker, the narrative alternatives between her point of view and that of Nellie, Richard’s fiancée.  
Nellie and Richard met on a plane, and she fell in love with him knowing nothing about any of his previous relationships. When Richard buys her an expansive Westchester County house and an enormous diamond ring, Nellie quits the two jobs she worked to pay the rent in a shared apartment and also leaves behind her best friend, with whom she suddenly has nothing in common. We’re told Nellie had left Florida for New York for shadowy reasons before she met Richard, but otherwise she seems a sweet, trusting innocent who, like Cinderella, was overwhelmed and grateful for her sudden change in fortune.
That’s Part 1.  Fasten your seatbelts for Parts 2 and 3.
Give the authors credit for crafting a polished story that, as promised, is full of surprises.  When novels are marketed as plot-twisted, as this one is, the surprises are necessarily diminished because we know they’re coming. The Wife Between Us has several twists, one of which is so game-changing that it bordered on irritating. Not only did the authors pull the rug out from under me mid-book, but I felt like I’d bumped my head when I fell. I spent a day grumbling about it to anyone who would listen before proceeding with the rest of the book.
The later twists were not as unnerving, even though I saw none of them coming. As such, The Wife Between Us is a skillfully crafted psychological thriller that may be better on the big screen than in a book. That’s because while it punches all the buttons, the writing at times feels phoned in. This is particularly noticeable in Vanessa’s first-person account (Nellie’s side is told in third person), where the sentences too often plod like a tired draft horse pulling a cart full of Amish.
It’s possible this is deliberate. Vanessa is, after all, not in a good mental place. But I was halfway through the book before I encountered a paragraph that struck me as especially fine writing, and there are too many words that contribute nothing to the story but bulk. To wit: Vanessa, upon making a meal for her husband while she was married: “I tried to follow the recipe exactly, but I’d neglected to buy the fenugreek because I had no idea what it was. And when it came time to add the fennel, I couldn’t find it, even though I swore I’d put it in the cart.”
(Fenugreek: “an annual plant in the family Fabaceae, with leaves consisting of three small obovate to oblong leaflets,” says Wikipedia, unhelpfully.)
The narrative of The Wife Between Us is a bit like a robot walking: The book is really cool and it gets where it’s going, but we still wish for a bit more fluidity and grace. That said, this book is no tin man. It has heart and a noble theme that belies its dime-store-novel outline, revealed in an ending that is ultimately satisfying. B 
— Jennifer Graham 

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