Originally published March 2014
How much thought have you given to how to be a good wife?
I’ve been a wife for pushing 23 years. And honestly, most of my marital introspection has been less Candace “Submissive” Cameron Bure and more Miss Janet “What Have You Done for Me Lately?” Jackson. Sorry, hon.
One of my favorite Internet memes was this one—those 1950s rules for how to be a good wife. They still make me laugh, and shake my head—even though it’s pure legend, it’s funny partly because it’s roots are based somewhat in reality. It was with that infamous meme that I picked Emma Chapman’s “How to Be a Good Wife” off the shelf at the library. Intrigued, indeed.
Chapman’s debut effort draws the reader in—who is Marta, and what is wrong with her? You’ll wonder what to make of Hector, her husband of many years, and her son Kylan, now grown and engaged to be wed. The story centers on Marta and her descent into madness—or discovery. We don’t know. An orphan daughter of long-dead parents, she believes it was Hector that saved her from something, but we—and Marta—don’t know or remember what that is. Nursed to health and saved from an uncertain fate thanks to Hector and a proposal, Marta has spent more time that she can remember being a wife—a good one, she hopes. Hector’s domineering mother Matilda doesn’t seem all that interested on giving up her mothering role, and it was she that presented Marta with a guidebook, “How to be a Good Wife,” on their wedding day.
It’s this book that has kept Marta on the straight and narrow for so long, but when she decides to go off her meds, she’s visited by visions of a strange young girl—insert visions from “What Lies Beneath here—that has her slowly losing her mind. Is she real? Is her husband cheating on her? Does the halibut stew really need more salt? And who is that girl? Damnit!
The book dances with being a little too one-note, as the story is told entirely from Marta’s perspective. We don’t know what Hector is thinking, if he’s a good guy or a bad guy. We do get that Matilda is a bitch of a mother-in-law, and that Kylan cares about his mom and is worried. And we do know that Marta is lost, somewhere inside herself.
What saves it for me is that Chapman is completely willing to GO THERE with the ending. You may not like it, and you may get no resolution from it, but she goes for it with no reservation. I love it when an author isn’t concerned about the potential backlash—sometimes an unsatisfying ending is the most creative and fulfilling.
Now—back to wondering how many different ways my husband can keep me happy …