As part of the Literary Wives series, a bunch of bloggers are linking up to post every other month on a book with “wife” in the title. We hold healthy, constructive conversations about how wives are portrayed in literature. The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress is our sixth book, and we’re THRILLED to have author Ariel Lawhon of SheReads joining us for an interview! The interview is being hosted on Audra’s blog, so head over to Unabridged Chick to check it out!
Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.
Also, this month, if you’ve read The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress and would like us to see your review, please click on the link below!
This is a dizzying, spellbinding account of the true mystery of the disappearance of Judge Joseph Crater in 1930, told through the eyes of his wife, his maid, and his mistress. The three women at first seem to be victims of Joe’s corruption and deceit, but as the masterfully told story unfolds, we find that the three women all have their own secrets to hide and are perhaps not quite as innocent as they appear. Contrary to what Publisher’s Weekly said, I found the pace of the book quite robust (as I said—dizzying, in a good way!). I found all three women to be compelling characters, and I am excited to talk about the wifely implications I found in the book.
What does this book say about wives or about the experience of being a wife?
The book is called The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress, but each of these women is a wife. Stella is Joseph Crater’s wife—an aloof socialite whose life is defined by the disappearance of the husband who betrayed her. The Craters’ maid, Maria, is married to Jude, the detective assigned to Judge Crater’s case. And Ritzi is a Broadway star estranged from her small-town husband, desperate to do whatever gangster Owney Madden needs her to do to stay in showbiz, even sleep with the Judge. Ritzi is the one person who knows the truth behind Joe’s disappearance.
I was struck by how different each woman’s marriage was. Stella was Joe’s arm-candy, not a woman he loved or cared about. She doesn’t welcome the responsibilities that go along with being arm candy: wearing the “right” clothes, shopping at the “right” stores. Joe has a clear idea of what Stella’s “place” is: in their home, while he goes off and sleeps with Ritzi. Stella hints a few times that she admires the suffragettes, but it isn’t until Joe disappears that Stella has a chance to live a life of her own. It’s not easy; without Joe’s income, Stella is forced (or freed?) to work at a switchboard, connecting phone lines.
Most intriguing to me was a ritual of Stella’s: every year, she goes to Club Abbey, Owen Maddey’s infamous speakeasy. She orders two of glasses of straight whiskey—what Joe always drank—and drinks one herself, leaving the other. Her life is not a happy one, and her marriage was not a happy one. I couldn’t figure out if she was honoring Joe’s memory with her ritual, or dishonoring him, or trying to hold onto some power and fame by refusing to tell the whole story. Perhaps all three. For Stella, being a wife was misery, and it haunted her for the rest of her days.
Maria, the maid, has a totally different experience as a wife. Her husband, Detective Jude Simon, loves her tenderly. After ten years of marriage, they still feel passionately about each other, can barely keep their hands off of each other. Jude doesn’t blame her for the fact that they can’t have children. But their marital bliss is threatened when Maria asks Joe to help Jude get a promotion. Joe does, and then the Simons’ owe him, though Jude doesn’t know it. Maria has to lie to Jude in order to protect him, and the lies get more complicated when Joe disappears. Finally, a sad discovery prompts both Jude and Maria to come clean to each other. Theirs is a bittersweet story, but their marriage is one of the first we’ve seen in this series in which both spouses are equal and love each other.
Ritzi. She was my favorite character. She’s so full of spunk, so ambitious and smart. Though she is obligated to Owney, he doesn’t control her. She has enough gumption to defy him. She came to New York for fame, but Ritzi finally realizes that in order to save her life, she has to return to the life she escaped, the one with a husband in small nothing town, where she could never be on Broadway.
In this book, the unhappy marriages are characterized by selfishness and deceit. The happy ones are marked by humility and forgiveness. In the other books we’ve read, like The Aviator’s Wife, The Paris Wife, and A Reliable Wife, the spouses are not equal. Those husbands hold enough power over their wives that they can ruin their lives. The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress doesn’t give that power to the husbands; their wives are just as capable and responsible for what happens. Besides simply being an enjoyable book, I appreciated that fact.
I highly suggest that you buy The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress when it publishes in January. And when you do, come back and tell me what you think! If you’ve already read it, what’s your take? Do you see these wives as victims or as women in charge of their destinies?
We’ve picked our next two books! Start reading and join us next time.
February: The Inquisitor’s Wife by Jeanne Kalogridis
April: The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”