Our MysteryPeople contributors Meike and Matthew are huge fans of Alafair Burke and her new novel, The Wife. To celebrate its release they sat down to talk about what from the book stood out to them and asked each other some questions.
Matthew Turbeville: Meike, I adore this book and adore you as well. What do you think about this book draws in most women immediately (as well as most men)? There’s a lot of aspects of this book that were appealing, what was appealing to you?
Meike Alana: The tagline got me–how far will a wife go to protect the man she loves? As someone who has been a wife for 25 years, it’s a question I find terribly intriguing. I think a woman will go only so far for a man, while there is no stopping her if she’s protecting her kids. So how far will she go? A lot of books have tackled this issue, but rarely do they get it right–I’m drawn to these in a quest to find the few that do. And here we have Alafair Burke “locking it down” (you have to read the book to understand that little quote).
Meike: I also adore you, Matthew–you’re such a breath of fresh air! What drew you to this book? (Besides being a huge fan of THE Alafair Burke)
Matthew: I was drawn in by Burke’s writing style. She always seems to keep it fresh. There was something rejuvenating and very real despite all the horrors “the wife” of the story has to go through. I remember thinking “I am a slow reader” and then going through multiple chapters at once. It was amazing. Just stunning.
Matthew: As a book, what did this mean to you? What did this book mean to you as a woman? What would you say this book is trying to say about women, feminism, and the sacrifices we make to stay alive? (No spoilers!)
Meike: This book is so timely because it does raise the same questions our society is wrestling with right now. It tackles situations in which historically women weren’t given a voice. Now they are speaking out, and there are varying degrees to which their messages are communicated and received. When a woman accuses the husband in the story of sexual abuse, another character points out that we have to give women a voice but we cannot begin to err on the side of blindly believing every story that results. Having a voice is akin to having power, and I suppose that means there’s always the potential for abuse.
Meike: Now I want to hear your take on this? What did this book mean to you, and what do you think it is trying to say?
Matthew: As someone who has been raped viciously, and physically, verbally, and mentally abused, I believe very strongly that the moment I finished this book (and felt an immediate need to start over) was like breaking down the Berlin wall only to build something more beautiful in its place. Maybe that’s my analogy, but in a way this book broke me down gently and gave me hope for surviving again, although its ominous, sort of open-ended ending–is something we’ll have to get to in time.
Meike: I want to talk a little bit about the characters, particularly the husband. He seemed like the “perfect” husband–attentive, loving, selfless (not to mention wealthy & handsome). Yet there was something wrong. He was portrayed as a controlling, sometimes manipulative schemer when it came to women, yet he was also described as a doting husband who was also a loving father. Is it possible to be both of these things–to both love a woman and yet also show such disrespect? Or was one just an act?
Matthew: I think, when you’re an abusive spouse, this is all a part of your persona. Revealing which parts of you are seen at which times, one’s ability to narrate one’s own life and “control the situation,” treating people in different ways to be controlled–that is just an abusive spouse, and I think the husband in this book is really good at it. (I’m trying so hard not to give away any spoilers!)
Matthew: Without including any spoilers, Meike, what did you think of the end of the book? What do you think this said about the relationship between “the husband” and “the wife.” Another question might be, why do you think this novel was giving such a blunt and pointed title–The Wife?
Meike: You know, in a committed relationship we think we “know” the other person yet we all have those things we keep hidden from everyone else–so we’re kind of kidding ourselves, because we have to know the other person may also be hiding aspects of themselves. I don’t think we can truly “know” everything about our significant other and I saw that at play here. Jason and Angela have what seems such an open and trusting relationship, and that begins to unravel when these hidden issues begin to creep into the open.
Matthew: What do you think was the significance with the child, the wife, and the wife’s past? What did you think of that stellar ending? I know it just stuck with me for days.
Meike: Oh wow–that whole dynamic was so fantastic and I don’t know if I can say too much about it without any spoilers! I did wonder throughout the book as to Angela’s original motivation for marrying Jason. Did she marry him because she loved him? Or did she marry him because he offered a better home for her child? I’m sure both were at play, but which was more important? The reader is left to draw his/her own conclusion, but I think the answer is significant in how events play out. As a mother, I will tell you that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that a mother won’t do to protect her child. And that’s what drew me to want to read this book–loyalty to your spouse is going to have SOME limit, but protecting your child has NO limit, and I wanted to see just how far this wife was willing to go to protect her husband. I often say you can divorce your spouse but you can’t even conceive of divorcing your kids–that relationship is unbreakable and you will do anything to protect and defend them.
Matthew: Admit it — this seems like the top of Alafair Burke’s game. Where do we go from here? Do you think there will be more standalone novels with similar characters? What did you think of the lawyer from The Ex showing up in the novel?
Meike: I will gladly read anything she writes from here on out, and I sincerely hope she continues to explore the complexities of the issues that women face. I love that concept of recurring characters popping up in an author’s novels.
Meike: What do you predict or hope for from Ms. Burke?
Matthew: Hopefully something as epic and amazing as this book. Seems hard to top, but if anyone can do it, it’s Alafair Burke!
Matthew: What did you think of the different modes and points of views in the novel? Were you able to stay connected throughout? What did you think of “the wife’s” perspective? Didn’t she feel very anti-feminist and a little misogynistic, at least at first? Before things begin to really change?
Meike: I thought the differing POV’s were handled masterfully; those transitions can often be jarring but not here. I take your point–on some level Angela did seem way too trusting, like a good little wifey. But she was so dependent on Jason financially and socially; he was the glue that created the “perfect” little family for her son. So I did wonder if she truly in her heart believed him, or if she was kidding herself. You can’t really blame her for clinging to this image of her husband as the loving spouse and doting father.
Meike: How about you? What were your thoughts?
Matthew: I hate really to harken back to my life while being abused by my significant other, but the one thing I keep coming back to is one of my best friends telling me, again and again, “Matthew, of course you took his side. Of course you wanted to stay with him. Of course you wanted to believe everything he said. You loved him more than anyone else in the world” and, as she said, “Why would the person you love most in this world betray you?”
Matthew: I really loved this book. More so than most things I’ve read this year. I’m so glad you loved it too, Meike. I have many more questions for you, but I suppose we can save this until next time.
Meike: It seems like we both love the same books & authors, so of course I believe you have excellent literary taste. So can you tell us what else you’re looking forward to reading in the next few months?
MT: I’ll finish my stating some of my favorite upcoming books this year. Sunburn by Laura Lippman, Dodging and Burning by John Copenhaver, The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll, The Disappearing by Lori Roy, and so many more, including new books by Lori-Rader Day and Lou Berney, plus a great nonfiction selection from Sarah Weinman!