In “The Wife,” Alafair Burke manages to combine several characters who bring plenty of backstory to the novel. The titular wife, Angela, is the survivor of a kidnapping she had suffered as a teenager. She and another teen were kept by a sadistic rapist and tortured for years. She finally escaped with a baby, but the other girl was killed.
When Angela met Jason Powell, a successful professor, the fact that he wanted to marry her overwhelmed her. But she was thrilled at the chance to leave East Hampton, where her parents and those around her struggled to make a living. Angela had had her life disrupted when she was kidnapped, so she never finished high school. That left her feeling insecure around Jason’s highly educated friends, so she became a homebody, happy to be left to raise the son whom Jason considers his as well.
As the story progresses, Jason becomes famous after a bestselling book and some clever promotion. When he is accused of sexual harassment by an intern, Angela doesn’t believe it. But as the facts are slowly revealed, Angela doesn’t know what to believe — and worse, she doesn’t know whom to blame.
The strategic revealing of the facts, along with the unraveling of other “facts,” leave the reader wondering just what makes a fact real. In fact, Angela talks about facts and how people know — or don’t — what facts are. A high school teacher has asked her and the other students if they believed something was a fact. They agreed. Then he asked if they would still claim it was a fact if they knew that if they were wrong, they’d have to attend summer school all summer; or worse, what if the penalty for an error was losing a limb? “The lesson: we don’t really know anything. Not really.”
The story is told in first person narration from Angela’s point of view, and that alternates with a third person narration about the story from an impartial point of view. Burke beautifully manages to astound the reader at the end with a story that’s turned upside down in terms of what the reader believed versus what the reader finds out really happened.
Note: Email from publicist states that this will be adapted for a movie by Amazon Studios. Author Alafair Burke will write the script.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by the publisher, HarperCollins, for review purposes.