In “The Widow,” Kaira Rouda uses multiple points of view as she plots a novel that, by turns, grips us and repels us. The main character, Jody Asher, is the wife of one of Ohio’s congressmen, Martin Asher. She and Martin met in law school, and while she had hoped for him to reach higher than “mere” congressman, there he’s been for over three decades. And while Jody loves being the spouse of a Member of Congress, with all the attendant functions and perks, she’s tired of his indiscretions and his complaints about her spending.
Jody is a fascinating main character as she readily admits that feeling emotion is not something she is able to do. She has learned to fake it, and she fakes it beautifully. But she also punishes Martin for his wrongdoing in a rather chilling manner. He’s been complaining about the extravagance of the wedding she is planning for their daughter, who unfortunately is marrying the son of a wealthy staunch Republican. And when, at an overly extravagant rehearsal dinner, that family outshines the wedding and uses it to make an announcement they know will embarrass the Ashers, Jody is furious.
But the next day, during the wedding, Martin drops dead and Jody becomes the title character: the widow. That horrifying event, unsurprisingly, ruins the wedding. Jody decides that with Martin gone, she will not just fade into the woodwork, and she’s determined to take his place in government. After all, it’s practically a widow’s responsibility to run for the seat of her deceased spouse.
As the story unfolds, we see more and more how ruthless Jody is. We also see what Martin had been hiding from her in terms of his unsavory connections and the lengths to which he would go in order to pay for the lifestyle Jody demanded. And through the voice of Mimi, who runs a think tank with her wealthy husband, and who has known both Martin and Jody since law school, we learn about the shadowy characters who influence from behind the scenes. Those of us not extremely informed about what being a Member of Congress entails will find some of the details—about the daily activities of both the actual member and the spouse—extremely revealing. And while we may read about “K Street” occasionally, and how they actually write bills that are passed by Congress and the Senate, whose members have not actually read the complete bills, Rouda demonstrates how that actually happens, and the power of those who pay for the “K Street” lobbyists. It’s frightening.
The plot, the twists, the political shenanigans and outright traitorous activities are all thrilling. But where Rouda’s writing really shines is in her depiction of the characters. Through the first person narrative from the points of view of Jody, Martin, and their friend Mimi, we understand the motivations, the goals, and the regrets of each of them.
Because we feel so involved in the twisty machinations of Jody and the others, we keep reading to find out what happens to Jody, and whether her diabolical plans succeed. The book is a quick read because of that, but no less enjoyable. Jody is an unusual main character, and her ruthlessness and frankly emotionless persona are chilling. Chilling, but excellent fiction.
Note: This review was first posted on Bookreporter.com.