Tag Archives: marriage

Two Wondering Widowers: The Third Wife by Lisa Jewell and The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper

Two more to add to my growing list of novels and memoirs about widows and widowers. The memoirs are heartbreakingly poignant, but the novels make me wonder about the death of a spouse being such a frequent starting point for fiction.

The Third Wife by Lisa Jewell and The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick are two novels about men reflecting on their marriages after their wives have died first, written by women and marketed to primarily female audiences.

Is it a comforting thought to underappreciated wives that a husband — after years of comfortable familiarity and little introspection or reflection on his married state — might be confronted by something after his wife’s death that causes him to suffer months of anguish over whether his wife was really who she thought she was? Is it an imaginative response to the women’s-magazine dictum to keep a little mystery in your marriage?

cover image of The Third Wife hardcover

The Third Wife
by Lisa Jewell

Adrian is a grieving husband. His marriage to Maya, his third wife, was short and ended abruptly with her death. He has two ex-wives and children from two previous marriages, who all get along well and got along well with Maya. Everyone was one big happy family; but now Maya is dead and Adrian is alone, and there is something mysterious about Maya’s death. Why was she where she was and was it really an accident or was it suicide?

This family drama has flashbacks and gives readers points of view of many of the different family members. The story carried me along and the characters, all with various baggage, had clear personalities and individualized middle- to upper-middle-class problems. There were flashes of humor in the writing, but not as much as you find in Liane Moriarty’s novels or in the authors who have blurbs on the back cover of The Third Wife: JoJo Moyes, Sophie Kinsella, and Anna Maxted.

In the end, though, I may have just read too many family dramas in a row, or I’m too impatient with the format of the slow reveal of the mystery as the characters work it out when the author has made it clear to the reader that she knows the whole story and is just not telling. Or maybe I just couldn’t get over Maya’s death at such a young age, despite all the healing of old wounds it brought about.

The Third Wife was a good read and could spark a good book club discussion, but the family dramas by authors like Joanna Trollope (The Other Family) and Anne Tyler (The Beginner’s Goodbye) go deeper.

The Third Wife
Jewell, Lisa
Atria (Simon & Schuster)
Feb. 2016
320 pp.

cover image of The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper
by Phaedra Patrick

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick comes out in May, and is likely to appeal to readers who liked the quirkiness of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Frye by Rachel Joyce or The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. (Even the titles sound alike, don’t they?) Again, these books go deeper into the vagaries of the human heart, but The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper does have its charm. (You knew I was going to do that.)

It’s about a 69-year-old widower who finds a charm bracelet belonging to his wife that he had never seen before in all their years of marriage and goes on an unlikely quest to discover the story behind each charm…

Each story is more farfetched than the last, but the author presents with wry English humor, Arthur’s reactions and observations about his neighbors, his adult children, and the people he meets along the way. and pulls off this bittersweet tale of a cautious Englishman throwing off his quiet, suburban routine to follow the mysterious trail that the charm bracelet leads him on.

If you liked The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Frye but wouldn’t mind something a little lighter, give this first novel by short story writer Phaedra Patrick a try.

Check out the book trailer!

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper
Patrick, Phaedra
Mira (Harlequin)
May 2016
$24.99, U.S.


A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

cover image of hardcoverWhen A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman showed up on a bunch of book bloggers’ favorites of 2014, I had happened to have brought it home on the recommendation of a library borrower who had brought it back and said how much she liked it, although it wasn’t her usual kind of book.

I read the whole book hearing “Ove” as rhyming with “love”, because that’s what the reader who recommended it so highly told me, but apparently this Nordic name is pronounced “Oo-veh.” That’s the only thing she misled me about, though, because this novel charmed me, just as it did her.  Author Fredrik Backman, a blogger and humor columnist in his early thirties, has written a story of a grieving widower named Ove forced into early retirement – at a loss for what he’s supposed to do with his days now that his wife is gone. An international bestseller translated from the Swedish written with dry humor, A Man Called Ove made me laugh and cry and see the good in Ove, despite his uncanny ability to irritate people.

At loose ends, angry at the incompetence of his neighbors, and nothing to do except patrol the block to see who’s ignoring the parking restrictions or breaking the rule of no driving in the residential district, Ove – the most un-self-reflective person in his small town and probably in all of Sweden – is angry at the world. Especially at the people who go on blithely living in it. Who were always extremely annoying at the best of times. Without the love and stabilizing presence of his wife Sonja, Ove has had enough of life.

According to this Chatelaine Magazine article, Ove originally appeared as a popular character on the author’s blog. Ove reminded me an older, grieving, curmudgeonly, working-class version of Don Tillman from The Rosie Project, whose Asperger’s syndrome may have been undiagnosed but was perfectly clear to his friends and colleagues.

The author’s literary agency describes A Man Called Ove – the author’s first novel – as “a feel-good story in the spirit of The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson, and the film As Good As It Gets with Jack Nicholson.” Simon & Schuster describe it as “a feel-good story in the spirit of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. It would make a great book club selection, but isn’t out in large print or audio CD yet for libraries to purchase.

A Man Called Ove
Fredrik Backman
July 2014
352 pp.
$25.00, US

Disclosure: Borrowed from the public library

Other opinions on A Man Called Ove (all excellent):
BermudaOnion’s Weblog
Bibliophile by the Sea
Book’d Out

Booking Mama

Two Weeks with New Yorkers in Mallorca: The Vacationers by Emma Straub

cover imageThe Vacationers by Emma Straub is the perfect beach read for people who like their escapist reading to take them to a villa in Mallorca on a family vacation with two generations of family, along with a long-time family friend, all suffering individually and/or as couples from first-world problems. Sun, sexy Europeans, Scrabble, and great meals are all included. Emma Straub, you can take me on vacation again anytime!

Inveterate New Yorkers Jim and Franny Post, a married couple on the verge of divorce, are taking one last summer vacation together with Sylvia – their teenage daughter who will head off to college in the fall – and Bobby – their older son – Bobby’s girlfriend, Carmen (the only outsider, i.e. non-New Yorker), and Franny’s old friend Charles and his boyfriend (now husband), Lawrence – who are both secretly waiting to hear about adopting a child.

I dogeared many pages of my advance reading copy to make note of sharp observations or cleverly worded descriptions that made me laugh, but I’ll just share just a couple of passages to give you a feel for the author’s style. This passage (a peek into Jim’s thoughts) is from just after they’ve arrived at the gorgeous two-story house on sunny, palatial grounds, and Jim sees Franny has settled in to sunbathe by the pool, looking relaxed:

“To say that Franny had been uptight in the preceding month would be too delicate, too demure. She had been ruling the Post house with an iron sphincter. Though the trip had been meticulously planned in February, months before Jim’s job at the magazine had slid out from under him, the timing was such that Fran could be counted on to have at least one red-faced scream per day. The zipper on the suitcase was broken, Bobby and Carmen’s flights (booked on Post frequent-flier points) were costing them hundreds of dollars in fees because they had to shift the flights back a day. Jim was always in the way and in the wrong. Franny was expert in showing the public her good face, and once Charles arrived, it would be nothing but petting and cooing, but when she and Jim were alone, Franny could be a demon. Jim was grateful that, at least for the time being, Franny’s horns seemed to have vanished back inside her skull.”

And this one, from the middle of the book, setting a scene where we find out what Carmen, Bobby’s girlfriend, is thinking:

“The chest in the living room had been well stocked with board games: Monopoly and Risk, Snakes and Ladders. Charles had made a brief but impassioned speech in favor of a game of charades but was quickly shot down. They decided on Scrabble, and Lawrence was winning, being the best at math, which everyone knew was all it took to truly succeed. He knew all the two-letter words, the QI and the ZA, and played them without apology, even when it made the board so dense that it was difficult for anyone else to take a turn. Bobby, Sylvia, and Charles all stared hard at their letters, as if simple attention alone would improve their odds.”

I enjoyed the family tensions, understated drama, and the witty humor of The Vacationers so much, I’m sorry that I haven’t already read the author’s two earlier books: Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures and Other People We MarriedThe Vacationers has blurbs on the back cover from Maria Semple (Where’d You Go, Bernadette), Maggie Shipstead (Seating Arrangements), and Elizabeth Gilbert (The Signature of All Things). It reminded me a bit of Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter; so if you liked that, you might like this one too.

Add The Vacationers to your beach bag or suitcase for your summer vacation reading, if you haven’t already read it!

The Vacationers
Straub, Emma
Riverhead Books
May 29, 2014
304 pp.
$26.95, hard.

Disclosure: I received a free ARC of this book through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program.

Other opinions (all good to excellent):
Bibliophile by the Sea
Lakeside Musing