Book Review

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.


11 thoughts on “Two Wondering Widowers: The Third Wife by Lisa Jewell and The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper”

    1. Thanks, Deepika! Hope you like them. I forgot to note that I borrowed The Third Wife from the library and got The Curious Charms through NetGalley.

  1. I was really into books like The Third Wife for a while, books I’d describe as domestic thrillers, and I still pick them up sometimes but I have gotten kind of burnt out on them

    1. Yes, the thriller aspect of The Third Wife was the weakest part of the book for me. Maybe I’m tired of the domestic thriller, too, at least right now!

  2. I used to read Lisa Jewell religiously but haven’t for a while so it was good to read your review and get up-to-date. It sounds good; the summary you’ve written definitely intimates that not-really-so-happy vibe.

Would love to have you comment!