Vanessa, ex-wife to Richard, is down on her luck and living in a small apartment with her aunt. Post divorce, she's gone from housewife to retail hell at Saks. She's an addict, alcohol being her drug of choice. I think that was one major thing that bothered me about The Wife Between Us. It's very en vogue these days to use alcohol issues as the perfect foil to create an unreliable narrator. It's been done several times and ways and every time I'm left feeling a little cold.
Nellie, Richard's soon to be new wife, is the anti-Vanessa. She's bright, teaches pre-school and is a genuinely happy and refreshing interval every other chapter. Where Vanessa is dark and brooding, Nellie is light and joyful until Richard's ex starts to turn up. Or so it seems.
Initially I gave The Wife Between Us three stars. Then I thought about the book for a few days, always a good sign, and bumped it to 3.5. And then I sat down to review it today and thought "what the heck" and put it up to four. The fact that I'm still thinking about it even two weeks later means it has stuck with me, and with as many books as I read that's quite an accomplishment.
This is not just another WWII story as the perspective is of three very different German women with very different experiences of loss, guilt, survival and recovery before, during and decades after the war.
For me this book was deeply personal. My mother was a German war refugee and at so many points in the book I was reminded of her "story". Millions of Germans had similar stories and I was once again reminded of their suffering and the atrocities of war.
I also loved that this story was about and told by women. Their experiences and the ripple effects of war as well as their own actions and decisions makes this narrative even more compelling.
I do have some minor criticisms. The narrative goes back and forth in time and sometimes it is confusing to keep track of what has or has not happened as you read it. (Why are so many authors using this technique these days?) And there is a chapter after the book ends that the author did not include in the main narrative. I think it should have been included.
I highly recommend this book.
Each one's story is told in succession with little interaction between the siblings until each one's death. Each story is compelling on its own. The characters are well developed. Each life story has a clear beginning, middle and end. The place and time each sibling's story covers is detailed and distinct.
An intriguing, well written, and aware novel delineating the difference between belief and science, reality and fantasy. The choices each sibling makes will resonate long after you finish reading.
Since his father's death, he manages their farm in a suburban area of LA once known as the City of Dickens. A talented farmer, he grows, among other cash crops, square watermelons and pot, and his uniquely delicious produce is very popular locally. In the prologue, we find him summoned to appear before the Supreme Court of USA on charges of racial segregation and slavery.
Although our narrator's name is never mentioned, he is referred to by one character as The Sellout, and bears the nickname Bonbon from his performance in a school spelling bee. Beatty gives the reader a cast of quirky characters that includes a former child-actor, the Assistant Principal of the Chaff Middle School, a female bus driver and a has-been TV personality who rewrites classic texts into blackly correct books. A former city is re-established via Freeway signs and a three-inch-wide white painted border. Meetings of the Dum Dum Donuts Intellectuals are the forum for black ideas and our protagonist employs a sort of reverse psychology that ends up in a resegregation push. He also provides novel take on blackface entertainment.
One World have produced editions of Beatty's four novel with themed covers and this one has a lawn jockey with a gas lamp on the cover, the significance of which becomes clear in the text. This satire has been described as brilliant, outrageous, demented, hilarious and profound, all succinct and accurate descriptors. Very entertaining.