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Was disappointed. Review includes spoilers for the book.
on August 15, 2015
This book left me feeling disappointed. I can't review it without spoilers; however, the entire plot of book (further than the plot, actually) is reflected in the summary given. I had some misgivings about this book when I purchased it, but as someone who has law enforcement experience and knowledge of sex trafficking, it piqued my interest.
I'll begin with my disappointment with the title change, as the original title was "Duplicity" and was changed to "Double Wife, Double Life" by the author so that, in his words, "when people google the name of the movie, it will be uniquely [the author's] movie." The phrasing put me off a bit, for reasons that I will expand on later in this review.
The matter of fact is, I feel this book was promoted by the author as something it was not. While I agree that sex trafficking is a serious problem and that awareness of it is a first step into stopping this atrocity, the book was, frankly, not about that at all. It's not a story of a man single-handedly taking down a prostitution ring. It is a fleshed out, and often rambling and confusing extension merely of what is written in the summary. Perhaps I would have been more taken in by this book if I had not read the summary, but I opened the book already knowing that the protagonist, Paul Goldman, marries his second wife, Audrey, only to find she is a con woman and a prostitute. And then he divorces her, digging into her personal correspondence to uncover the secrets she kept during their marriage. And that's it. Once the divorce is finalized, that is the end of the book. The pages between consist of long descriptions of buying houses, uninteresting and flat dialogue between characters, and absolutely no one who is fleshed out into any believably. Mr. Goldman mentions repeatedly how in love he was with Audrey, but she is shown to have absolutely no loving characteristics, warmth, or depth beyond the fact that she is pretty. The first few chapters are dedicated to his first marriage, which is completely unrelated to the rest of the book besides introducing the existence of his son. His first wife, Talia, is just as minimally fleshed out as the rest of the characters; and once again, I was left wondering why he would jump into not one, but two marriages with two uninteresting and bitter women who are shown to have no redeeming qualities whatsoever.
The prose itself is not bad, but it is not particularly riveting, either. What could have been a sweeping mystery of betrayal and deception becomes pages and pages of Mr. Goldman sitting in his house waiting for the phone to ring as he laments his poor life choices. The judge at the divorce trail puts it well; the protagonist is gullible and naive, and comes off as almost whiny through a large part of the book. Once he takes control of the situation, he becomes more interesting, but then it becomes a series of scenes with Paul handing off his information to law enforcement and, weirdly, calling and psychic for no reason I really understood. Paul, of course, being a normal civilian going through a divorce absolutely did the right thing by turning the information over to law enforcement, but then he spends a lot of time waiting for updates he never receives. Which means the reader also waits and waits, for basically nothing.
Another aspect of the book that did not sit well with me was the inherent sexism that bleeds through the book and Mr. Goldman seems entirely unaware of. It becomes apparent after his first marriage that he isn't looking for a partner so much as a stay at home trophy wife, and it is continually frustrating that he doesn't seem to have any idea of how his commentary on his marriages comes off. He paints his first wife - a medical student, new to the country, studying 15 hours a day to get herself through medical school while juggling a husband and small child - as simply another scum-sucking con artist who used him and ditched him. Because of the circumstances, it casts a doubt on Mr. Goldman's credibility when it comes to presenting his wives in an objective light. To top it off, his burning hatred of sex workers, pornography, and anything related to the sex industry is archaic. He easily condemns anyone who visits pornography shops as perverts and is constantly shown as being disgusted by sexual scenarios; however, this is the same man who essentially purchased a Russian bride and complains through the first half of the book that his wives don't have enough sex with him. As amoral and disgusting as Audrey's actions were as an individual, Mr. Goldman spends just as much time in the book generalizing by condemning all sex workers in general. He spends more time being disgusted by Audrey's pornography past than he does being horrified by the incriminating evidence that might point to sex trafficking by the prostitution ring.
In all honesty, I could go on and on about my problems with this book. There are many contradictory passages and confusing timelines. Interesting events, such as Audrey attacking Paul in the grocery store, are given a wave of a hand while dull explanations about purchasing houses are dwelled on for chapters. I admire Mr. Goldman's ability to put himself in a very delicate and somewhat embarrassing position for a greater good; however, I wonder what kind of greater good he is reaching for. While "Double Wife, Double Life" is a memoir, it is followed by a fictionalized serial of the very real Paul Goldman traveling through countries to bring down the pornography ring Audrey was a part of. I can't help but view such a fictionalized serial as more of an ego boost for Mr. Goldman than it is an attempt to promote knowledge and understanding of sex trafficking, as he claims it is. This is a very real problem, and there is a very big difference between the legalized and regulated pornography trade in this country and the sex trafficking of men, women and children. At the moment, there are agencies such as the FBI and ICE who have units working against cyber crimes and sex trafficking, and documentaries such as "Tricked" present a very real and unwavering look at the seedier depths of sex work. I don't feel that Double Wife, Double Life lives up to something that truly supports these endeavors. It is a disturbing and tragic tale, don't get me wrong, but even his accusations of Audrey's prostitution are not given any credence in the court proceedings, as they are built on theory and assumption rather than evidence. She is, without a doubt, a liar, and a cheater, and a con woman. Considering the number of victims she left in her wake, perhaps concentrating on her con woman past and her sociopathic characterization rather than her sex work would have made the book itself feel a little more genuine.