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The Good Wife: A Novel Paperback – March 21, 2006
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Stewart O'Nan's ninth novel, The Good Wife, begins with that classic harbinger of bad news: A phone call in the middle of the night. Small-town housewife Patty Dickerson, pregnant with her first child, has been waiting in bed for her husband Tommy to get home. When the call comes, it's from jail. Tommy has been arrested for murder after a robbery gone awry. He doesn't make it home for 28 years.
With his usual practicality, O'Nan kills the hope off quickly in The Good Wife. This isn/t a novel of beating the odds but of enduring them. We follow Patty through her husband's long incarceration as she moves in with family, gets a series of low-paying jobs, remains faithful to Tommy, and raises their son Casey alone. These aren't unique circumstances--although they rarely form the stuff of fiction--and these aren't unique, unforgettable characters. Patty Dickerson could be anyone, and that's the point. This is a story of ordinary lives and small graces. O'Nan's refusal to dress things up (or down) is part of the charm of this clear-sighted, uncompromising novel. --Regina Marler --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Patty Dickerson, the resilient heroine of O'Nan's forceful, oddly moving ninth novel, is pregnant with her first child and waiting for her husband, Tommy, on a snowy night in the mid-1970s, when the phone rings. It's Tommy, and he's in jail after a robbery. He's been a thief for some time, a fact Patty has refused to acknowledge. Unfortunately, Tommy's latest escapade involves arson and death. Convicted of murder in the second degree, he receives a sentence of 25 years to life. The main story is Patty's, told in the present tense in quietly lyrical and observant prose: the struggle to make ends meet in an economically depressed upstate New York community, the shame of her son's father being in prison, the frustrating and humiliating treatment the penal system inflicts on prisoners and family alike. In a sense, Patty's life is on semipermanent hold over the 28 years Tommy spends in a correctional facility, but of course it isn't really: her son grows up, she visits her husband as often as she can, she works, mostly at dead-end jobs, and eventually she creates a career for herself. In other words, she makes a life that's both with and without her love. O'Nan (The Night Country) has completely captured Patty Dickerson and her dogged determination to endure in this sad but strangely hopeful story.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
O'Nan is informative about the law and how the penal system works.
O'Nan provides a totally convincing portrayal of a segment of society--the spouses, usually wives, of convicts--that goes almost completely ignored and neglected. This book is searing reminder that crimes harm not only the victims of the crime, who naturally deserve the bulk of our sympathy, but also the criminal's loved ones. Tommy's apparent lack of recognition of, and remorse for, the harm he has done to his wife and the child he was not around to raise is one of the most disturbing aspects of the novel. Patty WAS a good wife, and she deserved more gratitude from Tommy than she received.
What makes this novel deserving of 5 stars is not merely its story but the writing itself. In beautiful, spare prose O'Nan writes simply of the day to day complications of trying to get by as a single mother whose only hope for the future is at the far end of a 25-year sentence. Parts of Patty's life are described in detail, but in other parts of the book, entire years go by summarized in a phrase or a sentence. The tragedy of Patty's life is that entire years COULD be summarized in a sentence, and through his prose O'Nan communicates vividly the bleakness of a life placed far too long on hold.
Should Patty have stuck by Tommy? That's a hard question. You have to admire her perseverance and willingness to stand by her marriage vows and her love her for husband, although the subplot involving her attraction for another man suggests that, once again, Patty let her life be determined by the actions (or inactions) of others. Given slightly different chance encounters, her story very easily could have ended differently. In a way, I see her story not being one of loyalty but rather passivity...to Tommy, to a penal system that transferred her husband to a facility a day's drive away, to a fate that treated her badly. Patty may have been a good wife, but in the final analysis, the only person that benefited was Tommy. And you finish the novel feeling utterly sad about all the wasted lives involved.
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