Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Book Review: The Starter Wife

By Jami Deise

The domestic thriller space is getting more and more crowded, and it seems that authors offering stories of the “Do I really know my husband after all” type must constantly up the ante to keep readers engaged. Playing around with structure, point-of-view, and timelines are all tricks that writers use to keep readers a step or two behind them. In this genre, authors and readers are engaged in a subtle game: Authors need to provide readers with enough clues so that readers can figure out “who done it,” but too many clues make the ending predictable. But when the twists are opaque rather than subtle, readers finish the book feeling frustrated and cheated rather than surprised and satisfied.

Canadian author Nina Laurin’s latest thriller, The Starter Wife, works hard to distinguish itself from other novels with similar plots. She’s got a lot of competition, swimming in the same pool as such notables as Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. In Laurin’s telling, trophy wife Claire Westcott is the woman who suspects there’s something fishy about the suicide of her husband Byron’s first wife, painter Colleen May. Is Byron guilty, or is Claire losing her mind?

It’s difficult to be original with a plot that’s so familiar, so Laurin employs twists to keep readers guessing. For me, though, there were times I just ended up confused, wondering if the “I” was always Claire, or someone completely different.

The bigger problem is that Claire is unlikable, which makes it difficult to care if her life is in danger. In this genre, the unlikeable female protagonist isn’t necessarily a problem (think Amy in Gone Girl or Rachel in The Girl on the Train) if they are clever or funny or tragic, but Claire comes across as whiny and useless, preoccupied with a failed novel and making dinner.

Overall, the book didn’t work for me, but it did keep me reading until the last page. And I would recommend it to fans of the book (now a TV series) You by Caroline Kepnes; they might appreciate it a lot more than I did.

Thanks to Grand Central Publishing for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Nina Laurin:

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