The Secret Lives of Married Women by Elissa Wald
Hard Case Crime  •  $9.95  •  ISBN 9781781162620
published October 8, 2013

secretlivesmarried womenBased on its risqué retro (though evidently commissioned just for this book) cover art, I originally picked up the galley for Elissa Wald's The Secret Lives of Married Women thinking it was a contender for our romance/erotica coverage. Then I noticed blurbs from the likes of Pat Conroy and Junot Díaz praising Wald's works on the back cover, and I knew it wasn't going to be just another iteration of Fifty Shades of Grey. And indeed it's not!

The book is divided into two sections, each a voyeuristic peek into the lives (and psyches, really) of 36-year-old identical twin sisters. First up is Lana, who's just moved into a new house outside of Portland, Oregon, with her husband and infant daughter. Unfortunately, the contractor working on the neighbor's house is creeping her out in a major way. The second part of the book shifts to Lillian, a NYC attorney who's juggling a fascinating high-profile case (the details of which are revealed in a manner bound to keep you turning the pages) and a marriage that's awfully close to completely falling apart.

Though Lana and Lillian are identical, their voices are decidedly distinct. Both of their stories are told in first person, though from the perspective of some date in the future, which gives the book the air of a confessional, and there is way less sex than the cover implies. Wald's prose is powerful, in a spare, understated way. Factor in her impressive storytelling prowess, and the result is a book that's extremely difficult to put down once you've started. (I read it in two sittings.) Here's the opening to lure you in:

Before that summer, the summer of fear

It makes me cringe to know that I sound like a tabloid wife. I can't talk about what happened, even to myself, in a way that seems real. The words that come to me sound like something I've read in line at the supermarket.

Before the summer of the stalker, the summer I looked at my husband and saw a stranger, I was drinking in a bar with Rae and having a conversation about intimacy. It was a conversation I'd had many times before, with any number of thirty-something women who were worried about their chances of marrying in time to have children. Rae was thirty-six, the same age as me. She was our realtor, and it seemed she was also becoming a friend.

I had married just two years before, and now had a one-year-old daughter. (I was also a few weeks into my second pregnancy, but didn't know it yet.) As a result, my part in this time-worn dialogue had shifted from sharing the despair to dispensing counsel. Usually these women had spent their time—as I had, myself, until very recently—investing in a series of untenable characters, men whose inability to commit was as clear as the color of their eyes.

What do you think? Will you be checking out The Secret Lives of Married Women? What are you reading this week?

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