Can We Call 'The Silent Wife' a Feminist Novel?
Is A.S.A Harrison’s The Silent Wife a feminist novel?
We’d like to think so, right? These days, killer-wife narratives are supposed to be more than Catherine Zeta-Jones wriggling around her jail cell in lingerie and, judging by the success and intense discussion over last summer’s blockbuster Gone Girl, it seems the “killer wife” trope has been slowly and steadily evolving.
Jodi, the titular silent wife, isn’t just a slightly-renovated Stepford wife, despite her stay-at-home psychiatry practice (which she describes as “a hobby”), and elaborate meals waiting for her husband’s return. She has a host of degrees (while Todd didn’t go to college), and absolutely no desire for marriage or children (despite Todd actively pursuing both from her). She and Todd have been live-in lovers for over 20 years. Sounds like a pretty feminist dismissal of the idea of a “woman’s role”, right?
To a reader expecting some serious grrrrl power, however, Jodi’s passivity is troubling. After she finds her husband’s lover’s medication in his jacket pocket, she allows herself two days, and then, “the dismal thoughts that plagued her over the weekend have largely gone from her mind. Whatever he did, and whoever he did it with—that’s over now, and she’s never been one to live in the past.” The infidelity doesn’t surprise her nor hardly bothers her; Todd’s been doing this for years. In Jodi’s mind, “go along to get along” is the first rule of a strong marriage—or rather, cohabitation.
But that brings us to another big feminist sticking point; bypassing her already-tenuous dignity, Jodi only really begins to worry when her material comforts are affronted—the ones largely financed by Todd’s lucrative construction business. Todd gets his other lover, Natasha, pregnant, and she demands he marry her and sever ties with Jodi. Todd begins by cancelling Jodi’s (well, really, his) credit cards and evicting her from the luxurious condo they shared. When she found out Todd was starting divorce proceedings, she was nonplussed, but it’s the eviction notice that “in the years to come she will thing of as marking a radical shift in her disposition, as quietly killing off the girl she was.” Now, I ain’t saying she’s a gold digger, but I know a few MRAs that might.
That, however, would be ignoring a Todd’s half of the novel. In order for the gold-digger reading to work, Todd has to be a somewhat sympathetic character, which he isn’t, really. He’s actually a dick. And I don’t mean that in an insulting way—Harrison makes it pretty clear that Todd is ruled by his penis. Besides his numerous rounds of cheating, as soon as his own virility begins to fade he becomes obsessed with not just children, but “an heir” to take on his legacy. And once things with Natasha begin to sour, he experiences extreme discomfort centered on (you guessed it) his junk. If that’s not psychosomatic, I don’t know what is.
If we look at The Silent Wife as indicative of something larger than one woman trying to keep her life intact, we see a woman trying to survive in a society constructed and controlled by men once they have decided she’s worthless. When she realizes that “after two decades of believing that her way of life was secure […] it turns out that she was hanging by a thread all along. […] She built her life on a faulty premise, on wishful thinking,” she’s forced to fight tooth, nail, and hitman for what she believes she deserves. A.S.A Harrison has created a compelling argument against remaining complacent with our position in what is, unfortunately, a man’s world. If The Silent Wife isn’t an empowering feminist novel, then it’s definitely an enlightening one.