Four Wives by Wendy Walker follows four women who have to face the discontent and unhappiness they feel in their married lives. Love Welsh is a stay-at-home mother who lives with a constant fear that her troubled past will resurface; when it does, she doesn’t know how to handle the consequences of the secret she has kept from the world. Housewife Janie Kirk has done everything to keep her husband pleased – a nip here, a tuck there, even breast implants. Who can blame her when she starts to stray? Marie Passetti is a lawyer who gave up big-firm life and a stellar salary in order to move to the suburbs with her husband, who is uninterested in everything except his golf game. When an attractive intern starts working with her on a mysterious custody case, Marie begins to realize how unhappy her marriage really is. Finally, there is Gayle Beck, whose addiction to prescription drugs softens the blow of emotional abuse she receives from her husband on a nightly basis.
As the book progresses, the stories of these women draw the reader in. It is easy to feel something for these characters, whether it be pure empathy and heartache or hate and revulsion. Walker has confidence in her characters; they are well developed and three-dimensional. The reader feels nothing but sorrow for Gayle as she tries to protect her son, Oliver, from his father’s verbal abuse about being a “sissy boy” for quitting the soccer team, and though Janie’s straying is hurtful, with one look at her home situation and the way her husband treats her, the reader can understand her decisions.
Walker’s depiction of life in suburbia (in this case, a town called Hunting Ridge) is also interesting. Marie often refers to the wives of Hunting Ridge as “Stepfords” and derides them for being too perfect, yet one of the main women of the story is a Stepford (Janie). Hearing the parts of the story from Janie’s point of view is so interesting, because usually in books such as this, these women are typecast as fake and too eager to please – two-dimensional plot devices rather than actual characters. Walker takes it a step farther to give the reader a living, breathing, three-dimensional Stepford wife type who may look perfect on the outside but is just as confused and upset about life as everyone else on the inside. Though Jamie makes some atrocious decisions throughout the book, Walker makes it a point not to vilify her. Instead, by the end of the book, the reader almost feels sorry for her. Almost, but not quite.
Four Wives should not be judged by its cover. Based on the synopsis, it would be an ordinary, rather drab look at four rather uninteresting women. It is, in fact, the opposite, a book that really captivates the reader and is difficult to put down. Four Wives is going to be one of the hits of 2008 in the women’s fiction genre.