This book’s great title draws you right in. The first paragraph continues to build the intrigue:
"Isabel could remember the precise moment she tried killing her husband. Strangely enough, she couldn't recall why." Discount this. It's not the direction the book takes.
Isabel is raised, along with her brother, by Vera, a stern German nanny who despises children: "That the Simpsons were able to ignore Vera's disturbing personality traits in hiring her underscored their profound remove from parenthood." Her mother attempts suicide when Isabel is 12, and the children are sent off to boarding schools in different countries. Their father provides financial support for both through college then cuts them off to fend for themselves. Isabel, pragmatic and hardworking, grows up never understanding the family history she has inherited.
James comes from a family of old money. Unfortunately, the money ran out two generations ago. His parents keep up appearances, and James goes to the finest schools. He learns how to live rich, and he likes it. As an adult, he manages to drift as a freeloader among the upper crust. Occasionally he writes travel pieces for the New York Times or travel magazines. He is a good writer, but totally undisciplined.
They meet, over lunch, when Isabel wants to discuss a book offer after reading one of his articles. James is flippant, arrogant and patronizing. Isabel walks out after putting him in his place.
James wants a second chance at the money involved in a book contract and seeks out Isabel while she was vacationing in Paris. They fall in love. You can't call it love at first sight; they disliked each other intensely at first sight. Maybe love at second sight? Maybe it’s Paris, or maybe it is the timing. Isabel is looking for some lightness in her life; James is looking for stability. They are very happy.
James is irresponsible, but Isabel believes that will change with marriage. It doesn't. She gets pregnant, thinking James's lack of responsibility will change with a baby. It doesn't. He drinks until he has tremors and spends money until he has to sell off possessions to pay for new purchases.
James decides he needed a change of scenery in order to write. He wants to go West and attempt a screenplay. Isabel commutes weekly to her publishing company in New York. The screenplay garners no interest. Since they were happy when they met in Paris, James convinces Isabel they should move there. She quits her job, and they move to Paris.
Ten years into the marriage, James still hasn't changed. This relationship has been a ticking bomb since they met. Isabel, the enabler, subconsciously knows what is coming.
Eden Collinsworth is a former president of Arbor House Book Publishing Company and this is her first novel. The adage "write what you know" makes me wonder how much of this book is autobiographical. However much, I imagine writing it was cathartic. Now that this book is behind her, I'm curious to read Collinsworth's next attempt.