“Everything is ready for him. The rug is perfectly centered. The bed is made. The towels hang perfectly.” Jamie is waiting for Ben to come home. Ben is her husband, and she is young and really wants the marriage to work. But Ben has been away. Ben has been unfaithful. Does Ben care about their marriage?
This is a remarkably honest story about infidelity, about a woman who loves her man too much and hates herself. When Ben finally leaves, after walking out many times, Jamie laments, “I couldn’t help him. I couldn’t save him. I couldn’t give him what he needed. I ruined myself in trying. He is gone.”
The couple is living in a beach town in California. Ben has a job and begins to have an affair with a woman he meets at work. Jamie gradually discovers his betrayal. She tries to be angry and stay angry, but over and over again she reverts to wanting him back, desperately wanting to please him. She prepares a little cottage for him and gets him to return. He gives her a list of demands, little things like a certain kind of soap he has to have. Every day while job-hunting and trying to build herself up as a braver person, she obeys Ben. She wants him to love at least one dog – he has disliked so many of their pets, and their pets have all died. She tries to make the dogs acceptable to him. She agrees not to have children…yet. She cleans the house to perfection. But it isn’t enough.
After the final break, which might not have been final without the support of Jamie’s family, bits of unsavory truth come out. Ben’s girlfriend has a child--not a toddler, as he has led her to believe, but an older girl, someone who would need a real father; so the relationship is not as insubstantial as he had made it out to be. Ben had made Jamie his partner in deception by telling her he would lose his job if his boss, a woman named Beth, found out he was having an affair with another employee. After the breakup, Jamie goes to Beth with proof of the affair. Beth is not just surprised but shocked; she never dreamt that Ben was that kind of man, and she loses all respect for him, but she tells Jamie she never had the power to get him fired for the reasons he stated. She reaches out in sympathy to Jamie, who realizes that Ben has kept her from having female friends.
Jamie turns to her mother and sister. Together they work to rebuild Jamie’s life. They erase all trace of Ben from her present life, and later Jamie sees a counselor to put the pieces back together. In talking over the events of her tormented marriage with Ben, she realizes he probably killed the dogs. Five dogs in seven months. The reader thinks -- it could have been Jamie.
Patterson writes sparsely, painting a simple picture of a woman who wants to trust her man, who has not found her own strength and who lets her husband dominate her in a hundred small ways that add up to something big. She clings to the idea that he could might still love her until it is no longer possible to believe.
Jamie’s story will echo the stories of many women. It is haunting, and though there is no hint of violence in Ben’s treatment of Jamie, there is a sense that beatings, even murder, were never ruled out in Ben’s scheme of things. If thwarted, there’s no telling what a man like Ben would do.
You will close the book feeling relief, relief that Jamie now knows that it isn’t Ben she needs to help, it’s Jamie, and that she has got the help she needs.