The Pocket Wife
Susan Crawford
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Buy *The Pocket Wife* by Susan Crawfordonline

The Pocket Wife
Susan Crawford
William Morrow
320 pages
March 2015
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines's take on The Pocket Wife.

In Crawford’s beautifully crafted thriller set in Ashbury Lane, not far from Manhattan, embattled Dana Catrell wonders whether she killed her neighbor, Celia Steinhouser. Dana and Celia were “sort of friends” who shared piecrust recipes, gossip, yard-sale outings, and the occasional languid conversation over coffee. Dana closes her eyes and sees the images from that terrible afternoon: the sangria, “blood-red” in a glass; Celia’s high sand-colored shoes; and her friend lying in a pool of blood with the broken blue vase beside her head. As the puzzle pieces scatter across a slippery and shifting floor, Dana’s gap-filled memories prove just a little too quick and sharp.

Dana knows she was involved in Celia’s death, but she isn’t quite sure exactly how. She knows that she had far too much to drink that afternoon, which makes Celia’s shocking, horrible, inconceivable death stick “like a dagger into her heart.” Dana’s recollections are small comfort for this confused woman whose husband, Peter, grows more and more secretive with every passing day. Feeling sick and duped, all Dana can do is close her eyes and see Celia lying bloody and dying at the edge of her living room while Ronald, Celia’s dedicated, docile husband, sits mired in traffic.

Crawford’s tale slowly reveals the various facets of her characters in a way that forces a constant reassessment of circumstances and keeps us guessing at the outcome. Apparently Celia had acted out her fury over spying Peter ogling his secretary at a restaurant. This discovery only increases Dana’s anxiety toward her own husband. She can’t erase the sight of Celia’s blood, the babbling husband, Celia’s stupid voice, so easily retrieved from Peter’s phone along with various other kaleidoscopic images “as they separate move and form again.” Dana’s heart pounds as the reality of her situation settles into her bones, “splintering through her skin.”

Although Crawford’s fast-placed plot is dominated by Dana, it is also told from the point of view of Inspector Jack Moss, who is assigned to the investigation and who offers a substitute viewpoint to Dana’s descent into angst-ridden fury. After his recent separation from his wife, Jack must do battle with both an ambitious assistant prosecutor and also his estranged son, Kyle, whose shaky past is coming back to haunt him--a past that unwittingly making him a prime suspect in Celia’s murder.

As Jack recalls Dana, “the skinny, frantic girl from Bellevue who tucks herself back into the past,” he begins to offer Dana some clarity in her efforts to bring back the soggy, foggy afternoon, to recover the missing moments and fill in all the blanks until she knows she had nothing to do with Celia’s violent death. Peter, meanwhile, proves to be a quintessential lawyer. His actions drive the novel’s title as he attempts to stick his wife inside yet another “pocket” of his carefully calibrated life. In the end, however, the trail returns to Dana. Was she drunk or unhinged enough to bash her yard-sale companion in the head, to sleep it off, awakening hours later with no memory of what she had done?

As inexorable as the relentless, pounding rain that covers Ashbury Lane, leaving the lives of Dana and Jack waterlogged, Crawford constructs her complicated narrative around the messy themes of alcoholism, divorce, and secrets where lovers meet for furtive trysts. All this is brought together by Dana: she is the girl at the center of the action, this messy, paranoid wife and mother who has allowed her madness to become such an essential part of her, a craziness “crouched in her veins.” It’s not surprising that Dana tries to drink herself into oblivion as she feels the loosening of those few thin ties that bind her to a life that she has up to this point managed to keep at bay.

So who did kill the beautiful but disturbed, drunken woman who lived only a few doors away from Dana’s home? There’s a thin space between happiness and madness, a balance between light and dark. As Crawford lines her suspects up--Peter, Ronald, Kyle and Dana--she constructs a clever and convincing tale of obsession, deceit and guilt, a beautifully orchestrated falsetto of contemporary suburban dysfunction in which Dana sits vulnerable and fragile, unequipped to deal with Celia’s death in what will eventually become a violent catalyst for the same madness she saw all those years before.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2015

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