The Wife and the Widow is the second effort of the talented Christian White, the drama unfolding in a remote terrain: Belport Island in Australia. Noted for his talent for "weaving stories within stories" and the addition, occasionally, of the clever twist, White's novel spins two tales: one of a woman seeking to recreate her husband's final days before his body is discovered murdered on Belport Island (The Widow); and the other (The Wife) an islander whose family history--and future--are destined to become part of the island's lore.
The contrasts are striking. Widow Kate Keddie arrives back at her family's summer house to identify husband John's body, believing that her spouse had been on a London business trip. Abby Gilpin has a simpler life; husband Ray attends to the care of the homes of summer people during the long winter, repairing and grooming the wealthy domains that support the island's seasonal economy.
When Widow Keddie makes her way to a home that she understood John actually disliked, Belport Island is a wasteland. A few locals fill in the dismal months until the resurgence of visitors who bring their families and their business to a popular vacation spot. Accompanied by her father-in-law, Fisher, Kate leaves her 10-year-old daughter behind with her paternal grandmother. The bereaved woman's journey to reconstruct John's movements is funereal, depressing, though she feels an urgency to understand his secrets before putting him to rest.
Abby, on the other hand, routinely tends to her family's needs, a teen daughter and moody adolescent son a challenge of late. When she can, Abby retreats to the garage, where she practices her self-taught, fledgling career as a taxidermist. Neighbors often save the small carcasses of various critters found on their property for her subjects. A bizarre hobby, perhaps, but Abby finds it a peaceful balm to winter boredom and troublesome child-raising. Married for a while, Abby worries occasionally about her husband, Ray, a man of few words who has made peace with a way of life that will never provide his family financial security. The one connection between "the wife" and "the widow" is tangential: the local detective, Eileen Betchkie, is Abby's longtime friend and confidante and Kate's only official contact on Belport Island while marking an end to her life with John. It's a tantalizing, albeit minor, link between characters.
The icy terrain of Belport Island keeps its secrets safely buried below accumulating snowdrifts and silence. Both widow and wife examine marriages and futures, their parallel worlds--though distinctly different--tied to the remote island where their fates unfold. White's incisive prose beautifully defines characters and place, ultimately a stark rendering of humanity stripped of pretension, faced with the bitter harvest of truth. It is a beautiful, if painful, portrait.