How To Be a Good Wife by Emma J. ChapmanPublished by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: October 15th, 2013
Format: Kindle, 288 Pages
Marta has lived her married life to her older husband Hector quite literally by the book. She has learned How To Be a Good Wife. Though the book doesn't tell you want to do when your son goes off to college and your life becomes meaningless. Marta starts to unravel. She drinks, she cleans, she takes her meds, she doesn't take her meds, she starts to remember, but are her memories real? She remembers a room under the house and being held captive and brainwashed till she was the wife Hector wanted. She tries to tell her son, Kylan, but he has his own life now. She is unhinged, she is a danger to herself. She is not the Marta that they remember, but did that Marta ever truly exist?
If you have a book with an unreliable narrator there has to be some kind of revelation, an inside or outside force that is able to give some kind of resolution to the unfolding drama, even if it is a dissatisfying resolution, re Agatha Christie's Endless Night. To be left without any closure makes for a disgruntled reading experience. But then again, being in Marta's brain for even the short amount of time it took to read this book had already alienated me against her and her antics, so what's one more nail in the book's coffin eh? Marta is scatterbrained, obsessive about the weirdest things, her dinner party for her son is such a disaster it makes the Christmas dinner in The Ref look like the best party in the world. She's unstable, unlikable, and, well, selfish. Why did I read this book again? Oh yeah, book club.
The question though remains, did or didn't Hector create this wife? My mind thinks no. Because it's just too outlandish. If he had done it his own mother would have been complicit, something I don't think she'd ever have done. Plus, let's look at it this way. If Hector was making the perfect wife, after all these years of brainwashing why would she crack? Yes, empty nest syndrome, but this is a major psychotic break. And her meds wouldn't make her more compliant, after all this time she'd totally be in the thrall of Stockholm Syndrome, so drugs wouldn't be needed. Whereas if she's just crazy, going off her meds would do something. They'd make her go back to her natural crazy state. But in the end I don't care. No, seriously, I hated each character so much there was no sympathy and well, fuck the lot of them.
With Marta we are given a woman who is neurotic and self-destructive as well as more then a little dumb. Instead of doing anything logical she runs around like a chicken with her head cut off. If she had just sat down and laid out her thoughts and provided proof of her delusion, perhaps someone would have believed her. Instead of making it seem like her illness was responsible for her inability to tell her suspicions Chapman made Marta's failings feel like an idiotic character flaw of the greatest order, total dumb blond syndrome. Perhaps her decision making is completely impaired, but for some reason I just don't think so. I have this feeling that Marta has a very fixed view of the world and her place in it and when things don't go her way she acts out. This seems to be supported by how everyone treats and coddles her. She's a selfish woman who may have issues, but in the end it's her selfishness that defines her. How else would you categorize the fact that she kills herself on the day of her son's wedding? She's making the happiest day of his life all about her.
Chapman is obviously trying to explore the themes of PTSD and what it does to us knowingly or unknowingly, after all if you didn't get it she talks all about it in her afterword. But the problem is we don't know if Marta is suffering from PTSD or is just run of the mill crazy. Either way Marta is not a sympathetic character so whether she was always crazy or became crazy signifies very little to the book itself. But I think if I was a sufferer of PTSD that this would signify very much to me if I was reading this book, which I wouldn't recommend anyone to do. Because How To Be a Good Wife doesn't exactly portray PTSD in a flattering light. In fact the book kind of makes sufferers of PTSD get lumped in with people with severe mental illnesses. Now, while PTSD is a mental illness, well, it's a different kind and to have it lumped in with the psychotics, this is doing the sufferers of this disease an injustice. In fact everything about this book should offend anyone with any kind of mental instability, because Chapman obviously doesn't get it and doesn't have the compassion to render their fight with compassion and honesty.