M's Reviews > The Good Wife

The Good Wife by Stewart O'Nan
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Sep 04, 11

Read from September 01 to 04, 2011

As an English teacher, I am often asked why we bother reading fiction. What can we possibly learn from made up stories? There are several answers to this question, but the one that resonates most with me is what Nasar Afisi points out in her memoir, which is that fiction - good fiction - makes us uncomfortable in our moral skin and reminds us that there is more than one way to view the world. By presenting conflicts and complex issues, fiction reminds us how ambiguous even morality can be and to take all situations with a grain of salt.
TGW is the fourth book I have read by Stewart O'Nan, and I think, his best. It not only has both his keen eye for detail and character as well as - this time - an actual plot - but it achieves this very paradigm shift that great fiction is meant to accomplish.
If you have ever traveled upstate and passed judgement on the lifestyle there - the seeming simplicity, the dead end-ness - or been dismissive about the cashier scanning your groceries - or thought a criminal serving his twenty years is simply paying his dues to society and deserves no sympathy - or thought his long suffering wife at home should have left him ages ago and salvaged her life - then this book is a must. Because I have been guilty of all of the above and despite - or perhaps even because - this is a work of fiction, I became completely sensitized to the plight of people whose trajectory of life is initially so foreign then, upon reading, painfully familiar and ultimately sympathetic.
Patty, O'Nan's understated and unassuming heroine, who lives in a small town, has little education and is otherwise nothing outstanding, gets a call one night that her simple husband Tommy, known for the occasional rowdy bar night and petty theft, has been incarcerated and this time for murder.
The story will not make a hero out of him, or cover his crime - what he did was stupid, ill advised and more on the head of his so called friend Gary who gets off scot free by selling Tommy out - but in her small way Patty becomes a hero for being a modern day Penelope but without the smarmy self righteousness that Curtis Sittenfeld and others are so fond of. Rather she is so human, and so very likable, for simply putting one foot before the other and never once lying to herself or to the reader.
This book serves as something of an indictment against the legal system - how slimy it is, how cruel, yet how stuck it is in serving the purpose it must serve - as well as the American Dream for, let's face it, there isn't a whole lot for someone like Patty to do to succeed. In addition it is an all around engaging and wonderful story.
I will say that while O'Nan does an admirable job of showing the changes in the relationship and characters over time, at times the pace was too swift or too slow, and the changes weren't always realistic or developed enough. Patty and Tommy's son Casey is obviously disturbed for having grown up this way yet largely left alone - he also turns out to be rather smart, which seemed a bit random and not dealt with much. Other than a few quibbles, though, what I appreciated most about this novel was that it made me root for the team I would orinairily turn up my nose at, and that is what we read for.
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message 1: by K (new) - rated it 2 stars

K Wow -- sounds great! I'd love to read this when I'm done with the monkey book.


Mary We never know for sure that Tommy didn't murder the old woman. We only have Patty's faith that he didn't. The photo of his injured face at the trial is a stark presentation of the possibility of his guilt.


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