Bill's Reviews > The Pocket Wife

The Pocket Wife by Susan H. Crawford
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liked it

Started out with such promise and intensity and then ... I don’t know ... kind of coasted to the end in a sea of superficial insipidness. Two stars might be too harsh but three stars feels like a stretch. I’ll be back with details after I work through my sense of disappointment.

Sunday May 10, 2015

3 Stars (begrudgingly!)

This book began with such promise and intrigue. The story’s differentiating plot twist from a basic, garden variety murder mystery is the wild vacillations of the manic depressive illness of protagonist Dana Catrell, and her tangential association with the murder of her neighbor Celia Steinhauser. During the first third of the book the author so skillfully described and articulated Dana’s view of the world through the prism of her mania that I felt I was living inside Dana’s head. I was hooked!

"She slings her bag onto the seat and glances at St. Christopher, staring down at her from the visor. He winks. He nods toward her lap."

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“What?” she says, and he nods again. Winks again. “There’s nothing there,” she says and turns the key. She can feel him nodding as she backs out into the street. She can feel his eyes in the dark car, and she pushes in an old CD, pats her pocket with her left hand. It makes a crinkling sound, and she reaches inside for the scrap of paper that drifted out of Peter’s pants. “This?” she says, and even in the darkness of the front seat she can see St. Christopher nod.

“It’s only a bill,” she starts to say, but she reads in anyway. “Days Inn, room 156,” it says. “August 23. One king. Nonsmoking. $189.99.”

Dana’s manic depression first presented itself during her student days at NYU when she was discovered on the roof wearing just a slip, squatting at the edge, the night Jesus told her she could fly, the night she tossed hundreds of her handwritten manuscript pages into the sky over Avenue D. After her stay at Bellevue Hospital her days at NYU were a blur, her scholarships lost, the blame her mother piled on The Poet. But Dana knew it wasn’t The Poet or anyone else, it was her madness, sewn into the fabric of her body, her mind.

When Dana was hired at the law firm where Peter worked, the girl who tried to fly was in remission. Peter said he loved Dana’s fragility, her beauty, although Dana never shared the experience of the flying girl with Peter. Their relationship blossomed from dating to love and lust to a full blown traditional wedding. The flying NYU girl returned after their son Jamie was born. Pregnancy related hormonal imbalance and fluctuations, they said, stimulated the manic episode. Several months of lithium sent the NYU girl away but her relationship with Peter was irreparably changed after her breakdown. He marginalized her, diminished and dismissed her, treated her with indifference and triviality. Who is Peter talking to at all hours of the day and night on his cell?

Dana has stopped taking her medication; her sleep is fitful and fleeting. She plows through novels at breakneck speed. Celia is insistent Dana come over to her house. It’s a matter of life and death she says with enough volume the next door neighbor overhears. After far too much Sangria Celia shows Dana a cell phone photo she took of Peter with The Tart. They argue, Dana stumbles home drunk and disorientated, the alcohol exacerbating her latest descent into the madness. She recalls little of that afternoon with Celia. That evening Celia’s husband Ronald returns home from work and discovers Celia dead in the foyer, head smashed with the vase Celia and Dana purchased at one of their many yard sale adventures. Dana is the last person to see Celia alive and she cannot remember much about that afternoon. Did she do it? She can’t recall. Terrified, Dana calls her husband for advice and Peter does what he always does, puts her on hold and drops the cell in his pocket. Dana has become the pocket wife!

A murder, possibly an affair, a lapse in memory, a mental breakdown! Oh my goodness, I think as I reposition myself in my favorite reading chair, anxious for the next twist, the next surprise. Oh the anticipation! This is where the story ramps up another notch or two or ten to tingling, pins and needles, anxiety invoking levels. NOPE. It felt like the author went on autopilot the rest of the way or maybe just became tired. The rest of the story felt like plain vanilla.

Detective Jack Moss investigates the murder and interviews the usual suspects – Celia's husband Ronald, a few of the neighbors, and Dana of course. Even Peter is implicated. People very close to Jack get drawn into the investigation.

In the end, without much fanfare or detailed exploration, an arrest is made, husbands simply fade into the sunset and we never hear anything about Ronald Steinhauser even though Jack knew he was lying during the investigation.

In my view the author relied far too heavily on the trials and tribulations of Dana’s mental illness and how it influenced her actions and the outcome of the criminal investigation to drive this story and paid precious little attention to more in-depth character development of Jack Moss and his troubled marriages, the Steinhauser marital situation and Peter Catrell’s relationship with his wife. Dana is portrayed as a two dimensional character – her life when she’s in the bowels of a manic episode and her life fearing the next bout with her madness. It felt as if Manic Depression was the main character, not Dana Catrell. I empathized with her but I never got to truly know and understand her.

Perhaps that is why this story fell short for me. The artful treatment of the manic depressive mind of Dana Catrell initially had me guessing, uncertain how much of the events were real and how much was just in her head. This novel grabbed me by the throat and held me tight at the open but quickly lost its grip as my sense of fulfillment and engagement became less and less.

According to the Goodreads rating scale, 2 = it was OK and 3 = I liked it. I liked a lot of the story but much of it was just OK. Since this is Crawford’s debut effort I’ll cut her some slack and settle on 3 Stars.
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Reading Progress

April 27, 2015 – Shelved
April 27, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
May 2, 2015 – Started Reading
May 3, 2015 –
page 46
14.37% "Interesting thus far. I love the author's descriptive insight into the mind of a manic depressive - I feel like I'm in Dana's head."
May 4, 2015 –
page 98
30.63% "The core of the story feels like a typical murder mystery so far but holy mackerel the author so articulates Dana’s manic depressive state of mind that I’m beginning to feel sooo anxious!"
May 5, 2015 –
page 132
41.25% "As Dana sinks into the bowels of her manic madness, the first big fat major league curve ball of a twist!"
May 8, 2015 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-3 of 3 (3 new)

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Kelli My feelings exactly! I gave it 2.

Bill I saw your two rating ... BOOM .. hammer down! I loved the first third of the book and had tons of empathy for Dana and then ... what happened? This seems to happen in so many books. I don't understand why professional editors don't recognize this flaw and send the author back to the wriiting room. Ah well!

Kelli Hammer down! I like that.

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