Megan Harlan
October 20, 1999 AT 04:00 AM EDT

What could drive a perfectly nice woman to plot her adoring husband’s death? In this devilishly funny novel, Shapiro’s nameless narrator is an arty Manhattan photographer who, at 40, meets and marries Dennis — a charming, divorced sociologist who boasts inherited wealth, a beautiful Brooklyn brownstone, and a generous enthusiasm both in and out of bed. But following the honeymoon, the dreamboat displays some quirks. Dennis can’t walk down stairs without tripping over his own feet or attend someone’s party without knocking over their priceless antiques.

The narrator gamely practices ”the attitude of the wise wife: implacable detached amusement commingled with dogged acceptance.” But Dennis’ klutzdom assumes a violent bent. He haplessly throws his wife across the room; he carelessly drops a cast-iron skillet that shatters her toe. Soon, our narrator, fearing for her life, begins concocting schemes to preemptively kill Dennis. But can she go through with it?

Where The Dangerous Husband diverges from Fay Weldon territory is that Shapiro doesn’t stoop to male bashing. Whether you think Dennis is a monster — deliberately maiming his wife while pretending to be merely bumbling — becomes something of a Rorschach test. Edgily mixing wit, surrealism, and suspense, Shapiro delivers a sharp, hilarious parable about marital self-preservation.

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