Dream of a funeral and you hear of a marriage — or maybe it’s the other way around. In Samantha Downing’s giddily cynical debut, My Lovely Wife, Millicent and her husband have been married for 15 years. They work fulfilling jobs and are ably raising two kids. They also, like any long-term relationship, need to spice things up occasionally. Downing doesn’t waste much time in revealing their dirty secret: Where some folks engage in naughty foreplay or plan weekend getaways, this pair generates a romantic spark by getting away with murder. And when one of their victims, Lindsay, is found dead in their town to endless public interest, executing an elaborate cover-up creates a similar — if less consistent — effect of intimacy.
In Downing’s skillful hands, My Lovely Wife takes several wild turns, each bleaker than the last, and its sturdy construction (strong characters, deliberate pacing) bolsters the insanity. But Downing’s best choice here is her narrator: the unnamed husband, a simple fellow suckered into an unhealthy habit by his beguiling wife. His commentary reframes Millicent’s psychopathy with dark, hysterical mundanity, as if a mere symptom of their discontent. “Every time Millicent cuts a piece of grilled chicken,” he narrates through a humdrum meal, “I think about her killing Lindsay.” So it goes in marriage. B+
More book reviews:
- Dave Eggers’ plodding new novel The Parade is a stiff, grim letdown
- Helen Oyeyemi is up to her old tricks in the dark, nutty Gingerbread
- In The Other Americans, Laila Lalami reveals what unites and divides us
My Lovely Wife