Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Good Wife by Stewart O'Nan

No, this isn't the CBS series (which is also wonderful and a must see!), but a novel by Stewart O'Nan.

This novel follows the life of a seemingly ordinary woman over a tremendously long period of time: we meet her when she is pregnant with her first and only child and we leave her after her son has graduated from college and taken his first job. When we meet Patty Dickerson, her husband, Tommy, has committed a crime at the beginning of the novel while he is drunk and ends up serving a sentence of 28 years for first degree murder.  Patty gives birth to their son while Tommy is incarcerated.

I loved this short novel for quite a few reasons.  The novel is told from Patty's perspective, so you really get a good feel for what it's like to be in her shoes.  You get the sense of the time from the snippets of the outside world that seep into the small portion of Patty's conscience being that isn't preoccupied with Tommy, his case and surviving. For instance, at the beginning, Patty and her family watch Hawai'i: 5-0.  At other points during the novel, she talks about watching documentaries about the hostages in Iran that are freed when Reagan is sworn into office. This is also powerful because it highlights the isolation that Patty must surely feel, even though she is surrounded by a family, albeit a somewhat dysfunctional one, that manages to bond together to support her and her son, Casey, in their years of need. Patty's life is difficult - her physical pleasures are few and far between. She lives from paycheck to paycheck and often works in the most demeaning and menial jobs that one can find - waitressing, roadwork and construction, housekeeping in a hospital - barely making minimum wage and working so hard just to make ends meet.

She struggles to raise her son, Casey, who is an overweight, sensitive, introspective but really f'in' smart kid that applies everywhere from Cal Poly to MIT and Cornell. While raising him, she struggles to impart to him that Tommy as a father is more than a concept, even though Casey has only known Tommy as the guy in the greens that he sees once in a while at the prison and on family reunion weekends, when he and his mom are allowed to spend the weekend with Tommy in a trailer on the prison grounds. Talk about tough...and yet O'Nan is able to convey all of these struggles in such an delicate and wondrous manner. There aren't any histrionics or fireworks and yet, you get the struggles that Patty faces and the marginality that she endures.

It also completely humanizes the families of the people that stand accused of crimes as well as the Accused themselves. This reason, in and of itself, would make this novel worth the read; however it on top of the other wonderful things that O'Nan accomplishes make this a must read for all.

Love it...a must read.

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