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The Good Wife by Stewart O'Nan

The Good Wife

by Stewart O'Nan

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Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
Not easy to rate this one. Top notch writing from O'Nan again but I couldn't seem to drum up any sort of empathy for the main characters no matter how hard I tried. Patty's refusal to accept her husband as anything other than a good guy was maddening. Tommy's lack of remorse or any kind of acknowledgement for his actions, repugnant. At times I was hoping their lives would get easier but I never really cared if he got out of prison. ( )
  viviennestrauss | Aug 10, 2015 |
A good read with interesting character development. about a young pregnant woman whose husband spends nearly 30 years in prison while she and her son go on with their lives. Good, but not among O'Nan's best. ( )
  dickmanikowski | Feb 1, 2015 |
This is the second work of Stewart O’Nan’s I’ve read. The first (about a decade ago) was The Circus Fire, which I never reviewed, but which I still remember as having been quite competently written.

In The Good Wife, we find at least two extraordinary things: (1) the ordinariness of the characters, their situations, their actions and reactions, what they buy, use, abuse and ultimately destroy or discard, right down to the all-too-familiar brand names; and (2) O’Nan’s extraordinary powers of description, with which he lifts these characters right up and off the page—and consequently turns ‘ordinary’ into ‘extraordinary.’

It’s refreshing to read a writer who doesn’t have to resort to any magical anything to tell a good story. He simply tells it: plainly; directly; with extraordinary detail. Stewart O’Nan has a way of making the mundane sound monumental, consequently memorable. You may well call it ‘minimalism’—but if so, it’s a minimalism that doesn’t sound in the least contrived. In fact, If MFA programs use such a thing as a “style manual,” this book should be part of it. At the very least, it should be part of a program for high school students of creative writing whose all-too-frequent complaint is “But I have nothing to write about!”

If I have any criticism of this work at all — and the reason I’m now giving it only four stars — it’s that the narrative is too often too colloquial for my tastes. Colloquial is fine in dialogue … and fine, too, if the story is being told through a mouthpiece character with far less education than Stewart O’Nan has. But I think a competent writer should hold the grammatical line on narrative. If not, he or she gives the wrong message to aspiring writers — not to mention to readers of English as a second language.

That said, and as with any virtuosic piece of art, I even learned a couple of new things — simple, ordinary in scope, but useful. The first? Bag balm: it’s what we all (in northern climes) need for dry skin in winter before fingers and lips begin to crack and bleed. I checked. It’s been around since 1899, but known almost exclusively to Vermont farmers — and subsequently, to their wives. From cows’ udders to farmers’ hands into the minds of good farmers’ wives—and on down to us via the local drug store. Bag balm: it’s not just for mule skinners.

The second? Sand tarts, which were originally called sandbakelse – an import from Norway as far back as 1845. God knows I’ve seen (and eaten) them often enough; I’ve just never known what they were called.

Most of The Good Wife hangs its weary head under the yoke of waiting, waiting, waiting. I won’t say what the female protagonist is waiting for specifically because that would reveal too much about the story. But we all know what it’s like to wait, and Mr. O’Nan does a masterful job in re-creating the sorry sense of it. It’s a tribute to his prose that he can string together myriad non- (or, at best, trivial) events without boring the reader. And yet it’s not hard for me, as a resident of bustling Brooklyn, to understand why so many kids from small-town America choose to abandon those small towns at the first opportunity and either drown themselves in drugs and alcohol, or move to the big city.

Oh, and poverty. Did I mention poverty? It goes hand in hand with waiting. And Mr. O’Nan does an admirable job as Best Man to the inevitable wedding of both.

A fair amount of the story is also devoted to the (almost) inevitable alienation that occurs between a father and his son, even if the son’s scholastic achievement is a little difficult to fathom. In any case, I can’t reveal the reason(s) for that alienation without giving away too much of the plot.

This is overall an excellent read for someone in similar circumstances — or under any circumstances in which waiting is the name of the game — and I highly recommend it. I just as highly recommend it to aspiring and emerging writers as a model. Granta had it right when it named him, in 1996, one of America’s Best Young Novelists.

Brooklyn, NY

( )
  RussellBittner | Dec 12, 2014 |
Stewart O'Nan treats his characters with such compassion and tenderness that reading his work is often like reading spiritual literature. ( )
  kittykitty3 | Nov 26, 2013 |
I really felt for the the main character, Patty, as she struggles years of being a single mom following her husband's incarceration. I guess I expected the narrative to go somewhere, however. I caught myself checking to see how many pages remained in the book and wondering if there was enough space for the surprise or dramatic plot twist that never occurred. Years go by in Patty's life, sometimes in the span of one page, where nothing major happens. Perhaps the reader is expected to simply endure, like Patty must, but it doesn't make for especially good reading. ( )
  NordicT | Nov 2, 2013 |
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And if you see my reflection in the snow-covered hills/well the landslide will bring it down - Fleetwood Mac
For Alison and Bee and Everyone Who's Waiting
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Patty's asleep when it begins, waiting for him in the dark.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312425015, Paperback)

Stewart O'Nan's ninth novel, The Good Wife, begins with that classic harbinger of bad news: A phone call in the middle of the night. Small-town housewife Patty Dickerson, pregnant with her first child, has been waiting in bed for her husband Tommy to get home. When the call comes, it's from jail. Tommy has been arrested for murder after a robbery gone awry. He doesn't make it home for 28 years.

With his usual practicality, O'Nan kills the hope off quickly in The Good Wife. This isn/t a novel of beating the odds but of enduring them. We follow Patty through her husband's long incarceration as she moves in with family, gets a series of low-paying jobs, remains faithful to Tommy, and raises their son Casey alone. These aren't unique circumstances--although they rarely form the stuff of fiction--and these aren't unique, unforgettable characters. Patty Dickerson could be anyone, and that's the point. This is a story of ordinary lives and small graces. O'Nan's refusal to dress things up (or down) is part of the charm of this clear-sighted, uncompromising novel. --Regina Marler

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:48 -0400)

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"On a clear winter night in upstate New York, two young men break in to a house they believe is empty. It isn't, and within minutes an old woman is dead and the house is in flames. Soon after, the men are caught by the police. Across the county, a phone rings in a darkened bedroom, waking a pregnant woman. It's her husband. He wants her to know that he and his friend have gotten themselves into a little trouble. So Patty Dickerson's old life ends and a strange new one begins." "At once a love story and a portrait of a woman discovering her own strength, The Good Wife follows Patty through the twenty-eight years of her husband's incarceration, as she raises their son, navigates a system that has no place for her and braves the scorn of her community. Compassionate and unflinching, The Good Wife illuminates a marriage and a family tested to the limits of endurance."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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