The Wife by Jennifer Jordan, 1990
The magic trick:
Expert use of flashback
It’s almost mean to include this story in our Valentine’s Week of love stories. It’s offers a very realistic perspective on love and marriage. But in the immortal words of Spinal Tap, “… too much !!$$@!#$ing perspective.”
It’s not a happy story. I would call it an outstanding story, though.
We get two versions of the same couple – the unhappy now and the blissful beginning of their relationship. You’ve seen this kind of comparison before, no doubt. I don’t usually like it, because so often it seems to portray two totally different couples. The contrast is so drastic that any realism falls by the wayside.
In “The Wife,” that contrast is made clear. Yes, they were happier when they first got together. Fine. But what is so superbly done is the way in which Jordan shows the similarities between the two time periods. The problems that have contaminated the marriage 25 years later were clearly there at the very beginning. That’s not an easy thing to recognize, single out and then illustrate through fiction. It requires great understanding and a nuanced writing approach.
This is just a really good story. My only worry is that the details and nuances are so finely done that they must be pulled from real life, in which case the author has had a difficult marriage. But who knows? That’s certainly not the point or any of my business.
The story presents one of the best flashbacks-to-the-beginning-of-a-relationship sections I’ve ever read. And that’s quite a trick on Jordan’s part.
Greek food was Greek to her and Italian was problematic. Despite the familiarity of spaghetti, Marta didn’t think she could negotiate a plate of it without wearing some of it home on her blouse.
“Chinese might be nice,” she ventured.
He looked disappointed, even slightly annoyed. It was obvious that he had his heart set on the Greek restaurant. Who was she to deny him?
“Of course, I’d love to try Greek food. I’m always game for something new.”
A look of instant satisfaction came over his face. “Greek it is!”
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