Tarryn Fisher says her fascination with polygamy and its impact on women led her to write The Wives. But after reading The Wives, I feel like she hasn’t really explored the impact all well.
But it’s not like she doesn’t have all the elements for a great story. It’s just that she doesn’t use them all that well.
Thursday is one of Seth’s three wives. Not only is Thursday her name, but that’s the only day of the week she’s allowed to share with Seth. The other days and nights are given over to his other wives. One of the stipulations to this unusual arrangement is that Thursday can never meet or have a relationship with his other wives. But driven by jealousy and a spirit of rebellion, Thursday begins a friendship with Seth’s newest wife and is horrified to discover she has bruises and other signs of abuse at Seth’s hands.
At this point, the novel raises an interesting question of just how well Thursday knows her husband and what, if anything., she owes to his other wives. Should she interfere? Should she intervene and try to help the wife escape Seth’s potential abuse?
But just as The Wives begins to set the hook, Fisher takes the novel off on a completely different tangent and the story never fully recovers. Turns out that Thursday is an unreliable narrator and that she’s hidden certain details from us. All this leads up to a violent confrontation with Seth that lands her in a mental hospital — and this isn’t exactly Thursday’s first supervision by medical professionals.
And the novel continues to spiral from there, slowly piling on one absurd plot twist after the next until I’d lost any enthusiasm I had for the early chapters and was, instead, reading to find how just how absurd this thing could really get. (SPOILER alert: It goes full-on cuckoo bananas).
By making us question the authenticity of what Thursday relates to us, the novel loses a lot of its impact and power. Instead of really delving into the impact of polygamy on its characters, the novel is content to be a mindless popcorn thriller that demands you turn off your willing suspension of disbelief long before we get to the final chapters. And while the ending is intended to be shocking, it instead becomes just one more indignity piled onto an already large pile of them.
The Wives has an intriguing premise…but it’s one that is completely squandered.