The Good Wife

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Patty Dickenson snuggles into bed with a novel and waits. Her husband is late. She is pregnant. The condition swells her breasts beneath the sexy negligee, a signal of her anticipation of a cozy marital encounter later that evening. There will be no sex this night, however. A phone call opens the first act of a drama that changes her life forever. Her husband and his friend have been arrested for breaking and entering the house of an elderly woman. Surprised when they discover the woman is at home, they panic and she is killed. Tommy Dickenson is sentenced to the maximum prison term for second degree murder. The Good Wife tells of uncompromising devotion in the quotidian accomplishment of tasks needed to endure over many years a spirit-killing reality.

Stewart O’Nan is amazing in his ability to craft a story that brings the reader into the emotional sphere of the characters. The relentless patience and coping skills of the wife are recounted among the humdrum tasks of daily desperation, as money and hope thins to a threadbare tapestry. The reader journeys side by side with Patty through the seemingly endless years of her husband's imprisonment, as she travels great distances to visit him while battling to maintain a normal life. The reader smells the smells, feels the fatigue and despair, grasps the tiny grains of hope that struggle to survive against overwhelming odds. In some ways, although the plot is entirely different and set in a modern context, the story reprises the devotion one sees in O’Nan's earlier work, A Prayer for the Dying (1999). And it is as good a tale.