(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Suicide’s Wife takes place in the fictitious university town of San Francisco, West Virginia. Ann Harrington, the protagonist, feels that this San Francisco is not the real San Francisco and that she is as fraudulent as is this counterfeit town. Indeed, much of the action of the novel takes place in Ann’s tortured, lethargic mind rather than in the town proper.

Ann returns with Wayne, her English-professor husband, to his vacant family home in upstate New York for a nostalgic last look before it is sold. Tragedy strikes early the next day when Wayne disappears. Ann is sure that she has been abandoned and returns home alone. A few days later, her sister-in-law calls to tell her that she found Wayne sitting on the lawn in his favorite childhood spot, dead from a bullet to his head.

Wayne’s death shakes Ann out of her complacent, ineffectual existence and forces her to reevaluate her life and redefine her reality. Through no choice of her own, Ann is thrust into an alien world where she is immediately branded with two distasteful labels: “widow” and “the suicide’s wife.”

Ill-prepared to take control of her life (she cannot even drive a car), Ann retreats into her own private world, where she is haunted by perverse sexual images and by her father’s all-knowing admonitions. Her father, a drunken, abusive man, was stomped to death in an alley the year that she married Wayne.

Reared in a tough Polish ghetto in Pittsburgh, Ann did not end up in prison, as all her brothers did, but, just as tragically, she lost her persona at a very young age. When Ann was twelve years old, she relinquished her body to a gang of neighborhood boys. Never fully recovering from this traumatic incident, Ann finally felt important when she married her English professor and bore him three children.

To still the...

(The entire section is 765 words.)