Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

As noted above, it is significant that The Suicide’s Wife takes place in 1968, one of the most turbulent years in American history. The story goes full circle—it opens with the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and ends with the assassination of Robert Kennedy. In between, the reader witnesses national rioting, student protests (in the United States and abroad), and antiwar demonstrations: “National events came at [Ann] like blows, made her flinch.”

Television brought the tragic events of the day into everyone’s living room. Not untouched by these catastrophic events, Ann also must cope with personal tragedies that affect her life directly: her husband’s suicide, Mark’s friend’s sudden death, the collapse of the bridge connecting West Virginia with Ohio plunging cars, trucks, and a school bus deep into the Ohio River. In the midst of all this suffering and loss, Ann begins to realize that she can change her life; she is not doomed to a lifetime of failures.

The Suicide’s Wife received mixed reviews from the critics. Some compared the novel favorably to Jean-Paul Sartre’s masterpiece Nausea (1938), while others criticized it for being thin and laconic. Ann Harrington is obviously a character about whom Madden felt very deeply; the reader, too, is invited to share in her consciousness to an extraordinary degree.