Like many people, I really enjoyed The Sixth Sense. Cute kid, Bruce Willis, suspense, Bruce Willis, a twist I didn’t see coming that brought the whole movie together in a coherent way while helping the viewer feel a sense of closure and finality, and, of course, Bruce Willis.
The Sixth Sense, to me, provides proof that the “twist” can be an effective ploy, and that it would be incorrect to say that an author cannot effectively build an entire work around one. I will venture to say that I don’t think this ploy should be utilized very often, and that when it is used, often results in a shallow work, with little substance, that isn’t very enjoyable to read.
The latest book I have read using this ploy (poorly) and convincing me that the Twist should generally be avoided is The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon.
According to this book’s Goodreads page, at least amongst the readers who rated the book, I am in the minority here. So it’s definitely possible that I missed some of the charm of this novel, particularly since I read it while working an accounting internship that generally spanned at least 60 hours per week. Or (more likely) that I am a picky reader, and found fault with a book that is supposed to be flimsy beach read. Or (most likely) that I should stop reading historical fiction novels, because they almost always disappoint me.
I didn’t feel like Lawhon worked especially hard on building up a twenties atmosphere – which personally, I liked. Often, when a writer does historical fiction, so much loving, careful, wonderful research is done, that the book feels a little claustrophobic. When a writer focuses too much on historical accuracy, I usually have trouble getting into the story. & when Lawhon did sneak a twenties reference into her novel that I noticed, it was generally because it felt forced and/or pissed me off. In a particular scene, the Wife wears a Coco Chanel dress that is “the latest fashion,” but allows herself to feel sad that she can’t have kids when another catty politician’s wife remarks that she is “the type” who can pull off that look. Since the whole point of Chanel and flappers was that women didn’t have to adhere to constricting societal stereotypes, it was really disappointing to me that an act of potential female strength and “I don’t give a damn” was turned into a scene of “My boobs aren’t big enough and I’m a bad homemaker because I can’t bear children.” As a woman, and not a prize sow, I would like to think my boyfriend keeps me around for more than my childbearing hips.
The history revolves around the mystery of a NY judge who disappeared (for realz) in 1930. The fictional aspects primarily revolve around the 3 women closest to Justice Crater – his wife, his maid, and his mistress – and what they knew about the judge, as well as what they possibly did to assist in his disappearance.
There is a twist regarding these three women and their involvement near the end of the book, which the book was obviously built around, and which is ineffective, as well as boring. The twist is explicated in a letter written by the mistress to the maid, which makes NO FREAKIN’ SENSE. If you are writing a letter to someone you are in collusion with, you don’t explain the actions of a third person you were also in collusion with and the reasons for that third person’s collusion because, you both already know that. It’s the equivalent of my writing to you: “As you know, this is my blog that you’re reading. I am currently typing on a fancy shmancy laptop computer keyboard to get these letters into WordPress, from whence I will publish this blog post, so that you can read it. Which you are doing right now.” I do not need to write these things to you. You already know them.
And, since I’ve already been spoilery enough, let me discuss one of my favorite scenes. This scene is when the Mistress has fled NY to go back to whatever farm-hick town she’s from, and the husband she abandoned, because she’s preggers and homesick. The husband seems like a decent guy – he takes her in, though the child is obviously not his. And she’s upset b/c he’s sleeping on the couch and she misses him, and also being pregnant and having a baby is hard. Then, shortly after the baby is born, her hubby crawls into bed with her, and they have sex. With the baby sleeping on the bed right next to them. This sounds irresponsible beyond belief. I mean, if you flee NY to protect yourself and your baby, why would you endanger your baby’s life through sexy times? Can’t you guys do it on the floor or something? Just… what? Also – have you seen a new mother? That dazed expression, the glazed over, red eyes, the slow comprehension of anything? Lack of sleep makes a woman look and act really sexy #sarcasm.
So I will thus end my spoil-ridden review of this ARC I received, but sadly, did not enjoy. And I leave with these parting words: