four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
17-July-Aug-2005
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0

A-GoodWifeWhen Patty Dickerson’s phone rings in the middle of the night, she knows there’s trouble. Her husband has been arrested and charged with robbery and murder. An ordinary housewife in upstate New York and pregnant with her first child, Patty’s life changes in an instant. She moves in with her family, starts a series of working-class jobs, raises her son, and patiently awaits her husband’s homecoming from prison. For 28 years, Patty sustains her commitment to Tommy while she maneuvers through a contemptuous, isolating community to find her own inner strength.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 312 pages. $24. ISBN: 0374281394

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Chapter by chapter, year by year, decade by decade, The Good Wife is the story of how life somehow gets lived even when another day of it seems impossible or far too tedious. … Patty Dickerson is a wonderful character, and this novel is astonishing." Meg Wolitzer

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Once again Stewart O’Nan displays his astonishing ability to get under his diverse characters’ skin and thereby draw us deeply into their lives. … Without diminishing the gravity of the crime, O’Nan makes us feel a sense of unfairness, cruel arbitrariness, about it all." Roger K. Miller

Hartford Courant 4 of 5 Stars
"O’Nan has a gut understanding of the way ordinary people think and act in the most mundane and most extraordinary circumstances, and his sure command of dialogue strengthens that realism. … This is a story of love and loyalty, duty and determination, beautifully told and steadily unfolding …" Carole Goldberg

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The Good Wife is a quietly devastating, thought-provoking examination of love and loyalty—old-fashioned family values—that can’t be locked away." Heller McAlpin

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"It’s not the treacly Stand By Your Man kind of constancy; rather, Patty Dickerson’s version is more complex and therefore more believable, interlaced as it is with bouts of anger and despair, familial rivalry, recreational drug use and lust for another man. … [T]he story has both gritty immediacy and pathos." Whitney Gould

Entertainment Weekly 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Despite her mom’s long-held doubts about prison-bound Tommy, Patty becomes a modern-day Penelope (or fodder for a Jerry Springer episode), waiting for her man. … Throughout, [O’Nan] depicts Patty’s working-class milieu with rare and clear-eyed compassion." Thom Geier

Critical Summary

The Good Wife, O’Nan’s ninth novel (after The Night Country 3 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2004), tells a compassionate, nonjudgmental tale about love, faith, blue-collar existence, prison life, and, above all, the ordinary act of waiting. Told in the present tense by an omniscient narrator, the novel delves deep inside its characters, particularly the hopeful Patty. Although he fails to fully develop her son, O’Nan limns Patty with sympathy and a sharp eye for all the period details that mark her long, difficult passage of time. The powerful yet "dry, straightforward, muted prose," notes the Los Angeles Times, aptly captures the "colorlessness of Patty’s life." Like O’Nan’s previous novels, The Good Wife is grim—and unforgettable.