It is amazing the things we can find on a whim; one Saturday morning I decided to try being outgoing (complete introvert over here), by checking out any upcoming events at a local Barnes and Noble. I found a group of local authors that happened to be at a signing at a store not too far from my home. I looked up all of the books and authors and one in particular caught my eye, a psychological thriller called The Pocket Wife by Susan Crawford.
This book was a little hard to get into at first because I found the present tense the book was written in a bit jarring at the start. It’s been quite a while since I last read something in present tense. However, I was also very much under a spell with some of the descriptions painted by Crawford throughout this book.
Dana Catrell finds that her neighbor and occasional garage sale buddy, Celia, has been murdered after she wakes up from a drunken stupor. The blanks in her memory trouble Dana considerably more than most, her Bipolar Disorder looming like a malevolent friend peeking over her shoulder and casting doubt on her actions the afternoon of Celia’s violent death.
Dana is the last person known to have seen Celia alive (not including, possibly, the killer), which Dana fears she may ultimately be. With a belittling and cheating husband all but goading her to the edge, Dana decides to launch her own investigation to see if she, indeed, is as wicked as she fears.
I was really interested in this book due to the mental illness factor and its possible role in the murder. With psychology as my field of study and some personal experience with those who have Bipolar Disorder, I was even more intrigued by Dana’s perspective and withering mental status as the novel progresses, along with her mania.
At the risk of romanticizing mental illness, there was something evocative and poetic about some of the descriptions of Dana’s perceptions of the settings, people, and situations in her less lucid moments. When Dana mentions “madness knocking on her brain” I was strongly reminded of The Yellow Wallpaper, a story of a woman slowly descending into insanity. Because of her possible delusions, Dana isn’t a completely reliable narrator, which can sometimes make it difficult to tell whether or not something in the scene or flow is a bit off on purpose, such as time lapsing.
For instance, on a few occasions throughout the book, it was difficult to know how much time had passed. Conversations sometimes ended abruptly as if more time had passed than is shown in dialogue or narration. As an example, the brunch Dana has in her home is open to the entire neighborhood, and when she is done cooking, she goes to Ron, Celia’s husband, and has a conversation with him. Something else catches Dana’s attention, but still her conversation with Ron ends more suddenly than I was expecting. As Dana follows the person that has caught her eye, within a couple of sentences, the brunch is over and people are leaving. I read it over just to be sure I hadn’t missed something, but still, the scene felt abrupt in its close, but it was unclear if this was due to Dana’s perception being slightly skewed.
It was sometimes unclear from chapter to chapter, and even occasionally paragraph to paragraph how much time had passed in general. Hours, days, weeks, it was often vague how far out from the murder each of the events afterwards happened. Perhaps I missed something while reading, but there were a handful of these instances
One thing I have to say about Moss’s character and Crawford’s writing is the empathy Jack shows for Dana, and presumably others like her, those fighting with mental illness. Instead of belittling and shunting away Dana’s oddities and eccentricities, like her husband Peter, Jack is concerned and desires to protect or in some way assist a person he sees in need of a life preserver to stay afloat. Acceptance of and empathy for those dealing with debilitating mental illness could stand to be more common than it is, so I appreciated this aspect of Moss’s character.
A few other things I would like to comment on in regards to The Pocket Wife may contain some spoilers so, if you’d like to skip ahead to the end, those familiar with my Uprooted post will remember that the kitten hiding beneath the flannel is the cue that it’s safe.
While I understand that there was some spontaneity involved in Celia’s murder, according to Lenora, I couldn’t help but feel that Lenora’s motive a little lacking. It made me a bit unsure how I felt about the ending. The “motive”, as it were, is the picture in Celia’s phone, the same picture used to call Dana over the day of Celia’s murder; this picture is the same one that is part of Dana’s possible motive and the one she tries to chase after most of the book, which has a touch of irony.
What doesn’t work for me is just how desperate Lenora is to get back this picture. Either I missed something in the description, or it’s really is a blurry phone cam picture of Lenora with Dana’s husband Peter, who is only gazing at his buxom companion with lecherous intent. Lenora, as the rising first assistant prosecutor with her eyes on her dream job, fearing her climb to the top being completely derailed due to the photo of her possible dalliance with lawyer, Peter, seems a little far to reach.
Something I loved near the end, however, was Kyle and Jack’s relationship becoming an actual relationship. Jack getting the chance to see his grandchild was truly touching.
Though it took me a chapter or two to get used to the present tense style and was not wholly won over by the ending, I still must say that I enjoyed reading this book. The choice of using Bipolar Disorder was as refreshing as the eerily evocative and compellingly accurate depiction of how a manic episode can present itself in someone with Bipolar Disorder. The paranoia and sometimes psychotic components of BPD are also displayed in sensational style. It’s important to note that this is not how BPD is for all that live with it, but Dana’s experience is completely, tragically, believable.
Despite some of the shortcomings I feel this book had, there is plenty to enjoy about the way this story is told. The aftermath scenes are touching and though I’m still not completely sure how I felt turning the last page, I was satisfied with certain aspects of the ending more than others. Crawford knows how to write some flowing descriptions. I would recommend to mystery and psychological thriller lovers.
Susan Crawford has another book coming out in April of this year, The Other Widow, which can be pre-ordered now. I’m intrigued with the description and am looking forward to getting my hands on a copy.