Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown

I zipped through this novel in a day--my first of 2020. It read very quickly, and I had a hard time putting it down. 

Why was it so compelling? I'm not sure. It's a dual storyline, between two women: Nellie in 1956, and Alice in 2018. Both are living in the same home, and married. Nellie is married to a man who swept her off her feet, and she quickly realizes he's not a nice man. Not nice at all. He wants a wife who is pretty, looks perfect all the time, cooks, cleans, and has babies. He's not afraid to use some physical force to keep her in line. 

Alice is a modern woman, who recently left her job in New York City under a cloud--although she's kept that bit of information from her husband Nate. He thinks she quit. Nate wants to move out of the city and start a family in a home set in the suburbs. Alice, very reluctantly, agrees. She's a big city lady, and used to working a lot. Nate makes enough money that she can stay home and write her novel. Alice and Nate buy the home Nellie had lived in 60 years before, and even though it needs a lot of work to modernize it, Nate loves it. Alice, not so much. While rummaging around in some boxes in the basement, she finds an old cookbook that belonged to Nellie. It's safe to say Nellie's spirit inhabits the home, and Alice slowly begins to immerse herself in the role of a housewife who gardens, cooks (out of Nellie's cookbook), and yes, even starts smoking again. She claims it's all for research on her novel, but wow, she starts to take on a lot of Nellie's personality. 

The novel moves back and forth between the two women. I liked Nellie quite a bit. She's trapped in an abusive marriage with very few options. Her friendship with the woman next door is really the only thing that keeps her sane. That and her gardening; she loves to garden and is very good at it. She thinks about her choices and regrets marrying Richard. Her life looks grand from the outside, but inside it's deeply troubling. 

Alice. Sheesh. At first I liked her, but as the story moves along, I found myself annoyed with her. She lies, and keeps lying and makes a heck of a lot of bad choices. She doesn't want to have a child right away, and can't tell Nate how she feels. Instead she's sneaky, and that leads to big issues. She has never come clean to Nate about her job, and why she was fired. She's taken up smoking, but hides it from Nate. She's so unhappy, but instead of communicating that to her husband, she just gets more resentful and keeps adding lies upon lies. 

Both women resent their roles as "housewives". Nellie really just wants to be alone with her garden. I'm not quite sure what Alice wants. I found Nellie's story to be much more interesting. While I wasn't surprised at what happened, it was fun to watch it unfold, along with Alice's dramas. I felt sorry for Nate. He seemed completely lost and clueless. He also made a really dumb mistake, but he was genuinely confused as to who Alice was becoming. My gut tells me that Nellie's spirit was influencing Alice, but it's never stated in the novel. 

I guess you could take this as a novel about women fighting to be themselves in a marriage, figuring out who they are, and working towards that happiness. Or, like me, you could just read the novel as a clever tale of one woman's revenge on an abusive husband. I was dissatisfied with the ending, because Alice and Nate are kind of left hanging. I would have liked to know more about Nellie after 1956. 

I think this would make a good book club selection. Plenty of themes to talk about, and I'm sure readers will either really like Alice, or really dislike Alice. 

Rating: 4/6 for a tale of two women, living decades apart in the same house, and the false lives they lead. Not a thriller, but an interesting look at what is expected of women as wives and mothers, and the stress it can cause a woman to try and fit into those molds. 

Available in hardcover and ebook.


  1. Hmm you make it sound more interesting than I was expected, thanks for sharing your thoughts