Laura Pearson’s second novel, Nobody’s Wife, is the story of two sisters, Emily and Josephine, who have always shared everything. They’re not just sisters. They’re also roommates and best friends. It’s always been the two of them against the world.
But change is inevitable. Emily has a perfect wedding. Josephine finds the perfect man. But they are utterly unprepared for what, or who, one of them is willing to give up for love.
Four people. Three couples. Two sisters. One unforgivable betrayal. Nobody’s Wife is a heart-wrenching tale of family, loyalty, and obsession.
“Of the four of them, only three remained. And there was no going backwards from there.”
The focus of Laura Pearson’s second novel, Nobody’s Wife, is the relationship between sisters, a topic that is hardly unique or previously unexplored. However, Pearson’s compelling drama, at the core of which is the complex, multi-layered relationship of Emily and Josephine, again demonstrates the skillful manner in which she approached her subject matter in her stunning debut novel, Missing Pieces.
As the story opens, Emily is about to have a perfect wedding to Michael, and finds herself unable to express her misgivings. She has experienced anxiety for weeks. “He was never going to be the man who made her forget where and who she was when he kissed her. But he was the man she could trust with her life.” Older than Emily, Michael adores and is committed to her. He’s solid and safe, if not exciting, and understands and unconditionally accepts Emily. His first novel was a success, but he’s been struggling to complete his second book, writing travel articles and book reviews in the interim. Emily proceeds with the wedding, and she and Michael take up residence in the sisters’ childhood home, leaving Josephine alone in the apartment they all shared.
Josephine meets Jack, who works in the local bookstore and writes short stories that he dreams of having published, and asks him out on a date. He is unkempt, lives in a shabby apartment, and is the type of man that Josephine would never have even noticed when they were in school. He develops genuine feelings for Josephine, although they are not as strong as Josephine’s feelings for him. Jack is unfocused, unsettled, and selfish.
Emily and Josephine are completely unprepared for what happens when Josephine unwittingly brings Jack to dinner at Emily and Michael’s home. When introduced to Michael, Jack realizes that Michael is a novelist whose work he admires, and the two men strike up a friendship. Michael agrees to read Jack’s work. But during dinner, Jack’s attention is primarily on Emily. Meeting her, he realizes she reminds him of a woman he imagined as a child. He is self-conscious, tries not to look at her too often, yet seeks to draw her attention back to him as the meal progresses. At the end of the evening, he hopes it won’t be too long before he sees Emily again.
[T]here would be other men, even if right now she couldn’t imagine being ready for them. What there wouldn’t be was other sisters.
After Josephine and Jack leave, Emily is unsettled and realizes that Jack is “the sort of man she had always fallen for, in the days before Michael. Long-haired, a little stooped, a little shy. Always living slightly outside of the rules.” The kind of man she had always longed for.
Something is set in motion on that night that will change all of their lives over the course of the coming year.
Laura Pearson elevates what could have been a melodramatic, tawdry tale about infidelity, betrayal, and obsession into a complex, spellbinding examination of the two couples’ relationships, the strength of the sisters’ bond, and the far-reaching consequences that result from acting upon attraction and passion.
Nobody’s Wife is a character study crafted with precision, believability, and emotional authenticity. Although her characters make ill-advised decisions, and Jack is clearly the most unlikable among them, there are no true villains in this story. Rather, Pearson examines the characters’ motivations, desires, and actions with sensitivity and compassion. As a result, her characters are empathetic — even relatable — and Pearson challenges her readers to contemplate what they would do if they found themselves in the same unenviable situation.
Deception, broken promises, and guilt compel the story forward, and each character is forced to evaluate what matters most to him/her. Devotion to family, loyalty, honor, and doing the right thing clash with seeking to fulfill desires, surrender to romantic feelings, and respite from feeling unfulfilled and restless. Pearson’s prologue reveals that by the end of the book only three of the four characters will remain and there will be “no going backwards from there.”
With her restrained and eloquently understated writing style, Pearson takes readers on her characters’ journey to a tragic result sans judgment. Events transpire in a logically foreseeable manner as the consequences of their choices play out and their lives unravel. Ultimately, Pearson poses the question of whether, after everything that has happened, the three who remain can ever reach a point of resolution and forgiveness as they grieve “for each other. For the relationships that had been destroyed.”
Nobody’s Wife confirms that Laura Pearson is an author capable of tackling difficult subjects with insight, depth, and credibility.
My reviews of Laura Pearson’s other books:
Guest posts by Laura Pearson:
- (Some of) the Books that Shaped Me
- Sending Your Second Novel into the World
- On Surviving and Writing Cancer