I am so sorry to have to write this review. I wish I'd written it two days ago, when I was only 80% of the way through War of the Wives, by Tamar Cohen. I had a lot of interesting things to say about this novel, the story of two women who find out, after the death of Simon Busfield, that they were both married to him.
It's a salacious setup, and I was looking forward to something very trashy, but what I got was actually kind of a thoughtful character study. Told in alternating points of view by two very different characters, I felt like it was a much better portrait of Selina, who is older--posh, poised, superficial, and maybe rather shallow. Lottie, who is flaky, artsy, and kind of a mess, seems to only half-matter; the rest of the time, she's there to show how Selina looks to the outside world.
Both women are pretty irritating in their own ways--I liked Lottie better from the beginning, just because she seemed more human and empathetic, but I think that made Selina more interesting to follow. As she watches her life fall apart, we get to watch her both figure out what parts of her life actually mean something to her and which she just allowed to happen to her. We also get her discover the internal lives of everyone she's been casually judging for so long. It's really an interesting and worthwhile story, if a bit British with the aggressively superficial pretense of everything being fine in the face of a complete mess.
There's also a sort of subplot with a bit of mystery--shady business deals Simon may have been involved in, details about how he died, whether someone is threatening the families. There's a lot of tension among the kids, which, again, is interesting to read about, if frustrating to watch Lottie fumble everything.
So, 95%, even 97% of a good book. And then, literally in the last ten pages, A BUNCH OF RANDOM STUFF HAPPENS. Like, someone turns out to be a murderer, which you find out through the recitation of a stereotypical Bad Guy Monologue. While there is appropriate setup of this character being sketchy (just the right amount; the setup is well done), it's like the book had to be ended very suddenly. Oh, plus, it turns out there are TWO crazy people who don't seem crazy until the very last minute--the VERY last.
So then, we get the scary confrontation scenes, the bad guy announcing their evil to the narrator, who is trapped in a small room with them and scared. And then....cut to the epilogue, which takes place five months later. Everything has sorted itself out, and the characters have a bunch of expository conversations revealing what's happened in the past few months, and then the book ends.
I cannot express the sputtering outrage that I felt at the ending--it was poorly planned, poorly constructed, poorly executed, poorly timed, poorly paced. The last 10 pages are flawed in every conceivable way. I don't think I've ever read a book that needed 40 more pages before, but here it is.
Now is the part where I explain that I got a free copy of this from Netgalley for review. I hope I don't have to say that it's an honest review. I don't write many horrible reviews of advance copies, because I don't finish them when I don't enjoy them. But I enjoyed this one quite a bit.
Sigh. Well, now I'm turning to L.M. Montgomery for consolation; a reread of Anne of the Island and Anne of Windy Poplars is in order, as a palate cleanser. Not a bigamist or murderer to be had in the Maritimes, no sirree.