June 9, 2009
BOOK REVIEW: 'The Pretend Wife': A Second Chance at Marital Bliss? Or Just a Weekend Lark?
By David M. Kinchen
Huntingtonnews.net Book Critic
Come on now, wives (and husbands): Wouldn't you like to imagine how life would have been different if you had married a long-lost lover instead of your present spouse?
Gwen Stevens has a chance to do just that in Bridget Asher's "The Pretend Wife" (Bantam, 288 pages, $24.00), when she meets her college boyfriend Elliot Hull while both are waiting to be served at a crowded ice cream shop.
Gwen is happy in her marriage to anesthesiologist Peter Stevens, at least she thinks so. They've been together for five years, married for three and living the proverbial comfortable yuppie life in a condo in an upscale part of Baltimore, MD.
She's shocked out of her complacency when Elliot, her boyfriend when they were attending Loyola College -- the one in Baltimore -- says "I'll have two scoops of Gwen Merchant, please" at the ice cream parlor.
Elliot hadn't changed much from their years-ago college days. Elliot is the kind of guy who ages well, with his lean body, a full head of hair and a casual look with his Red Sox baseball cap, unshaven face and too baggy shorts.
Peter is at the shop with a fellow doctor and the doctor's kids and introductions are made. Elliot is invited to Gwen's and Peter's condo where he makes an off-the-wall proposition. He wants Gwen to come to his family's lake house and for a weekend pretend to be Elliot's wife for his dying mother Vivian. Elliot's sister Jennifer and her two children will be there to chaperone the "pretend" couple. To Gwen's surprise, Peter Stevens is comfortable with the idea and so begins a magical chapter in her life.
Sounds like "chick lit," doesn't it? Yes, and no. The dust jacket design screams "Romance Novel", but this is a book male readers might find eye opening. After all, men are subject to second-guessing as much as women about relationships and what might have been.
Gwen is a survivor (aren't we all?) : When she was five years old she survived an accident when her mother's car went into a river. Her mother died and she was raised by her work-obsessed marine biologist father, with help from their next-door neighbors, Dr. and Mrs. Benny Fogelman, her dad's dentist and his warm-hearted wife.
Since this is the kind of book that contains spoilers -- boy is it! -- I won't describe what happens. Read "The Pretend Wife" and see if it doesn't bring back memories of past relationships. The novel kept me reading to the end because the characters were people I wanted to find out more about. Some of them were likeable, others not so much, but all were interesting, reminding me of people I've known.
"The Pretend Wife" would be a good choice for a book group, preferably one that contains both men and women.
Publisher's website: www.bantamdell.com
Author's website: www.bridgetasher.com

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