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The Doctor's Wife

The Doctor's Wife

4.1 79
by Elizabeth Brundage

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By the acclaimed novelist of All Things Cease to Appear

“The memory starts here, in my apron pocket, with the gun.”

Lydia Haas is devoted to Jesus, her church, and her husband. Only recently, after it’s too late, has she understood how much she has sacrificed to all of them.

Michael Knowles is a rising young


By the acclaimed novelist of All Things Cease to Appear

“The memory starts here, in my apron pocket, with the gun.”

Lydia Haas is devoted to Jesus, her church, and her husband. Only recently, after it’s too late, has she understood how much she has sacrificed to all of them.

Michael Knowles is a rising young doctor, an OB/gyn at a prominent hospital. A man committed to his principles, to rescues with uncertain outcomes; to his wife. The life they’ve made. He never intended to have to make a choice.

Annie Knowles is the “doctor’s wife.” The first time she walked into their 1812 Federal-style home in High Meadow, an idyllic town in upstate New York, she thought she’d be happy there forever. But that dream wore thin, and another man—a colleague at the local college where Annie teaches—is insinuating himself slowly, surely, passionately into her life.

Simon Haas’ paintings of his wife Lydia made him famous. The story behind those paintings, and behind his marriage, is not one Simon chooses to tell. Until he meets Annie Knowles.

Elizabeth Brundage’s stunning debut work of fiction is the story of these four and the cataclysmic intersection of their lives.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Set against the backdrop of the battle for abortion rights, this timely but stilted debut thriller features a perfect yuppie couple. Michael Knowles is a successful OB-GYN and his wife, Annie, is a popular journalism professor; they have two precious kids and a big, airy home in upstate New York. But once Michael accepts a position at the only abortion clinic in town, the already heavy strain that his doctor's schedule puts on their marriage sends Annie into the arms of a colleague, notorious painter Simon Haas. Meanwhile, Michael receives increasingly hostile threats from creepy antiabortion activists, suggesting that one, or both, of the Knowles are targets of a vicious terror campaign. The painter's childlike young wife, Lydia, as a menacing, tormented Bible-thumper scarred by a harsh, loveless upbringing, is the enigma that fuels Brundage's examination of what happens when we are drawn to the very things that promise to destroy us. But the lessons here are heavy-handed and the characterizations mechanical. The bad guys wear mirrored sunglasses as they force Michael off the road; the good guys wear jackets emblazoned with angel's wings; and the dialogue is delivered in short sound bites scripted for a TV cliffhanger. The Knowles' storybook marriage takes a number of dark, twisted turns, but the lack of character nuance and depth blunt Brundage's stab at psychological suspense. Agent, Linda Chester. (June 21) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Annie and Michael have always been well liked in their suburban neighborhood. But when Michael, "the perfect doctor," decides to help an old girlfriend at a local women's health center, the couple begins to receive mysterious threats. Are these from an antiabortion group? Or is it someone who doesn't like the fact that Annie is finding solace with someone else's husband while Michael is working at the clinic? When an accident occurs, and Michael is presumed dead, everything starts to unravel. First novelist Brundage has created strong, multifaceted characters, portraying Annie and Michael as genuine people whose jealousies, insecurities, and annoyances are completely understandable. Unlike the far-fetched resolutions of many suspense novels, the ending here is realistic yet satisfyingly dramatic. A thinking person's thriller, this is a fine debut, full of psychological suspense, plot twists and turns, malice disguised as religion, the taint of incest, and cheating spouses. Recommended for all public libraries.-Marianne Fitzgerald, Anne Arundel Cty. Schs., Annapolis, MD Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Wooden first novel about the trouble that ensues when the wife of an obstetrician who performs abortions has an affair with a local artist married to a deranged pro-lifer. Except for a couple of fatally bad decisions, Annie and Michael Knowles would be just two more yuppies living in a dull town in upstate New York. Michael is a rising star at St. Vincent's Hospital in Albany, an OB/GYN with a growing practice and a reputation for competence, tact, and compassion. Annie, in addition to raising two children, teaches a very popular creative writing course at St. Catherine's College. But neither of them can fully enjoy the happiness due to those who live in carefully decorated houses and drive foreign cars. To begin with, Annie is extremely lonely. Michael works around the clock and ignores her at home, so she falls into bed with Simon Haas, a painter, drunk, and womanizer who also teaches at St. Catherine's. Simon's wife, the unstable Lydia, stays in bed for days at a time, sells lingerie in her spare time, and hangs out with a charismatic preacher named Reverend Tim. When Michael agrees to start doing abortions at a local clinic as a favor to an old girlfriend, he and Annie begin getting death threats. The Reverend Tim leads and organizes protests against Michael's clinic, and he even more helpfully provides Lydia with a gun and shows her how to use it. Lydia, in turn, registers for Annie's class and submits a lengthy pornographic description of some of Simon's stranger sexual practices for Annie's perusal. Eventually, there's a kidnapping and somebody gets killed. A lifeless and overwritten ("Albany was a city that wept bitterly and did not apologize for its weeping," etc.) exercise instereotypes-the venal clergyman, the workaholic husband, the religious fanatic, the dissipated artist-that provides very little to convince or delight. Agent: Linda Chester/Linda Chester & Associates
From the Publisher
“Appearances are deceiving in this psychological thriller… a compelling read.”—The Boston Globe

“An examination of w hat happens when we are drawn to the very thing that promises to destroy us.”—Publisher’s Weekly

“Complex, cleverly constructed narrative provides a slow unfolding of the intricate relationship among the characters… This page-turner will appeal to a broad readership.” —Booklist

“From the very first paragraph of Elizabeth Brundage’s debut… it is evident things will not end neatly. No character inhabiting this story will escape unscathed from the choices they’ve made… a well-crafted work.” —Ms. Magazine

“A fine debut, full of psychological suspense, plot twists and turns, malice disguised as religion, the taint of incest, and cheating spouses.”—Library Journal

“Thrilling page-turner.”—Albany Times-Union

“A page-turner that will linger in reader’s minds long after they finish the book.”—Connecticut Post

“The Doctor’s Wife is certainly a tense and compelling psychological thriller, but it’s more than just a page-turner. In her dark depiction of small-town intolerance, Brundage invites us to question our moral assumptions, social responsibilities, in short, our engagement with the world.”—Ruth Ozeki, author of My Year of Meats and All Over Creation

“Elizabeth Brundage has exquisitely captured the tension that resides at the crossroads of self and society. The Doctor’s Wife encapsulates not only our uncertain, conflicted times but the maddening, endearing, fascinating contradictions of the American moral construct. This novel is as politically pertinent as it is a page-turner.”—Meghan Daum, author of The Quality of Life Report

“Elizabeth Brundage has written a deliciously dark, finely observed, and ultimately thrilling morality tale. The Doctor’s Wife is a full meal of sex, danger, and small-town paranoia which I greedily devoured.”—Laurie Fox, author of The Lost Girls

“Elizabeth Brundage’s prose reveals an honesty, clarity and grace uncommon for any novel, let alone a debut, and her insights consistently surprise and astonish. Even more impressively, she tackles a topic currently dividing the American spirit with feverish rancor and brings not just conviction but compassion to her portrayal. The Doctor’s Wife is a novel to savor, praise and share.”—David Corbett, author of The Devil’s Redhead and Done For A Dime

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt


SOMETIME AFTER MIDNIGHT Michael Knowles wakes to the sound of his beeper and picks up the phone. “You want Finney,” he tells the page operator. “I'm not on call tonight.”

“You are now, Dr. Knowles,” the operator says officiously, and puts him through to the ER. A nurse comes on and brings him up to speed in a voice shrill with hysteria. The patient, she explains, a thirteen-year-old girl from Arbor Hill, is in labor, four months premature. “Boyfriend dropped her off about an hour ago and split. No prenatal care, no insurance. Now she's bleeding all over the place and I can't get anyone to give me a consult. Your partner's puking his guts out in the men's room. I'm told it's food poisoning.”

“Give me twenty minutes,” Michael mutters, and like a man called to the service of war he grabs his coat. He had fallen asleep on the couch in the study. He climbs the stairs quietly, feeling strangely like a guest in his own home, wary of the light that burns on his wife's bedside table. He enters the room uneasily, dreading a strained encounter, but Annie is asleep and all the lines of discord have vanished from her face. For a moment he marvels at her beauty, her glorious brown hair, the fleshy protrusion of her upper lip, her T-shirt twisted appealingly across her breasts. His heart begins to pound. She has squandered her beauty, he thinks. He does not know what will happen between them now. But no matter how much he rationalizes what she did, and he does rationalize it, no matter how much he tries to talk himself into hating her, he finds himself loving her more. His love for her is ripe in his mouth. The fruit has rotted perhaps, but he refuses to spit it out. With routine compassion he picks up the book at her side and sets it on the nightstand. For a moment he stands there, half-expecting her to wake, almost hoping that she will. Not to fight anymore, but to find each other inside a single, wordless moment. To find each other and remember what brought them both there in the first place, and why neither has left. But it's too late for that, and she doesn't wake, and they're paging him again. He writes her a note, GOT PAGED, and leans it against the base of the lamp, where she will find it in the morning. Then he switches off the light and steps into the hall, listening to the yearning silence of the big house. It makes him think of his kids and he looks in on them now before he goes. First comes Henry, his ten-year-old son, sprawled across the mattress amid blankets and toys and forgotten stuffed animals. The boy's hamster, Harpo, spins obsessively in its cage and for a moment Michael just stands there, contemplating the creature's useless exertion. In the room next door, Rosie, who is six, sleeps with perfect stillness, maintaining the meticulous hierarchical positioning of her dolls at the end of her bed. Michael can't imagine loving anything more than his children and feels a pang of guilt because he rarely sees them. Quality time, that's what he's resorted to. All part of the failed equation, he thinks, heading down the crooked stairs of the old house and out into the cold night, where it has begun to snow again. The flakes are thick and white like the feathers of birds. He takes a moment to zipper his jacket, to pull on his hood. The night is quiet, the sound of snowfall a comfort somehow, and he pushes himself on, cursing himself for wasting time.

The Saab starts with a lusty roar that makes him grateful that he owns a good car, even though he does not consider himself a man of attachments or possessions. The car smells of leather and promise and his own pathetic gratitude and it comes to him that he's been a fool in his marriage, that what came between him and Annie is his own goddamn fault. It's about him, not her, he realizes. It's about everything he's not.

Angry now, he pulls out of the driveway and speeds down the road, blowing past the squad car parked on the corner. Ever since he delivered the sheriff's babies none of the cops pull him over for speeding. They know people are waiting for him, people in pain, and they respect that. One of the benefits of living in a small town like High Meadow, he thinks, gunning the engine, winding down the hill past Slattery's cow farm, the fields dark and dense and silent, veiled in a dusting of fresh snow. Too early in the season for snow, he thinks, just a couple of weeks shy of Thanksgiving, but the weather is always unpredictable in upstate New York, and after all these years he's no stranger to it. Ordinarily in weather like this he'd take Route 17 down to Bunker Hill, but he's worried about the girl in the ER and decides to take Valley Road instead to save time. Under ideal circumstances the shortcut is dangerous, complicated with tight, snakelike turns, but it takes fifteen minutes off the trip. Tonight Valley Road shimmers with ice. The naked trees seem to tremble in his headlights. The sleet comes out of the dark like millions of pins and he is forced to decelerate, taking the curves slowly, methodically. The suffering girl will have to wait, he tells himself; nothing he can do about it now. At the end of Valley Road he turns onto Route 20, streaming into a line of traffic behind a behemoth snowplow, then onto the interstate, the city of Albany like a white blur before him.

Downtown, the streets are deserted except for a few homeless stragglers. The green neon cross on St. Vincent's Hospital blinks and buzzes like some divine Morse code. Only now, as he pulls through the mammoth jaws of the doctors' parking garage and climbs the labyrinth of concrete to his spot on level four, does it occur to him that something may be amiss. That perhaps the phone call had been a hoax: the bleeding girl, Finney being sick. Now that he thinks about it, he hadn't recognized the nurse's voice and he knows all the nurses at St. Vincent's. The garage is deserted. The hanging fluorescent lights move in the wind, squealing slightly on their hinges. He knows he's paranoid—Comes with the territory, they'd told him when he'd first started at the clinic, and he'd been more than willing to accept that, but now, tonight, he senses danger and he hesitates getting out of the car at all. He looks up at the glass doors a hundred feet away, where a nurse passes by in her pink scrubs, and the sense of routine comforts him. His beeper sounds again—I'm coming, hold your fucking horses—and he grabs his bag and opens the door and they're on him, three or four or even five men, dragging him across the concrete into the dark. Cursing him, shoving him, laughing a little with their raised fists, taking turns splitting open his face, pushing him from one man's arms into another's. A greasy terror sloshes through his head. And then he's down on his knees, someone throttling him, wrapping a cord around his neck, and as the air leaves his body like a pierced balloon he wonders if they are finally going to kill him. The fat one speaks in a cold, even voice, sweat splashing off his lips: “We've had enough, Dr. Knowles, we've had enough of your bullshit,” and then a shock of pain in his balls, excruciating and dense, and he doubles over and pukes—and he is glad for a moment, puking, because he thinks they will leave him alone, but they don't, they kick him again, and again, and he is down on all fours like a dog amid chewing-gum wrappers and cigarette butts and shattered glass and his own puke and he suddenly begins to cry. Where is the guard, he wonders now—why hasn't anyone seen them, some nurse, some technician, some doctor? Why isn't someone calling the police?

“Let's medicate the poor bastard.” Someone yanks back his head and pries open his mouth, dropping in pills. He doesn't swallow, but then he gags and chokes and the bitter powder burns his throat. Water comes next, and more pills, and he can't breathe. Surrender, he tells himself, you have no choice! His body lax as butter, everything blurred and slow and jangling with silence. I can't fucking hear you! he thinks dully. Their big hands, quivering faces, mouths open in laughter. I can't hear anything.

They put him in the trunk. The road vibrates under his head like a jackhammer. For the moment he is relieved to be left alone; he is relieved to be alive. And then it comes to him, suddenly, vividly, that he is going to die.

For months he has waited for this moment, feared it, and now that it is here, finally, now that it is happening to him, yes, to him, it is all the terror he imagined and worse.

Snowflakes on his face. The sky is kissing you, Daddy, he hears his daughter whispering. The men are talking but he cannot make out a word of it. He feels the prick of a needle, the warm drug rushing through him, bringing a taste into his mouth, cotton candy, and a feeling throughout his limbs that is not entirely unpleasant. The men smell of whiskey and triumph as they grip his body and pull him out of the dark place. Staggering with his weight, they bring him in their arms to a car and they put him into it, behind the wheel. Even in his dementia he knows it's his own car, he recognizes the smell, Rosie's paddock boots in the back, Henry's chocolate bars for Cub Scouts, and they strap him in and turn the key and the engine screams. He wants to tell them that he can't see, he's in no shape to drive, but his mouth won't work, his tongue is too big, and now the car is moving, it floats for a moment in midair, then tumbles through the dark like a clumsy animal. Suddenly he understands what they have done and he doesn't care, really, it doesn't matter anymore, and he forgets it, he forgives them all their stupidity, and he can only remember her face, her beautiful mouth. Annie! He screams inside his head. He is screaming and screaming. Annie!

But it is too late. And his wife can't hear him.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
“A fine debut, full of psychological suspense, plot twists and turns, malice disguised as religion, the taint of incest, and cheating spouses.”—Library Journal

“No character inhabiting this story will escape unscathed from the choices they’ve made... [a] well-crafted work.” —Ms. Magazine

Meet the Author

ELIZABETH BRUNDAGE is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she earned an MFA in fiction and a James Michener award. Her short fiction has been published in the Greensboro Review, Witness Magazine, and New Letters, and she contributed to the anthology Thicker Than Blood: I’ve Always Meant to Tell You, Letters to Our Mothers. Her most recent novel is All Things Cease to Appear.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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The Doctor's Wife 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 79 reviews.
VirtuousWomanKF More than 1 year ago
Living in Wichita, KS. allows me to relate to the harassment and lunatics that abortion doctors endure. I am not saying I agree with abortion, quite the contrary, but I absolutely do NOT believe in killing or harassing someone who does. There are religious groups that do act as though they are the judge and jury and their actions, "In the name of Jesus Christ" appall me. Some reviewers feel that this representation in the book is far fetched, believe me it is not. The Doctor's Wife is a very heavy, disturbing but thought provoking novel. It is a very well written book with suspense and the ever prevalent "one bad choice after another", and would make for great for a book club discussion due to the various subject matters. I was really excited to read this book but just didn't love it. I think it was just due to the heavy subject matter and the lack of connection with the characters. If you are looking for a happy read, this is not it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was great. Suspenseful and dramatic. Very defined character personalties. Whether I liked them or not, I still wanted to keep reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
studious1 More than 1 year ago
This is a gripping wonderful novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is an interesting page-turner that keeps you reading past your bedtime, lol.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A book that can make me fustrated, intrigued and angry at the characters is a good book! Would have liked more of an ending. Felt like there was alot left unsaid about where these characters lives were left at the ending. Definately recommend reading.
sassypickle More than 1 year ago
A good read for a rainy day. Believable characters, some more liked than others. An abrupt and quick ending.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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OKMom_luvs2read More than 1 year ago
The cover of the book drew me into the world of these conflicted people...educated, uneducated, liberal, conservative, seemingly normal, dillusional...the author wove an interesting story and I wasn't sure the final outcome. The characters' lives were irrevocably woven together and there didn't seem to be a happy conclusion for any of them. Life has a way of doing just that...sometimes there are no true winners. If you like psychological suspense, give this a try.
sweetmarissa More than 1 year ago
The ending I certainly did not like. It was an easy read and there were parts when I could not put it down. I would recommend reading because the plot is quite original and the characters were very memorable.
RozaFL More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed the book. Could not put it down!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Romance_rookie More than 1 year ago
In The Doctor's Wife the lives of four people intertwine which leads to a cataclysmic conclusion. Michael is an OB/GYN who has a very good practice, but when asked to help out a former friend with an abortion clinic, he chooses to help. He becomes a target of a Christian group that has been harassing the clinic. Annie, his lonely and neglected wife finds refuge in the arms of a once famous artist, Simon. Simon's wife Lydia suspects the affair. First off, The Doctor's Wife is not exactly a romance, although the relationships between two couples is the focus of the book. I found myself very intrigued by the story. The words and phrases the author uses paints quite a picture, sets quite a setting. The mood of the overall story comes across as very gloomy and tragic. I like that the author starts at the ending first and then works back to the beginning. It is a technique that really catches the readers' interest. For me, I found the story very well written. I thought that the author had a certain way with words and phrases which really drew me into the story. The characters were very well portrayed, enough so that even though there is clearly a bad guy there are also shades of grey with all of the characters. All the characters made mistakes but I felt they all were also redeemable. In my book group not all of us agreed on the likability of the characters. Some of us felt that certain actions were not redeemable. We all seemed to agree that the ending left certain questions unanswered and wondered if the author wrote another book or if another book was forth coming. As far as I know, none has been written. The book is not one that I would have chosen to read if not for the book club. However, once I started the story I was completely immersed in the characters. I am enjoying the book club. It is good to get exposure to books I might not normally read.
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MandiLynne More than 1 year ago
The Doctor's Wife is amazing, truly amazing! The characters relate to life, and the plot is thrilling, suspenseful and keeps you wanting more. I picked this book up for a little light reading while flying, and LOVE it! The topic is controversial and really makes you think of your own views and opinions. It dances on both sides of the fence( on the issue the book revolves around), and makes you think. The way the characters are weaved into each other, and the way that everything is laid out is captivating. This should be the book of the summer!