His Perfect Wife proves how unknowable those closest to us can be.
Before she disappeared, Alexandra Southwood lived an average, happy life: devoted to the care and upkeep of her husband, Marc, and their two beautiful daughters. But now, held in a room against her will, Alexandra is forced to imagine how her family is coping in the wake of her disappearance. She escapes to memories of their past, remembering her courtship with Marc and their marriage—all that he saved her from, all that she’s lost.
Marc's pain is visceral. He thinks of nothing but Alexandra. Even when the police discover her bloody belongings, he cannot accept that she is gone. The only one who believes she’s still alive, Marc channels his pain into action, embarking on his own journey to find his wife, one that will lead him to discover answers to questions he never wanted to ask.
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***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***
Copyright © 2018 Natasha Bell
Thursday, February 21, 2013
Marc sat on the bottom stair and tried not to think the worst. The voice continued: “The vast majority of people return safe and well within the first forty-eight hours, Mr. Southwood. There’s no need to panic.” There was a pause. Marc knew he should take comfort from this. Sit tight and wait for his wife to return with a perfectly reasonable explanation.
The officer said goodnight and the line clicked dead. As if that had solved the problem. As if Marc should have felt better.
Six hours down, forty-two to go.
I wish I could put myself there with him. I’d wrap first my arms and then my legs around his body, cling to him until we lost our balance and tumbled to the hallway floor. Tell him with my touch the one thing he needed to know that night: I’m here. Right here.
He stood up and replaced the receiver, severing his fingertip connection to the phone call and his one active plan to do something. The hairs on his arms stood on end as he shivered to a silent beat of something’s wrong, something’s wrong, something’s wrong.
Perhaps he shouldn’t have phoned the police. After all, I was a grown woman. Perhaps it was over the top to report me missing. It’s not as if I had a curfew.
But I was a mother. My children were home and I was not. It’s so unlike her. Marc had said that to the officer a moment ago. It’d felt like a whine; that childish word laughably impotent in the face of explaining the absolute abnormality of a woman who had always come home, day after day, year after year, not walking through our front door that night.
I was meant to have returned by the time he brought the girls back from swimming. We should have ordered a takeaway. We should have sat with our chow mein, chattering about open days and council cuts.
He tried my phone again. Off as usual. “My little Luddite,” he’d called me when he asked if I wanted an iPhone for my birthday and I said I was perfectly happy with the two-year-old handset I had. It made calls and showed me my emails—what more did I want? He should have pestered me more. Another man would have given me one anyway, synced our calendars and address books, downloaded an app to keep tabs on me, made sure I couldn’t get lost.
“It’s Thursday, for God’s sake,” Marc said aloud. He paced to the window to peer on to the street again. I wouldn’t miss Thursday Takeaway without a reason.
He raised his hand, scratched his left temple.
He’d tried to explain to the officer. Was Jones his name? Officer Jones thought we’d had a fight. People disappeared all the time.
I didn’t, though.
I’d spent the day at work. Marc had rung my colleague, Paula, to check. She said we’d walked out of the building together. I’d wished her a good weekend because she had Friday off to attend some family wedding. She’d told me she’d try, though she hated the things, and we’d parted with a wave.
Whole hours had elapsed since that exchange. It was now 11 p.m. It was dark.
Such things bothered my husband. It didn’t matter that I’d lived alone in cities before we met. It didn’t matter that I’d spent more than a year wandering the streets of Chicago, an optimistic student wearing an armor of Pabst Best against the gangs and gun crime statistics. It didn’t matter that I’d once parachuted from a plane, that I’d accidentally hit a black slope the first time I strapped skis to my feet, that I’d backpacked around India and spent a month living in a roach-infested squat in Alphabet City. My husband saw me as something fragile. He walked me home and met me from trains. He wanted to protect me.
Should he search the streets? Was that what one was supposed to do? Maybe he could ask a neighbor to watch the girls. But where would he go? Did people normally look in pubs and bars?
Marc clung to the idea that we were normal that night. We’d never aspired to be normal before. We’d felt unique. Special. But abnormal things didn’t happen to normal people. So we were normal that night. And, in keeping with normality, where everyday anxieties outweigh even the most horrendous fears, my husband continued to care how others perceived us. Behind his concern for me bubbled a multitude of mundane worries: had Officer Jones thought him daft? Had Paula decided he was overbearing? Had he made a fool of himself?
I wouldn’t be lounging in a bar, of course; I didn’t even drink. Bus shelters? Restaurants? Late-night libraries? This was York in real life, not London in some dramatic episode of Spooks we were watching on a boxset binge. This was a picturesque tourist city where the most the police usually had to deal with was fishing stolen bikes out of polluted rivers. Besides, the races had been on and I abhorred town when the cobbled streets and listed bars filled with stumbling gamblers in their glad rags.
He walked into the kitchen to make a cup of tea. Al would laugh, he thought. If she were here.
I’d have been more likely to roll my eyes, or stick my hands on my hips and give him that “seriously?” look. But maybe that’s me being defensive. Under different circumstances, maybe I would have been amused by my unfailingly British husband. I suppose it’s hard to tell from here.
At least Charlotte and Lizzie slept. He’d told them I had to work late. He hated lying to them, I know, but what could he have told a seven-and a ten-year-old? “I don’t know where Mummy is, girls, and I’m trying not to imagine her dead in a ditch, so eat your noodles and we’ll find a bedtime story.”
I wasn’t dead in a ditch.
He couldn’t think like that.
Those things didn’t happen.
Not to us.
There would be a perfectly rational explanation for my absence and we’d both laugh about it tomorrow. I’d shriek, he thought, when I found out he’d called the police. It’d get pedalled out at dinner parties: the time he lost his head because I fell asleep on a friend’s sofa. Our guests would hoot with laughter and he’d blush good-naturedly, happy as ever to play the bashful fool to my leading lady. I can still picture a future that looks like that.
But he’d rung our friends. Patrick first, of course. They’d known each other since university and Marc always turned to him for advice. His wife Susan picked up, though; Patrick was out. He tried Fran and Ollie, the other staples of our little gang of dinner party couples. Patrick had introduced us all years ago, when he and Fran worked in the same surgery, before Fran “sold out’ and accepted a job in a private clinic. We saw these friends every week, went on holidays with them, looked after their kids when they needed help; they were our York family. Mark also tried my old school friend Philippa, then some of the numbers on the PTA phone tree. Nobody had seen me since our Valentine’s party. Fabulous night. Tell Alex I loved her costume.
Of course, Susan, as soon as I determine she has a pulse, that’ll be the first thing out of my mouth.
It wasn’t Susan’s fault. He shouldn’t have snapped. But trust her to play the optimist, to utterly downplay even the most ridiculous of dramas. He made a note to apologize once this was over.
Despite his panic, he was still thinking in terms of resolution. The very worst things in life, our most fearful nightmares, they don’t happen all at once. They creep up, lodge themselves gradually in our brains, worming their way slowly in so that once they become a reality they are already somewhat familiar. If my husband could have known the extent of the horror still to come he wouldn’t have survived that night. As it was, he held hope like a pebble in his palm.
The kettle finished boiling, but he no longer wanted tea. He wanted his wife to come home and come to bed. He yawned. He’d had to get up early to finish marking. He hadn’t been able to face it last night and the girls had wanted to play board games. I remember I’d sulked because he and Charlotte had formed an alliance, giggling mischievously as they swapped farmers for builders and negotiated defense strategies based on promised hugs and extra marshmallows on hot chocolates. I’d pushed my bottom lip out and batted my eyelashes as if blinking away tears. I remember noticing the new gap in Char’s teeth when she grinned, the scab Lizzie kept scratching on her shin, the hole in the heel of Marc’s sock, the hitch of the curtain where it’d been drawn hastily over the chair, the slight annoying angle of the Paul Nash print on the wall. The girls hadn’t wanted to go to bed, but I’d persuaded them, as I had a thousand times. Then I came back down in Marc’s favorite silk and did the same to him.
He crept upstairs to check on the girls now. Charlotte was sprawled face-down across her bed, the Pixar cover kicked to the floor and a brown bear—Puddles, lost thrice, replaced once, worn from a thousand cuddles—hovering precariously near the edge, ready to topple. Marc stepped quietly inside the room, picked the duvet from the carpet and laid it over our daughter’s body. He moved Puddles to a safer spot by Char’s pillow and touched her dark tangle of hair before retreating to the landing. He stepped along to Lizzie’s room and cracked open the door. Our tightly balled eldest breathed evenly on the top bunk. Her face was turned to him and he opened the door further so the light fell on her features. He watched her eyelids flicker with sleep, her lips move silently. She looked like me. Even though she has Marc’s fair coloring and everyone always said Char was my double, Lizzie his—as if our genes had been neatly split, offering us one daughter each—I could always see myself in Lizzie too. In the roundness of her face and the line of her lips.
Marc closed the door to Lizzie’s room and descended the stairs. What was he supposed to do? He sat down and stood up. Paced from lamp-lit living room to shoe-cluttered hallway, on to Szechuan-smelling kitchen. Tried my mobile once more. He’d called the hospital an hour ago and I hadn’t been admitted. Was it time to ring again? He switched on the TV, but heard it through a tunnel. The only sound he wanted to hear was my key in the lock.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I think the author really took a risk with this story and that's part of the reason I liked it. The themes running throughout the book are definitely thought-provoking. This is a book that is probably best suited for readers who are willing to take a chance on something different. You might not necessarily like the direction the story ends up taking but hopefully you can appreciate the journey to get there. Alexandra Southwood, a wife and mother, has gone missing. What makes this story somewhat unique is how it is told. You get to hear the perspective of Alexandra when she is missing and what she imagines is the reaction of her husband Marc to her disappearance. I will say it did take me awhile to get used to the style of that type of storytelling. But it definitely made it more interesting when added to the flashbacks of the years leading up to the present day as well as Amelia's letters to Alexandra. This is a book that even though it can certainly be classified as a mystery, I think it reads much better as just regular fiction. The more you read, the more you start to get an idea of where the story is heading. I don't consider that a bad thing though because I would much rather read something that explores important topics than a book that might have a few twists and turns but overall the story is meaningless. Overall, this was a book that made me feel uncomfortable at times but in the end it was worth it. I have a feeling I'm going to be thinking about this book for awhile. I love it when a book leaves an impression on you like that. Thank you to Crown Publishing for the free advance copy! I was under no obligation to post a review and all views expressed are my honest opinion.
Alexandra has gone missing! When police investigate they find bloody clothing belonging to her ... but no body. Has she been murdered? Abducted? Her husband, Marc, becomes the prime suspect, but he believes she is out there ...somewhere. This is a really hard book to review. The beginning was like swimming in quicksand. It did pick up speed, but it took a while to get there. It's a convoluted story told in individual chapters by Alexandra and Marc. It's all wrapped up in her art performance ... but what is art and what is the reality? The ending is somewhat of a surprise and it felt a bit rushed to get there. This is the author's debut novel and while it was okay, it didn't come across as thrilling. I found it a bit tedious. Many thanks to Crown Publishing for the advanced paperback copy of this debut novel. Opinions expressed here are unbiased and entirely my own.