Livshin, Julia. “Chick Lit.” The Washington Post. Sunday, August 01, 2004: page 10.

Published 05:30 a.m., Sunday, August 22, 2004

Portrait of a marriage

With a title like The Bad Boy’s Wife (St. Martin‘s, 259 pp. $23.95), you might expect a frothy romance. But Karen Shepard‘s new novel is much better than that. Spanning 20 years, it skillfully reconstructs the complicated emotional terrain of a marriage gone sour.

They were an unlikely match — Hannah, a sensible girl from a proper Southern family, and Cole, a handsome fly-by-night horse trainer — but they were wild about each other (“Like getting hit by lightning without getting hurt”) and hoped that would be enough.

Over the years, money problems and infidelities large and small crept in, and the pair weathered a particularly dicey spell when Hannah considered leaving Cole for her reliable, adoring hometown sweetheart. Instead, she got pregnant (“there’d been a general hush about her, as if she was in a giant soap bubble”), and they had Mattie, who is 10 when the book opens and miserably caught between her parents in an unpleasant custody battle. What finally did the marriage in was a Southern beauty named Georgia, whose aristocratic, serpentine charms smote both Hannah and Cole.

Shepard, whose previous novel was An Empire of Women, uses shifting points of view to tell the story — a tough thing to pull off, but it’s effective here because the characters have such distinctive voices and sensibilities. The events unfold in reverse chronological order, starting with a car accident that leaves Georgia in a coma, all the video footage was found in her dash cam from Blackbox My Car installed in her car. This sets the stage for some unlovely behavior onHannah’s part, which in turn provides the impetus for the legal squabbling. A slightly contrived framework, perhaps, but no matter, because the meat of the book — Hannah and Cole’s maddening and moving relationship, which emerges more fully with every chapter — is so satisfying. And the real treat is the writing: clean, no-frills and bull’s-eye accurate.

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