It is always tricky to review the book of a friend, even if it is only the friend of a friend of your husband. Which is how I came to read and review the “first” novel by Bridget Asher, the pseudonymous author of My Husband’s Sweethearts. (Who she is in real life does not matter for the purposes of this review.) And so it was with great trepidation that I opened the book and began to read, after first noting that the cover seemed to scream “chick lit,” a genre which I not only do not understand but try to stay away from.
But I was needlessly worried on all counts. The book is good. Very good. And it is not chick lit at all (think instead of the early novels Elizabeth Berg when she was still writing well). It is, I suppose, a book written for women, although I think men might well enjoy it a lot (and get a lot of insight into female thinking from it), but the main thing is that My Husband’s Sweethearts is deftly plotted, extremely witty, in some places laugh-out-loud funny, poignant, well-crafted, and a startlingly compelling read.
One caveat: Do not read the inside book jacket copy. It will give too much of the enjoyable plot twists away (which I promise not to do here) and it is written in cloying prose not deserving of the book itself. In fact, do not ever read the inside book jacket copy of any novel you are reading in hardcover: it is there to sell books to people who have no idea on earth why they are buying the book in the first place and like bad movie previews telegraphs all the good (and bad stuff). You might as well save yourself the price of the book.
My Husband’s Sweethearts is the story of Lucy, a buttoned-down auditor who didn’t always used to be quite so buttoned-downed. Artie, her beloved husband of four years, has been cheating on her with two old sweethearts and one new one, and after leaving him to travel on business for several months, Lucy is going home to face him and figure out if and how she can forgive him. The fly in the ointment is that Artie has developed a sudden and serious heart condition that is, supposedly, killing him. Will it make it easier for her to let her anger go now that he is dying? Is he really going to die? Why did he cheat on her if he professes to love her so? And what is she supposed to do about his infidelity? All these questions are considered, and most importantly, Asher is brave enough to tackle the really tough question of fidelity itself: just how important is it to a marriage?
Artie, eighteen years older than his thirty-something wife, has lived a life rich with women. He has loved a lot. Perhaps too much. But why? And has he been sincere?
We like Artie; he’s a lovable cad, an incurable romantic, a self-made romantic. But he’s also a con artist. As his son, John, says: “Artie’s veneer got him in trouble, actually. He knew how to fake a moment, so he did, again and again, and those moments added up to a life of petty crimes.” Lucy agrees, “Small crimes against the heart,” she says.
As Lucy, her caring but meddlesome mother, and two of Artie’s old sweethearts, set up meetings with the rest of Artie’s coterie, as well as his long lost son John, we are treated to some very wonderful and very telling comments on men, women, love and life. Like this, from Lucy:
This is the problem. I mean, once we started excusing their behavior with that phrase ‘boys will be boys,’ men had no reason to change, to grow, to become something new. Women have continued to evolve, because we’ve had to. Elasticity is the female’s strongest evolutionary trait—it’s why we survive. There was never anything expected of men once someone invited the phrase ‘boys will be boys.’ They could all just be themselves—and their repertoires shrank to burps and groping.”
The group has the idea that, given enough encounters with his old flames, Artie might learn something about himself, he might get to hear his own eulogy, in fact. It might not be all roses, but it will be honest and real. And yet, for all the talk of love and death in My Husband’s Sweethearts, Asher does not once stoop to sloppy sentimentality. If you can tell where the novel might be going at one point, she pulls a feint, and you have to sit back and give her credit. Too, for all the badmouthing of Artie, he comes across as someone deserving of Lucy’s love. And for all the complaints about men in general, they are still in whose arms most women wish to land.Powered by Sidelines