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Originally published Sunday, June 30, 2013 at 5:00 AM

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‘The Silent Wife’: after infidelity, slow-burning revenge

A.S.A. Harrison’s haunting novel “The Silent wife” is a mystery with a chill at its core, as a Chicago couple grapples with the consequences of the man’s infidelity.

Special to The Seattle Times

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‘The Silent Wife’

by A.S.A. Harrison

Penguin Books, 326 pp., $16

In real life, a marriage grown toxic is terribly sad; in literature, it can be delicious. Consider Gillian Flynn’s wickedly twisted “Gone Girl,” a fictional apple pie full of thorns — which still resides on the hardcover best-seller list, a year after its release. “Gone Girl” is prominently cited on the cover copy for A.S.A. Harrison’s “The Silent Wife,” which covers some similar territory: a marriage gone terribly wrong; a narration, in alternating chapters, by both he and she; an unshakable, unnerving chill at the bone.

Chicago in autumn is the setting for “The Silent Wife,” in which we meet Todd and Jodi, a couple in their mid-40s living in splendor in an elegant waterfront high-rise. Things seem a little off from the beginning, and soon we learn why: Todd, though after 20 years he’s never met a woman with “half of Jodi’s class,” is cheating on Jodi with a woman less than half his age — his best friend’s daughter, to boot. Quickly, the younger woman gets pregnant; quickly, Jodi finds out, the news “thrashing around inside her like a trapped bird.” But the ice-cool Jodi, a psychotherapist and outward perfectionist, isn’t one to panic; instead, she’s bent on revenge.

This is Harrison’s first and, sadly, last novel (a former art critic and author of nonfiction books, she died earlier this year), and it isn’t flawless: Many of the supporting characters, particularly Todd’s paramour, feel like types, and the book occasionally gets stuck in a bog of psychotherapy. But Jodi’s refusal to tell Todd that she knows about the affair (he thinks she knows, but lets himself hope maybe she doesn’t) is diabolically sly. And there’s something haunting about a recurring nightmare of Todd’s, in which he’s running on a gym treadmill and suddenly the treadmill is gone. On he runs, arms frantically whirling, knowing that “it’s only a matter of time before he drops like a stone.”

Moira Macdonald is the movie critic for The Seattle Times.

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