Book Review — Recipe For a Perfect Wife

Recipe For a Perfect Wife
Karma Brown

I flagged Recipe For a Perfect Wife after a review (or maybe it was a press release) made it out to be a bit of a thriller. While there was murder and mayhem, it was of a more genteel sort, served with tea sandwiches and cake, that was not much of a challenge.

A dual storyline — Nellie in the 1950s and Alice in 2018 — tells of both women’s lives in the same suburban house. Both women have secrets, and are living unhappy lives, making choices mostly to please their respective husbands. Nellie’s mid-century marriage is full of abuse, belittlement, and even rape, while Alice is a modern working gal who has torpedoed her career and agrees to move to the burbs as some form of self-imposed penance.

As Alice discovers more about Nellie’s life, through boxes of old magazines, accessories, and letters, she falls into the role of “happy housewife” even though she is anything but happy. As she discovers Nellie’s secret (which a sharp reader will likely figure out early in the book — Brown is not especially subtle with her foreshadowing), she has to come to terms with the lies and discrepancies in her own marriage.

Interspersed with quotes from those old “How to Keep Your Wife in Line” manuals, as well as a selection of mid-century recipes, Recipe For a Perfect Wife deserves to be sharper than it is. The character of Alice is just not that likeable. Brown has her doing stupid things just to further the plot, with no logic behind her motives. Nellie is easier to sympathize with, her actions and choices make more sense within the larger picture and the mores of the era, but the big scandalizing plot twist was a let-down. I stuck with the book because I wanted to see how Brown was going to approach Nellie’s story in relation to Alice discovering her secret — at a couple of points the author alludes to Nellie haunting the house in some way and the expectation of the work being a thriller had me hoping for a bit more action, possibly of a paranormal variety.

Not as smart, witty or thrilling as what I was expecting, but a passable way to spend an afternoon. This would make a fine summer read if anybody were going to the beach anytime soon.