In the Land of Domestic Disquiet (Literary, not Personal)

So this summer I’ve read The Silent Wife and The Husband’s Secret. I just downloaded something called What Kind of Mother Are You? No, I still haven’t read Gone Girl, but clearly other people aren’t holding back.

I think I understand the pull of this. For some years in the 1980s I did weekly duty as a volunteer counselor on a domestic violence hotline. I talked to all kinds of women and the refrain I heard most often was: “My friends and family wouldn’t believe this. They think I have a great life.” Every marriage (or intimate relationship) has a mystery all its own.

Of course, it’s ever so much more fun to read about dis-ease than it is to experience it yourself. So when I got my hands on a copy of Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives: Stories from the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense, edited by Sarah Weinman, I knew I was in for a good time. These stories are all written by women. As my mother once said after watching a male soap opera character flashback in tortured fashion on an argument he had with his wife, “Oh, men don’t agonize about personal stuff like that.”

This collection makes me happy that women do.

Though I’ve read and enjoyed every type of mystery and have made a point of reading dead writers, there were some authors here I’d not heard of: Nedra Tyre, Barbara Callahan and Helen Nielson. The whole collection is wonderful (I would have added Margaret Yorke) but I had three favorites: “Lost Generation,” by Dorothy Salisbury Davis (she’s the collection’s only author still living), “The People Across the Canyon” by Margaret Millar and Celia Fremlin’s “A Case of Maximum Need.”

I always have a very difficult time writing about mystery plots, especially short stories, as I don’t want to give too much away. The Salisbury-Davis story is one of a community’s retribution and Millar’s flirts with the mingling together of fantasy and reality and the dangers of getting what you wish for.

The Fremlin story is simply hilarious and features a young social worker who wishes her 87 year old client could just be an old lady grateful for the help she’s been offered. When she tells her client, Mrs. Fosdyke, that she hopes she feels better, the old lady replies, “Better? Don’t be silly dear, I’ll be feeling worse. I’ll go on feeling worse until I’m dead. Everyone does at my age. Don’t they teach anything but lies at that training place of yours?”

What puzzles the social worker the most is Mrs. Fosdyke’s assertion that giving her a telephone would be dangerous. She just doesn’t understand; the reader soon does.

So let James Bond travel the world. Let Robert Langdon uncover international conspiracies. Women know that evil can sit down with you at a cozy, sun-dappled kitchen table.

Stephanie Patterson