I first read Jane Green when I was in my early twenties – back then she was writing the kind of fluffy chick-lit that filled my weekends (those days before children when I’d lie around reading books and pondering where I’d go for breakfast). In many senses, I’ve aged alongside Jane Green. Her books about boyfriends were replaced with stories about weddings and babies and now those have been replaced with books about forty-something-year-old women worrying about both their teenagers and their aging parents.
Green’s latest release is The Accidental Husband (to be titled Family Pictures in the US). It’s the story of two women, Maggie and Sylvie – strangers and living on opposite coasts in the US. However, they have one particular thing in common – their husband (note, that’s not a plural!).
Both women have grown children on the verge of leaving home, both are surrounded by friends and both have beautiful homes and essentially enviable lives. Needless to say that when they discover that the man they have both married, Mark, has been leading a double life, their worlds collapse.
Every so often there is a real-life example of this story in the media. It’s hard not to be fascinated, especially when you start thinking of the logistics of such a situation. I’m always struck by how exhausting it would be to keep up with two families (I’m flat out dealing with one).
Green creates a feasible scenario for Mark, Sylvie and Maggie – a guy running his own business with clients all over the US and two women who were absorbed in their own lives, family issues and friends (much as you would expect of women whose husbands were often away).
Unfortunately, this book missed the mark for me. It lacked the humour of Green’s earlier stories and the characters were predicatable – particularly Maggie, as the self-absorbed, social-climbing Connecticut wife.
I had a major issue with the way that the pivotal point in the plot (when the wives discover Mark’s duplicity) unfolds. Without revealing how it comes about, I simply found it all too coincidental. And really, once that had happened, Green couldn’t win me back.
I also felt the rags-to-riches and riches-to-rags themes too contrived. Add to that some mother issues, father issues, eating disorders, teenage drinking and care of an elderly parent and it all got a bit much (and ultimately fell together a bit too neatly).
Maggie hosts an afternoon tea which she claims to have catered for herself (mostly true). On offer are smoked salmon ribbon sandwiches. Don’t stand me next to a plate of tea sandwiches… I seriously love them. I really love smoked salmon and herbed cream cheese tea sandwiches (although I leave out the onion and garlic – too overpowering against delicate salmon and the zing of fresh herbs).