The Good Wife: A Novel
Paperback – 320 pages
A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year
On a clear winter night in upstate New York, two young men break in to a house they believe is empty. It isn't, and within minutes an old woman is dead and the house is in flames. Soon after, the men are caught by the police. Across the county, a phone rings in a darkened bedroom, waking a pregnant woman. It's her husband. He wants her to know that he and his friend have gotten themselves into a little trouble. So Patty Dickerson's old life ends and a strange new one begins.
At once a love story and a portrait of a woman discovering her own strength, The Good Wife follows Patty through the twenty-eight years of her husband's incarceration, as she raises their son, navigates a system that has no place for her, and braves the scorn of her community. Compassionate and unflinching, The Good Wife illuminates a marriage and a family tested to the limits of endurance.
"A moving, lyrical, assured piece of work . . . This is a quiet novel, written in a nearly adjective-free, spare, strong style. Yet the depth of feeling comes through in the plainness of the words . . . A fine and finely wrought fiction."Diane Roberts, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"Grabs the reader immediately and refuses to let go. O'Nan has a gut understanding of the way ordinary people think and act in the most mundane and most extraordinary circumstances, and his sure command of dialogue strengthens that realism . . . This is a story of love and loyalty, duty and determination, beautifully told."Carole Goldberg, The News & Observer (Raleigh)
"This engrossing and heartbreaking novelO'Nan's follow-up to his nonfiction baseball memoir, Faithfulrecounts the plight of Patty and Tommy Dickerson, a young married couple expecting their first child. One winter night, Tommy and a friend are arrested and accused of murdering an elderly woman during a bungled burglary; Tommy ends up in prison for 28 years, and Patty decides to stand by him throughout his sentence. The readeralong with many of Patty's family memberswants Patty to leave Tommy and get on with her life. Yet she visits him faithfully, learning the intricacies of prison visits and traveling long and then even longer distances as Tommy is transferred seemingly arbitrarily. All the while, she struggles to earn a living and raise their son. O'Nan has been named one of the best young American novelists by Granta, and it's evident here why. Highly recommended."Library Journal
"The versatile, accomplished O'Nan follows up the ghostly doings of The Night Country with a quiet, realistic portrait of a woman waitingfor 28 yearsfor her husband to get out of jail. Patty is 27 and pregnant when she learns that husband Tommy and his buddy Gary have committed a string of burglaries and are now being charged with murder after an old woman dies during their latest break-in. With seasoned skill, O'Nan spends the first third of the story (through the trial) delineating Patty's situation. Relations are tense with her widowed mother, who has always disapproved of Tommy, and with older sister Shannon, who boasts a more affluent husband and lifestyle. Younger sister Eileen, her closest family ally, is broke, blue-collar, and a little raffish, like Patty and Tommy. In the trial, Gary turns state's witness, Tommy gets 25 to life, and Patty is left to raise baby Casey as a single mother with few job skills. The subsequent scenes episodically sketch her life, front-loaded toward the early years of Tommy's incarceration. Patty learns to cope with the monolithic prison system, at best indifferent to and often actively abusive of the convicts' families. O'Nan focuses on Patty's struggles and growth as she reluctantly moves in with her mother, endures a series of grinding, poorly paid jobs, and sees the scars Tommy's absence inflicts on their slightly aloof son, who nonetheless matures into a decent, responsible young man. The deliberately low-key narrative has few dramatic eventsTommy's abrupt transfer to a more distant prison is the most jarringand even fewer discussions of people's feelings. Patty simply lives her commitment to her marriage every day for 28 years, and we believe in it because we believe in the fully dimensional, ordinary but extraordinary character O'Nan has created. She deserves her (qualified) happy ending, long though it is in coming. Another fine effort from a writer who in ten years has crafted nine novels dramatically different in tone and content but impressively consistent in their moral seriousness and artistic conviction."Kirkus Reviews
Patty Dickerson, the resilient heroine of O'Nan's forceful, oddly moving ninth novel, is pregnant with her first child and waiting for her husband, Tommy, on a snowy night in the mid-1970s, when the phone rings. It's Tommy, and he's in jail after a robbery. He's been a thief for some time, a fact Patty has refused to acknowledge. Unfortunately, Tommy's latest escapade involves arson and death. Convicted of murder in the second degree, he receives a sentence of 25 years to life. The main story is Patty's, told in the present tense in quietly lyrical and observant prose: the struggle to make ends meet in an economically depressed upstate New York community, the shame of her son's father being in prison, the frustrating and humiliating treatment the penal system inflicts on prisoners and family alike. In a sense, Patty's life is on semipermanent hold over the 28 years Tommy spends in a correctional facility, but of course it isn't really: her son grows up, she visits her husband as often as she can, she works, mostly at dead-end jobs, and eventually she creates a career for herself. In other words, she makes a life that's both with and without her love. O'Nan (The Night Country) has completely captured Patty Dickerson and her dogged determination to endure in this sad but strangely hopeful story.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)