A Review of ‘Dear Wife’ by Kimberly Belle
Kimberly Belle’s dark page-turner highlights the nightmare of domestic violence.
Based on the premise alone, it’s almost inevitable that some comparison is going to be drawn between Dear Wife and Gone Girl. One of Dear Wife’s three narrators is a woman—alias Beth—on the run from an abusive marriage, and readers are not entirely sure just who she is until the last page of the novel. Beth’s reliability as a narrator is also called into question as she attempts to embody her new persona, which requires her to actively erase her harrowing past. Dear Wife, however, does not try to surprise readers with a shocking conspiracy by a con artist in the final chapters. It instead addresses a reality that is all too common for women around the world: domestic violence.
The other two narrators of the novel are men. The first, Jeffrey, is the husband of a missing woman named Sabine. Entirely unlikeable and sexist in his inner dialogue, Jeffrey values women solely on their appearance, calling an attractive friend of his a “spectacular revenge fuck” and referring to Sabine’s own sister as an “angry ogre.” The final narrator is a detective named Marcus, assigned to the case of missing Sabine. Despite acting as the book’s do-gooder protagonist, Marcus has a shadowy past of his own.
While Belle has woven an intricate, thrilling plot, Dear Wife’s true authority and gravity come into play during moments of reflection. After Beth runs away from her small-town Arkansas home to Atlanta, she notes that “Atlanta has an astonishing lack of beds for abused or homeless women, of which I am both.” Marginalized groups of women (particularly immigrants, sex workers and impoverished women) are not given the resources and opportunities they need, at every turn in the novel. Belle expertly highlights the injustices the most vulnerable populations face—and the strength required of these women to simply survive.
Equally powerful are Beth’s brief flashbacks to her domestic abuse. Her unnamed husband beats her physically and taunts her with his words. He places the blame on Beth, using the classic language of abusers: “’I don’t want to do these things … It must be you. You are the one who brings this out in me. I wouldn’t be like this if you were a different woman.’”
Dear Wife is both a call to action and a sobering portrait of what domestic abuse looks like, as well as its consequences. Beth could very well be any woman we know, and that fact makes this novel all the more relevant and terrifying.
Dear Wife is one of our 2019 summer reads. View our entire Summer Reading List here.