The Secret Lives of Married Women is essentially two novellas stitched together, telling the stories of two married women – sisters and identical twins – and as the title suggests the secrets they hide.
Of the two novellas, the first is the more traditional in terms of the crime element. Leda, the outgoing twin with past aspirations of being an actress, believes she’s being stalked by her next door neighbour. She tells her husband. Next door neighbour disappears. Leda thinks her husband – who may or may not be linked to the Russian mafia – might have killed the stalker. Leda finds the idea that her husband might be a killer – a husband who she’s not convinced she loves anymore – sexually exciting. And yes things do get a bit hot and sweaty.
The second novella is light on when it comes to crime. For the most part it’s a legal drama, with Lilly – the second sister, a lawyer and more repressed of the two – defending a blind businessman from charges of corruption. The wrinkle to the case, apart from the businessman being blind, is his personal assistant who once worked as a submissive in an S&M club. Repressed Lilly finds the submissive PA a fascinating proposition.
I know I sound like a prude when I say that in-spite of the subject matter neither story is tawdry or sordid. Wald expertly juggles the tension and eroticism with some strong character work. The repressed lawyer and bored housewife scream cliche, and yet Wald avoids this by digging deep into their past and exploring their motives and instinctual reactions.
From a feminist and gender side of the coin, these are two women – empowered in different ways – who uncover a part of themselves that’s lain dormant. And it’s more than just a desire for rough sex. It’s an understanding of their role as sister, wife and mother.
Secret Lives is a compelling read. I’ll be searching out for more work by Wald.