Melodramatic debut by publishing exec Collinsworth chronicles the 15-year chain of events that prompt a desperate wife to attack her conniving, alcoholic husband.
The author works backward, beginning with Isabel Simpson’s confession to a New York City psychiatrist she has only just met that she has tried to kill her husband but “couldn’t recall why.” Her portentous narrative gradually unlocks her memory of the act. Collinsworth begins each chapter with a succinct and breathy thematic statement, such as, “Background is a poor substitute for character but shouldn’t be completely ignored because, inevitably, it explains a thing or two.” We learn that Isabel and her brother were neglected as children before their mother was sent to a mental hospital. Isabel works her way up by her wits to lead a successful New York publishing house, Priam Books. When she tries to court a difficult, talented journalist, James Willoughby, for a book deal, he’s at first impossibly chauvinistic and rude. But James recognizes he has met his intellectual match in Isabel, and their brief, explosive affair leads to marriage and exotic travel. The revelation that Isabel’s maternal grandfather was Jewish scandalizes the WASPy Virginia Willoughbys and inserts the first soupçon of mistrust between the newly married couple. Over the years, James drinks hard and relies on Isabel’s earnings to sustain their fabulous lifestyle; he feels emasculated and increasingly devalued despite the couple’s shared love for their only son, Burgo. When James uses now-teenaged Burgo to expose the sham of their marriage, Isabel in a moment of sudden rage smashes her husband’s skull with an umbrella, then pushes him into ongoing Paris traffic. James survives leaves her for a rich, spoiled heiress who will thereafter keep him royally. The author writes briskly, dashing off detail and dialogue to no better result than a hysterical and slapdash tone.
She just can’t quite decide whether it’s literary fiction or throwaway entertainment.