'Pretend Wife' is easy but predictable read

June 8, 2009 8:19:12 AM PDT
Gwen Merchant believes she has the perfect marriage. She's even a bit smug about it until her college sweetheart walks up behind her in an ice-cream shop and orders two scoops of her.

Suddenly, Gwen is wondering what her life would have been like if she hadn't refused to answer Elliot Hull's calls after a fight over something she can't even remember.

She finds out when her husband, Peter, volunteers her to pretend to be Elliot's wife to satisfy Elliot's mother's dying wish.

Bridget Asher's second novel draws on the same kind of everywoman's daydreams that made her first, "My Husband's Sweethearts," a success. How many women in secure but dull relationships have wondered what it would have been like with the one that got away?

After a weekend with Elliot and his lovably wacky family, Gwen is convinced she still loves him. But the problem with Asher's novel is not that it asks the reader to buy into a Hollywood-style version of true love and believe a monthlong fling in college could trump a years-long marriage.

The problem is that Asher foreshadows so much that the story is predictable. There's no surprise when Gwen and Elliot declare their love again, when she learns her husband is having an affair with her best friend (because otherwise, Gwen would be the guilty one) or when she leaves her marriage.

Asher's first novel, "My Husband's Sweethearts," had an unusual take on death and infidelity, but her follow-up has none of that freshness and a subplot dealing with Gwen's grief over her mother's death feels forced. In short, "The Pretend Wife" feels a little too out of touch with the reality of marriage.

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