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  • kjoannerixon

The Mere Wife

For a person who just started a book blog I’m really very squeamish about criticizing books. I know firsthand all the blood, tears, and pieces of your soul that go into the crafting of a novel, and I know that I take criticism of my work much more personally than I’m supposed to. We writers are always telling each other that critique of the work isn’t critique of you--but if you put your heart into something, I feel like it kind of is.

So, The Mere Wife. I wanted to like it a lot more than I did. I love the concept and even the title (I do love a clever pun!), and I think the book is really ambitious, which I admire. There must be readers for whom this book feels capital-G Great, and I’m sure there will be fans out there that put this on their list of All-Time Favorites and never take it off.


The first time I winced was on page one, which is unfortunate because I think a lot of irritation that I might not have otherwise felt carried over to everything else. This is a book that is About War and About Warriors, but it’s written by a person who has never served in the military or lived through war, specifically not since 2001, and it’s really really obvious. (If what you want is a book that delivers the authentic American-soldier-in-Iraq experience, instead you should read Cherry by Nico Walker.)

My second major complaint is about how Headley tries to use Gren and people’s fear of him to make a point about fear and racism in America. There are obvious references to race and the ‘monsterization’ of black boys, including several lines from the point of view of a violent police officer that are clear references to what Darren Wilson and others have said about how frightened they were of the black boys they shot and killed. Here’s the thing, though: it’s evil to treat black boys like they're monsters because they’re not monsters. They’re human children. If you replace them in a narrative with actual supernatural creatures with claws and fur, that changes the moral calculus entirely.

In Headley’s defense, she’s far from the only writer to make this mistake, and by the end of the book I wasn’t sure anymore what Gren looked like or whether his father was a supernatural creature, so I did start to entertain the possibility that Gren was actually just a human child, either black or indigenous. (Headley's prose is sometimes, like, literary rather than clear or specific. Which I'm not actually complaining about.) If that’s true, other parts of the narrative totally break down—but those parts relate to how the military functions and Headley seems to have no experience with that, so.


This book wasn’t for me, but you might like it. If you’ve read it and had a more positive impression, let me know, maybe I’m wrong about it.

n.b. Library. I've never met Headley but I should admit that I'm vaguely jealous of her recent success. Maybe this is all sour grapes?


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