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An Inconvenient Wife    by Megan Chance order for
Inconvenient Wife
by Megan Chance
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2004 (2004)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Megan Chance gives us a psychological historical, somewhat on the noir side. An Inconvenient Wife caught my interest, despite an initial resistance to the subject matter. It's a tale of passion, abuse, survival, and how love changes to other emotions under extreme stress. The story is set in late 1800s New York.

The protagonist is a highly strung lady whose natural circle is the uppermost tier of New York society. Lucy Carelton, descended from the Knickerbockers, married (beneath her) her father's stockbroker William Carelton, a man with high social ambitions. He put her on a pedestal long before they wed, and firmly resists any hint of her stirring from that position. Lucy has always had an artistic bent, which her father, and now her husband, have firmly forbidden as inappropriate to her position. From a modern perspective, she is repressed in every way, especially in her sexuality. As someone says to Lucy about her relationship with her husband, 'A man worships angels, he does not screw one.'

Lucy's frustrations have manifested in nervousness, odd fits, and behaviors that embarrass both husband and friends. William has taken her to a series of doctors who have subjected her to all kinds of distasteful treatments, though he has held back from surgery ('an ovariotomy') or a recommended stay in a private asylum. He'll do anything to make this inconvenient wife his vision of the perfect one. They're introduced to Dr. Victor Seth, a neurologist who uses hypnosis as one of his tools. Initially seeing Lucy as a typically neurotic high society parasite, his view of her evolves. She soon becomes his perfect experimental subject. But Victor is conflicted by his own attraction to Eve (as he begins to call his new creation), and her obvious feelings for him. He begins to be 'consumed by her'.

The problem becomes that though Lucy's new self is very much what the doctor ordered (through hypnotic suggestion), this more assertive, more sexually oriented wife is not at all what William wants. And he takes draconian action to fix his frail, treasured spouse. A series of horrific events ensues, with outcomes that leave the reader wondering about how much Lucy has been influenced by hypnosis, by passion, and by her liberation from a life of constriction and expectations. Though it's all very disturbing, you have to enjoy the fact that the 'inconvenient wife' begins to deal very effectively with all the inconveniences in her own life. I recommend this fascinating novel as one that will generate all kinds of ideas and arguments in reading groups.

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