A beloved high-profile husband is rocked by allegations of sexual misconduct.
Phase One is Shock. No, not him. He seems so…nice.
Phase Two is Prurience as we explore the man’s not-so-nice side. The predatory side. The part of him who enlists office staff and security guards to find, contact, and console his conquests. Who carries Quaaludes for women he wants to have sex with. Who uses the remote-control lock on his office door as foreplay.
Phase Three is Betrayal. How could we have let these men onto our televisions, movie screens, newspapers, and voting ballots? Why didn’t someone tell us?
And then, inevitably, our gaze shifts to the wife. She, after all, was the man’s private partner. It follows, of course, that she must have known. What kind of woman puts up with that? What kind of woman makes that bargain?
Back when Bill Cosby was known as a sweater-wearing, Jello-pudding-loving Dad, his wife was known as a respected supporter and editor of African-American arts and literature, and was perceived by many to be a driving force behind both her husband’s career and the couple’s legendary philanthropy. These days, the best version of Camille Cosby’s marriage is that he maintained a remarkably busy schedule bedding drugged-up women while she raised five kids and earned a doctorate. I can only wonder what it was like to be her the morning of her deposition by the lawyer representing her husband’s accusers.
Hillary Clinton was a successful law firm partner, U.S. Senator, Secretary of State, and the first woman to be a major party’s nominee for U.S. President. But when it came time for her to debate her opponent—a man embroiled (then and still) in his own “pussy tape” scandal—she was confronted by her husband’s own accusers, watching her from the audience. By staying with her husband, she had lost the moral right, the argument went, to criticise any man’s sexual misconduct.
Think of any of the celebrity names that have come and gone from the headlines during the #metoo “reckoning.” Then Google the wife, if there is one. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts you’ll find plenty to read. Either she left him or she stayed. She’s absolutely shocked or her worst fears are now confirmed. Total strangers tweet snarky speculation that she’s in it for the money. Or to blame because she’s mental. Or maybe she’s even into it.
THE WIFE is not based on any single wife. It was, however, inspired by a simple observation: When a married man is accused of sexual misconduct, his wife becomes part of the narrative.
I hope readers will find Angela Powell’s role in this particular narrative both surprising and provocative. The headline might be Jason’s scandal, but Angela has some secrets of her own.
The Wife by Alafair Burke is published on February 1, 2018 by Faber & Faber (£12.99)
When Angela met Jason Powell, while catering a function in the Hamptons, she assumed their romance would be a fling. But, Jason, a brilliant economics professor at NYU, had other plans, and they married the following summer. The marriage meant a fresh start, a chance for Angela and her young son to move to Manhattan where no one knew of her tragic past. Six years later, her husband has become a successful and celebrated liberal figurehead, but when a college intern and then another woman come forward with allegations against him, their perfect life begins to unravel. Jason insists he is innocent, but Angela is forced to ask how well she ever really knew her husband, and if she can afford to stand by him and risk her own past being revealed.