Here’s the quick summary of The Better Sister: Chloe Taylor thinks she has it all—a handsome husband (Adam), thoughtful stepson (Ethan), and thriving career (author, editor, budding cultural icon)—until she finds Adam murdered at their East Hampton beach house. Things manage to get even more complicated when police focus their suspicions on Ethan and his biological mother comes to town to try to help.
An added wrinkle? Ethan's mother (and Adam's ex-wife) is Chloe's estranged older sister, Nicky.
Even that brief synopsis makes it clear that the book will delve into the fine line between sisterly loyalty and rivalry. But I view The Better Sister as the third book in a thematic trilogy, following The Ex and The Wife, that explores the complexity of female relationships and the diverse roles that women play in contemporary society. As we juggle busy lives, we often show different faces to our spouses, exes, children, parents, siblings, and co-workers, all while trying to know and be true to ourselves.
Chloe and Nicky know each other only as siblings. Adam knew them both as wives. To teenaged Ethan, Chloe and Nicky are each a different type of mother to him. And both women have independent existences where they can live without familial obligation. It’s in that independent realm where the women of this trilogy of books have, I hope, provoked some thoughts about the often gendered nature of threats, abuse, and violence in our culture.
In The Ex, an accomplished criminal defense lawyer steps in to defend her ex after he’s accused of a mass shooting. The Wife is about Angela Powell, who’s dragged into the spotlight after her high-profile husband is accused of sexual assault, but has a survival story of her own. In The Better Sister, Chloe Taylor is a target for online threats and harassment because of her journalistic work related to the #MeToo movement.
Each book in the trilogy shows smart, capable women searching for every ounce of fortitude to make their own mark on the world while also living up to obligations that fall to them in their status roles—as an ex, a wife, a mother, or a sister. Sometimes that work requires redefining what it means to be “better.”
The Better Sister by Alafair Burke is published by Faber & Faber in April (£12.99)