18 June 2013

Review: The Last Original Wife by Dorothea Benton Frank

Last week I teased you with the opening lines of Dorothea Benton Frank's just-released novel, The Last Original Wife. I had barely started the book when I wrote that post, but I've already finished reading. Once I got to know the characters, I was dying to find out how the story would end.

Leslie Anne Greene Carter has been married to Wesley for several decades, one of the only solid marriages in their social circle. In fact, all of Wes's closest friends are currently married to much, much younger women. Lately, Les has become uninterested in socializing because she has nothing in common with the trophy wives, who are almost young enough to be her daughters. After a series of events leave Les frustrated and angry, she packs her bags and leaves town to visit her brother, hoping some distance will help her sort out her feelings.

The Last Original Wife is told in alternating points of view, so we hear both Leslie's take on her marriage and Wesley's. Frank's fabulous sense of humor is seen especially in Wes's sections. Although he's a bit of a selfish jerk, you cannot help but laugh at his justifications and his total cluelessness when it comes to his wife and all the things she has done to make their life pleasant. Once he's in charge of himself, he very quickly develops a strong appreciation for Les and begins to see their grown children without his rose-colored glasses.

Owing to the circumstances in which she got married (she was pregnant) and thanks to the expectations of her generation, Les has always put herself last. She takes care of the house, the kids, the grandchild, and her husband, which doesn't leave much time for her to pursue her own interests. Even worse, she has given up things she used love (classical music, for example) in deference to Wes. Once she leaves Atlanta for Charleston, she gets a taste of what life could be like on her own.

The big question Frank asks in The Last Original Wife is not whether the Carters' marriage can be saved but whether it should be saved. It's not completely clear how the book will end because there are complicating factors and the two still care for each other. Although Frank includes the serious themes of marriage, parenthood, lost youth, and fidelity, she provides lots of comic relief.

I love the combination of light, fun reading mixed with enough issues to make me think. I also like books that star smart, strong, slightly older women who are still looking to the future. Baby boomers are hardly ready to throw in the towel, and it's refreshing to see like-minded protagonists in contemporary novels.

No matter your age or marital situation, be sure to put a copy of Dorothea Benton Frank's The Last Original Wife in your beach bag this summer. It's a great choice for a weekend escape.

Published by HarperCollins/William Morrow, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780062132468

Rating: B
Source: review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).


Mary (Bookfan) 6/18/13, 7:09 AM  

I'm trying to decide if I should read or listen. Either way, I can't wait to start :)

bermudaonion 6/18/13, 10:51 AM  

I just finished this last night and really enjoyed it. Dottie writes the same way she speaks and it's loads of fun!

caite 6/18/13, 11:41 AM  

Oddly I have read none of her books..this actually sounds interesting.

rhapsodyinbooks 6/18/13, 12:23 PM  

I always have problems with books that have unlikeable characters, which is absurd (of me), I know!

Kim 6/18/13, 4:39 PM  

This book sounds fascinating! I also like books with more mature women as the main character--I am going to check this one out, pronto! Its sounds perfect for a summer read...

trish 6/19/13, 6:02 PM  

Wes sounds hilarious! I think I'd like to read the book for him alone, though I love the exploration of marriage and the future and staying true to yourself and how that can work together or not. Sounds like a fabulous book.

I'm so glad you had a chance to participate in the readalong!

Daryl 6/20/13, 10:24 AM  

i skimmed the review in the NYTimes last weekend . now i am thinking i might need to read this, thanks!

Booksnyc 6/20/13, 4:57 PM  

I really enjoyed this too. She even managed to humanize Wes a bit which was no easy task!

Julie P. 6/24/13, 3:42 PM  

I think I enjoyed this one even more after listing to Ms. Frank talk about her "real life" stories.

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