Haywood Smith is one of my favorite writers and so I was very happy to find she had a new book out. I found the title, Wife-in-Law, alone to be funny and intriguing at the same time. Could the book live up to my hopes from this delightful title?
In almost all ways it did. Wife-in-Law is a wonderful story about the friendship between two women, Betsy and Kat, over a 35-year timespan. The book is about a lot more than that, though. It is also a book about family, raising kids, mental illness, and many other themes as well. The characters are completely delightful. Betsy and Kat couldn't be more opposite if they tried, but they became and remained good friends--even though one of them, and I'm not saying which so as not to spoil the fun, becomes the wife of her best friend's former husband. I loved the women and their families and found the story to be heartwarming and funny.
The book is a little choppy, especially in the beginning, as it goes back and forth in time, but because the times being written about are so clearly done, I didn't find it hard to read, but I did find that a bit distracting. I believe that Smith evokes the true South as well as any writer out there. This book really starts in the 70s and I found it very true to place and customs at that time especially--anybody else ou there remember that horrible book Total Woman??? Doesn't just the mention take you back to the 70s? However, there are places in the book where technology appears when it really shouldn't or appears earlier than it was available and that was also a tad distracting to me. Still, the overall story does not suffer from these lapses, at least for me. It is a truly easy, quick, very funny read.
Religion also plays another big role in the book. Smith doesn't beat readers over the head with it. In fact, since I am from the South, I found the way religion is dealt with in the book is totally realistic. People tend to speak of God in one breath while dissing their neighbor in another down here and so the way the characters offer up quick prayers and speak of God is truly true to places here in the Bible Belt. The truth is if I hadn't read the acknowledgements at the end of the book, I would have simply chalked up the religious elements as being a way to be true to the the characters and setting, not category Christian fiction. I don't think the way religion is used/portrayed in Wife-in-Law would keep anyone who isn't a fan of Christian fiction from enjoying the book, because, folks, this is the way people really are, speak and act down here, so it really isn't off-putting. Smith certainly does not try to convert anybody!
My one complaint, and it's a personal pet peeve, so take it for what it is, but I hate the way Smith uses dialect in the book. I know that she does it to both stay true to place and also to draw a distinction between Betsy and Kat, but reading "git" and "yerself" and similar words and phrases grated on my last nerve. I simply think that authors have other ways of rendering dialect so that it's not so obvious and grating.
Overall, even with a few distractions and small complaints, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I love books about friendship between women and Smith's characters are always a delight to me. The characters in this book are people I grew up with and know well. Very uplifting and heartwarming, the perfect read anytime you need a good dose of humor and friendship. I'm already looking forward to Smith's next book!
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