“Don’t you just love an organized cIoset?”
In Chandler Baker’s domestic thriller, The Husbands, Nora Spangler is a personal injury lawyer who puts in extra hours every chance she gets. She’s been long enough at the same firm to expect to be made partner, but her personal life often strains her professional commitments. She has one child, 4 year-old Liv, and is pregnant with a second. She’s the one who buys the groceries, goes to pediatric appointments, does 99% of the housework, and bathes and puts her toddler to bed, yet she still feels as though she’s a failure as a mother. Her husband, software salesman, Hayden, always says he will help, but somehow he always manages to disappear whenever he’s needed. Here she is juggling laundry, work, and a demanding toddler–all on a Sunday afternoon:
“Hayden!” she shouts, barely clinging to a note of self-control. “Hay-den!” She leans deep into the two syllables. She can’t help it. Her husband appears from the garage, tilting his head to remove his Airpods. “Where were you?” She sounds like a detective trying to intimidate a suspect into providing his alibi. She hates herself a little for it.
“Sorry.” He pours himself a glass of water, and a stream of it drips onto the front of the refrigerator where it will leave marks on the stainless steel and a puddle on the floor. “I was just working out. I had my headphones in. Did you need me?” He takes in her face. “What’s wrong?”
The thing with Hayden, is that he never refuses to help. He tells Nora that he’s happy to pitch in–“just tell me what to do” is a familiar refrain, but this puts Nora in the position of hunting Hayden down and telling him what needs to be done when more often than not, it’s pretty friggin’ obvious. No wonder Nora is worn out, frustrated and fed up by the sheer inequity of labour at home.
House-hunting for a one-storey home, Nora and Hayden take a look at a suburb called Dynasty Ranch. It’s full of successful, powerful women who are completely and utterly supported by their husbands. One of the women asks Nora to represent neighbour, author Penny, in a wrongful-death suit involving the death of her husband in a Dynasty Ranch home fire. At first, Nora declines the case but under pressure at work to beef up her numbers, she changes her mind.
Dynasty Ranch has a HOA and any new buyer must have a sponsor. After a get-to-know-you dinner party, Hayden is not so keen to move in–he finds he has little in common with the husbands who don’t use the golf course but instead ooze enthusiasm when discussing various ways to remove stains from clothing and the joys of closet organization. While the Spanglers can’t come to a decision on the purchase of the Dynasty Ranch house, thanks to the Penny’s case, Nora still has frequent contact with a handful of the resident wives. During a party, there’s a horrible scene between Hayden and Nora. Dynasty Ranch resident, psychiatrist Cornelia White suggests couples therapy, and so the games begin….
The Husbands is an entertaining read. Just what is afoot in Dynasty Ranch is the book’s big mystery, but another, subtler question concerns Hayden. Is he really clueless when it comes to recognizing how to help Nora? Or has he learned clever avoidance techniques which allow him to hold on to the label of ‘modern’ husband who is always there to help when the reality is that he’s just as hands-off childcare/housework as a 50s spouse? I know where my opinion lands, but Nora is still undecided and that’s where a lot of her problems lie. She feels that she’s nagging Hayden when she must repeatedly ask him for the most basic help, and since he’s so agreeable and reasonable about helping, she can’t quite pinpoint who is at fault here.
Loved the scene where Hayden sends Nora a video of Liv having a temper tantrum and demands that Nora leave work to come and deal with it as it’s “not normal.” One of Nora’s workmates identifies Hayden as the “lazy traveler” in the marriage, and the description rings true.
The lazy traveler. It’s a theory about couples. Two people are travelling together and no matter what their two individual personality types might be, one person will start doing, right? That person starts figuring out which way to the metro, what the day’s itinerary is, how to exchange currency. All that stuff and the other one, they sit back.
The demands of Nora’s life seem all too real–we may ask why they don’t hire a nanny–although there’s mention of difficulties getting childcare. The book addresses the dilemma faced by career women who’ve been told they can have it all. But all too often it means doing it all as well:
Part of her wants to murder feminism herself. Somebody please hand her the knife and Nora will be happy to stab that saucy bitch right in the back. The traitor.
This book was great fun, and I enjoyed it more than I expected to. I read a lot of reviews that the book is man bashing. It’s a story. It’s fiction, I’ve seen husband-father disconnect “just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it” umpteen times in virtuoso performances by men who can’t ‘get’ that they too can pick up dirty clothes etc. Learned uselessness. Plus I’ve seen other husbands pitch in. This is a story about husbands of professional women who don’t pitch in (or don’t pitch in enough) and how far a group of women are prepared to go to have ‘perfect’ supportive spouses. This tale has a great dark, twisty ending.
I listened to the audio version of this book. It was beautifully read by Allyson Ryan.