THE GLASS WIVES by Amy Sue Nathan
Women’s Fiction meets The Godfather.
The statement is odd and the farthest thing from what I expected to write, but the more I thought about Amy Sue Nathan’s debut novel the more the comparison made sense.
The novel opens during the shiva for Richard Glass. Richard’s death brings his ex-wife Evie and his second wife Nicole together. Death and family are the backbone of Mario Puzo’s novel and screenplays. A lot of books also share these elements, but it’s the way Nathan takes these simple ingredients and intertwines them around the characters that allow Puzo’s lessons to resonate in a fresh way.
I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.
Every novel needs a situation that forces the protagonist to act. The more her actions run outside of her comfort zone, the more conflicted the character and readers are riveted. Nathan wastes no time in placing Evie in such a predicament. Richard’s death leaves her children emotionally lost, which is enough stress for any mother. Couple that with the loss of child support and our protagonist is in a pickle. If Evie doesn’t find a way to make ends meet, she’ll be forced to move and her children’s world will be shattered a third time. Enter Nicole with baby Luca; she wants a family, Evie needs money. Nicole’s offer to pay room and board is an offer Evie can’t refuse. Living with the other woman leads us to another lesson from The Godfather.
Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer.
Nathan’s choice to thrust enemies into a shared living arrangement is brilliant. It’s true that Evie and her friend Laney often jump to stereotypical assumptions about Nicole, a natural defense when people are vulnerable and want to feel safe. But the close proximity of Evie and Nicole with baby Luca allows Evie to examine a different side of Nicole, a kinder side—the side her friend Beth insists on promoting.
And here comes part two of enemies and friends. Nicole’s presence throws a wrench into Evie’s longstanding friendship with Laney and Beth. Sides are drawn, loyalties are questioned and more vulnerability and inner conflict rise. Take what the character holds dear and rip it away. Nathan uses this technique so seamlessly, though we’re rooting for Evie, it’s impossible not to feel for the characters that have harmed her. This is richness. These are flesh and blood characters.
The biggest question throughout The Glass Wives is what makes a family, which brings us to our third Godfather lesson.
Do you spend time with your family? Because a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.
One of the most lovable qualities about Evie is her devotion to her children. Sophie and Sam are her priority and the depth to which Nathan explores this relationship will soften every reader’s heart. But Evie isn’t the only character that values family. The major reason Nicole wants to move in is to secure a family for her son Luca. Laney and husband Herb delve into the nature of their marriage. And Beth and Alan, who appear perfectly solid, didn’t get there without a history of emotional turmoil. True family extends much further than blood and Nathan covers every aspect of family dynamics thanks to the physical arrangement she forced the Glass families to live in.
The intention of Evie and Nicole to hold their families together separately is what ultimately leads them to form a new kind of bond, one based on mutual respect and love for the people they cherish the most. How we treat our friends and family is a reflection of who we are.
Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.
Let me be clear. There are no guns or violence in The Glass Wives. But there is a lot of forgiveness. And even though the two lines above come after a murder in The Godfather, if you think about them outside of the film, it’s all about letting go, moving on and forgiveness. If Evie said no to Nicole, Nathan would’ve had a completely different novel. Life is about choices. We can fight against what life offers us, or we can flow with the ups and downs and see where the tide carries us.
You may come to The Glass Wives thinking it’s going to be a warmhearted beach read, and it is. And it’s so much more. Evie’s determination to move forward while protecting her family shows a strength of character equal to anything Michael Corleone threw around to protect his and she does it without violence. Now that is a character to admire. And Amy Sue Nathan is an author to follow.
Test your definition of family with The Glass Wives.