Thursday, April 28, 2011

The ultimate serial monogamist!

The Ninth Wife
by Amy Stolls

What would you do if you learned the man you wanted to spend the rest of your life with had been previously married eight (!) times? Thankfully, that’s a question very few of us will ever have to ask ourselves. However, it is at the heart of Amy Stolls’ adult fiction debut, The Ninth Wife.

Bess Gray is successful, attractive, independent—and still single at 35. It’s not the life she thought she’d be leading. That sounds like the opening of a chick-lit novel, and while this rumination on the nature of marriage and the permanence of relationships does have some heightened, chick-lit-like elements, there’s actually quite a bit going on in this unusual novel. It’s the story of Bess and Rory—at long last, a man with whom she can see a future.

For the first 16 chapters, Part I of the novel, every other chapter is narrated by Bess or Rory respectively. Bess’s narrative details their meeting and courtship, leading up to his surprise marriage proposal and dropped bombshell. Rory’s narrative is essentially a monologue. Each of the eight alternating chapters is a marriage told in his own words. The reader is hearing Rory’s colorful matrimonial history as the two lovers inexorably head towards this difficult conversation. At one point speaking of a drunken, one-night mistake, Rory says:

“I don’t know what I’m trying to say. I guess I just get angry that people can have lots of relationships that no one would blink an eye at, but because mine have formal labels they get listed against me somehow, and they get lumped together as if they’re all equal, but they’re not. I’ve been married eight times, this is true, but Fawn shouldn’t count. She just shouldn’t. It was an evening that got out of hand. No casualties…”

Part II of the novel is the aftermath. Bess is understandably confused and concerned. Needing a little space to explore her feelings, Bess embarks on a cross-country road-trip, nicely set up in Part I, to drive her elderly grandparents to their new retirement home. In addition to an opportunity to learn more about her roots and observe the good, the bad, and the ugly of a 65-year marriage, it turns into an odyssey to connect with Rory’s various exes.

I really liked the structure of this novel, and there was a great deal to enjoy in the course of the story-telling. For starters, it’s not your everyday conundrum. I don’t believe this was ever tackled on an episode of Sex and the City. Bess and Rory (“the octo-husband”) are likeable, relatable characters. The plotting was a little unconventional, frequently surprising me. It was refreshing, as I wasn’t always sure where things were going.

My biggest problem with The Ninth Wife is that in the end it was neither fish nor fowl. What I mean by that is that Stolls’ kept adding wacky elements to an interesting adult dramedy. There was Gaia, the possibly clairvoyant earth mother, and Cricket the flamboyant gay neighbor—a last minute addition to the road-trip. I didn’t dislike their storylines, really, but I didn’t feel they added anything to the novel. They detracted (or perhaps distracted) a bit. I’m all in favor of a little comic relief, but I just felt like maybe they were in a different novel altogether.

This was my introduction to Ms. Stolls’ work. Despite the criticisms above, I found The Ninth Wife a surprisingly quick (at 496 pages) and engaging novel. Not being married, it gave me plenty of food for thought. And above all, it was simply entertaining. That’s enough for a thumbs up from me.


  1. This looks like such an interesting book! I asked for it for review from Harper, but if they sent it, I haven't got it yet. I hope soon! Great idea for a book, I think.

  2. Funny...that gay neighbor added to the road trip is getting panned in every review I read. Personally, I have a great deal of trouble imagining a road trip with such varied companions. That said, I look forward to reading this one.

  3. Hmmm, the only reviews I've seen are on Amazon. Clearly, you've got better sources. Mind you, I'm a single girl in San Francisco. We love our gay neighbors! But, this particular character was soemwhat distracting at times. Other times he added real heart.

    I hope you are both able to snag a copy. It really was an enjoyable read overall.