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:
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.