The Last Original Wife by Dorothea Benton Frank
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks ISBN 9780062132475
Trade paperback, $14.99, 368 pages
One look at the cover of Dorothea Benton Frank's The Last Original Wife, with a woman lounging on the sand near the ocean, wearing a stylish red sun hat, and you know right away this is a book that will be accompanying you to the beach for spring break.
Les is the title character, a middle-aged wife and mother of two adult children, doting grandmother to sweet little Holly. Married to Wes, a driven businessman, they dine at the exclusive country club each Saturday with their group of friends.
But that group is changing. Les' best friend died tragically, and the widower (too) quickly remarried a young, sexy woman who is not popular with the children. When Les' other best friend gives her husband an ultimatum- stop texting his hot young personal trainer at the dinner table or she is leaving, it leaves Les as The Last Original Wife.
Forced to spend time with her husband's friends and their new vapid, young wives, Les starts to wonder if this is what she has to look forward to in the coming years. After a trip to Scotland with her husband and his friend and new wife, Les falls into an open manhole and her husband gets all the way back to the hotel (a 40 minute walk) before he realizes that Les is no longer there.
Call that the straw that broke the camel's back. Les decides she is not happy with her life. Her daughter uses her as a babysitter whenever she feels like it, her son lives overseas and only calls for money, and her husband refuses to allow Les' gay brother Harlan to come visit so Les hasn't seen her him in forever.
She goes to Charleston to stay with her brother. There she runs into an old high school boyfriend and begins to see that she can have a different life, one where she can be in charge of her own happiness.
I loved everything about this novel- characters, the story- and the setting made me want to book my airline ticket for Charleston right now. Frank takes us to this beautiful city, and she gave me some fabulous suggestions for restaurants, for which I promptly made a Pinterest board.
Harlan is a fantastic character, with an even better dog, the supremely spoiled Miss Jo, who has a closet full of beautiful clothes. I really enjoyed his and Les' sibling relationship. Harlan lives in a historical home, once owned by Josephine Pinckney, a prominent feminist and author. I loved the historical homes in Charleston, and you can bet I'm looking for Pinckney's books now.
The novel is told from alternating view points- Les' and Wes'- so we know what each of them is thinking. Wes is completely blindsided and extremely myopic when it comes to his wife, but give him credit for trying to understand. He even agrees to therapy to save his marriage.
The Last Original Wife is the beach read for boomers this spring. I think most women who read it will be able to identify with some part of Les's story, and cheer her on as she makes the decisions that will lead to her living a happy life. I like that it is not just a light read with a lot of humor (Les' one-liners crack me up); it has a lot of depth to it and it is surprisingly moving for a summer book. I'm buying extra copies to bring to my sisters-in-law for our beach vacation next week.
rating 5 of 5
Dorothea Benton Frank's website is here.
My review of Return to Sullivan's Island is here.