The Last Original Wife by Dorothea Benton Frank will have you wanting the heroine, Leslie Green to summon the courage to leave Wesley, her controlling, bullying husband of years and years and get on with her own life from almost the very first page.
Les and Wes? Really? I knew a father and son once whose names were Eric and Derek, which I thought was a little strange. My father was named for his father (Dad says everyone called them ‘Big Ian’ and ‘Little Ian’). My husband works with a bloke called Junior, whose name is the same as his father’s and his grandfather’s and long ago, I worked for a couple who were Robert and Robyn, or Rob and Rob, but now I’m just getting side tracked. Les and Wes in The Last Original Wife got married because Les was pregnant. They made a life together and brought up two good for nothing children. During their marriage, Les never worked outside of the home. They have a circle of friends and a life together, where Wes goes out to work and Les makes a home for their family.
Things change in their circle of friends when one of the wives dies and the widower promptly marries someone 25 years younger. Soon after, another of their friends dumps his wife and hooks up with a bimbo of his own. (I am not saying that younger women who have relationships with older men are bimbos. In my opinion, and that is all it is, the combination of older men and much younger women is usually an arrangment which both get something out of, either money and prestige, or the envy of peers and a renewed flush of life, however long the arrangement may last. I don’t believe these combinations are generally love matches, for the man or the woman). However, in the novel, these particular younger women are bimbos. Les calls them ‘Barbies’.
These changes to their circle of friends leave Les socialising with a new group of women her daughter’s age while Wes spends time with his old friends. A series of events makes Les realise she is not all that important to her husband except as a housekeeper. When she accidently realises they are very, very rich, a fact Wes has been hiding from her while keeping her on a very tight budget for all of their married life, Les goes to visit her brother in Charleston without telling Wes where she is going.
While she is in Charleston, Les hooks up with her old high school boyfriend. The big questions are, will Wes change for the better and will Les go back to their marriage, or will she dump him and start again with the old boyfriend?
I liked the setting of The Last Original Wife, (Charleston especially sounds beautiful), but the story had loads of possibility without delivering. I found the characters disappointing and frustrating. Les, the heroine, didn’t engage me. I’m from a generation where women work, in and outside of the home. We have an opinion and we voice it. We have a say in what goes on in our households.
Les turned 60 in the book. A great many women from my mother’s generation didn’t work outside of the home either, but most of them volunteered or had hobbies or contributed more to society than making dinner for their husbands and keeping the house clean. Les didn’t seem to do anything except drink, gossip with an old friend and moan about Wes and their children. (As a non drinker, I might be a bit harsh about the drinking, but the characters in this novel drink constantly). Regardless, Les didn’t have any substance. I found it really hard to understand how her old boyfriend would find her interesting, especially since he was a doctor. (Okay, I can imagine meeting up with an old boyfriend and finding him attractive because of a shared history, but only up to a point. You can only reminisce abut what you did when you were 17 for so long. Eventually you are going to run out of conversation).
I chose this book because I loved the cover art, which shows a beautiful red and white sun hat and a beach. I probably won’t read any more books by Dorothea Benton Frank, although hopefully one day I can visit Charleston for myself.