The Second Wife by Catherine Cavendish

The Second Wife by Catherine Cavendish
Publisher: Etopia Press
Genre: Horror, Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Short Story (102 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Emily Marchant died on Valentine’s Day. If only she’d stayed dead…

When Chrissie Marchant first sets eyes on Barton Grove, she feels as if the house doesn’t want her. But it’s her new husband’s home, so now it’s her home as well. Sumptuous and exquisitely appointed, the house is filled with treasures that had belonged to Joe’s first wife, the perfect Emily, whom the villagers still consider the real mistress of Barton Grove.

A stunning photograph of the first Mrs. Marchant hangs in the living room, an unblemished rose in her hand. There’s something unnerving and impossibly alive about that portrait, but it’s not the only piece of Emily still in the house. And as Chrissie’s marriage unravels around her, she learns that Emily never intended for Joe to take a second wife…

How do you compete with perfection? Can a second wife ever live up to the untarnished memory of her predecessor?

Chrissie’s life changes dramatically when a whirlwind courtship with a wealthy doctor named Joe ends in marriage. In less than a year she shifts from struggling to make ends meet in a shrinking profession to living in a mansion. She had enjoyed working and isn’t sure what to do with herself now that she has hours of free time each day. Her uneasiness at not finding a new niche yet and disinterest in taking advantage of her husband’s money really endeared me this character.

Unfortunately I never quite understood why Joe and Chrissie chose to get married. Joe is still grieving the death of his first wife, Emily, and is so attached to her memory that at times it almost seems as though he’s married to two women instead of just one. The memory of Emily actually has more say over certain household decisions than his living, breathing second wife! Chrissie’s descriptions of Joe are so sensual that I briefly wondered if she married him for his sex appeal alone. While this is not a romance novel the only time that Chrissie and Joe truly seem to like one another is when they’re sexually or romantically involved. They don’t seem to share any common interests and have poor communication skills and recurring, stormy arguments in their everyday interactions.

Perhaps the atmosphere of the house could partially explain the odd relationship between Joe and Chrissie? My favorite scenes in this book featured mysterious occurrences in a house that has known more than its fair share of grief. Ms. Cavendish subtly wove terror into unexpected places in this story. I never would have guessed something as commonplace as a chair could be so creepy. The final scene in particular sent a river of goosebumps down my arms. It foreshadows the possibility of something sinister but leaves the interpretation of what actually happens up to the reader.

The Second Wife follows many of the conventions of gothic fiction but I was still surprised by Ms. Cavendish’s spin on certain memes. This story is a fantastic choice for anyone who prefers to allow their imagination to inflate certain horrors instead of asking the author to spell everything out in bright red letters.

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