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His Lovely Wifeby Elizabeth Dewberry
Synopses & Reviews
In August 1997, accompanying her Nobel laureate husband to a physics conference in Paris, tall, blond, and beautiful Ellen Baxter is momentarily mistaken for Princess Diana when she arrives at the Paris Ritz hotel. One photographer realizes she is not Diana and helps her escape the paparazzi swarming around her, but photographs her anyway.
The next day Ellen runs into the photographer again at the site of Diana's death and finds a photo he has left there – a fierce, very uncharacteristic photo of Diana. Ellen pockets the photo. She is shocked by how deeply moved and shaken she is by Diana's death. As she gazes at that photo, she begins hearing Diana's voice in her head and realizes how much her own life parallels Diana's. And she fervently wants to find that photographer.
Suddenly Ellen is forced to come to grips with all she has compromised by being a lovely wife. Is she falling in love with the photographer or does she simply want him to provide her with a new image of herself?
This complex, surprising novel uses string theory to weave together two women's lives and to explore a culture that celebrates women for their beauty – then exacts a terrible toll.
"It's difficult to imagine that anyone interested in all things Diana also wants to ponder the Big Bang and the mysteries of the afterlife in the same sitting. But such is the ambitious reach of Elizabeth Dewberry's fourth novel, 'His Lovely Wife.' The wife in question is blond, beautiful, 36-year-old Atlanta housewife Ellen Baxter, who, while accompanying her Nobel laureate husband, Lawrence,... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) to a physics conference in Paris, is briefly mistaken by the paparazzi for 'Lay Dee Dee.' When Ellen's photo is snapped, it's as though not only her image is captured but also her soul, which becomes entwined with Diana's when the princess dies hours later in a car crash. Ellen, profoundly moved, pockets a picture of Diana at the makeshift memorial near the crash site and soon begins channeling her. With a husband as stiff as the cardboard that squares his starched Brooks Brothers shirts, Ellen tracks down a paparazzo who pursued Diana on her final night, hoping he can help her answer some of the questions that Diana, the definitive lovely wife, must have faced in her own empty marriage to an older man. Although 'His Lovely Wife' starts slowly, it becomes more appealing as Ellen grows as a character. Readers spend a lot of time inside Ellen's head — when she's not listening to Diana, she has her own interior monologues — and, especially at first, her mind can be a pretty claustrophobic space. It's easy to relate when she says, 'A therapist once called the voice in my head that criticizes everything I do my internalized mother, a different thing from my real mother and my memory mother. We worked for a few months on building an imaginary soundproof vault to lock them all up in and on my fear of getting locked in there with them, all of us screaming our hearts out and nobody being able to hear us.' Ellen, in fact, is so self-involved that as she walks along the streets of Paris she hears the sound of her own breathing: 'In: Huff. Out: Puff. Huff. Puff. I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down.' Her introspection becomes overbearing at times, but her internal struggles with unhappiness will resonate with those who have had their own marital throes. What saves Ellen as a protagonist is that her mind is also an expansive and intelligent place, her observations wise. On the inevitability of Diana's untimely death, she says: 'You either live happily ever after or. ... What is it that happens to the other people, the stepmothers and stepsisters and wolves and witches? They get pushed into ovens or hacked up by hunters or cast into fiery pits. Once you find yourself in a fairy tale, you either live happily ever after or you die.' By the time Ellen catches up with the photographer Max Kafka and repairs to his studio for a portrait session, one actually hopes he will seduce her — anything to give this unhappy woman a break. It works. Though readers have no idea how — or even if — Ellen will change her life after having spent an afternoon in Max's bed, she returns to her hotel a more centered person. And whatever her fate, she's a character who readers will remember and sympathize with. Always an attentive wife, Ellen can talk string theory — the idea that the most basic elements of the universe are neither particles nor waves but tiny vibrating strings of energy — with her husband's physicist colleagues. She even develops a theory of the afterlife, which she wants to explain to an intimidating female German scientist over omelets and wine: 'When people die, spacetime rips open, creating a wormhole through which they travel to the next universe, and then the branes patch up the hole, but every so often, something goes wrong and they don't go through the wormhole when they get the chance, so they get stuck here.' The novel's biggest flaw has less to do with Ellen than with her husband — or rather his work. Ellen's ruminations about it continually impede the story line. Instead of the Nobel Prize for discovering a black hole, couldn't Lawrence have just won, say, the Pritzker Architecture Prize? That would have spared readers the trial of trying to understand wormholes, alternative universes and what happens when antimatter particles collide with matter particles. No matter what Lawrence's expertise, Ellen's territory would remain the same: the human heart — as vast and unknowable as the cosmos. And it's hard not to be moved by that. Linda Kulman is a Washington-based freelance writer." Reviewed by Linda Kulman, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Don't be deceived by His Lovely Wife. Beneath its calm exterior is a restless and complicated narrator who questions not only what she's doing with her own life but also seeks to find the very parameters of life itself. The novel hooks you with a pretty face and then reels you in with its intelligence and depth." Ann Patchett
"In a daring turn of ventriloquism, Elizabeth Dewberry has crafted a strange and brazen meditation on life and romance." Stewart O'Nan
"In the moment it takes a camera flash to wink, Ellen Baxter discovers that while science may have room for ever expanding theories, her own life is surrounded by borders that can be bridged only by listening to the past. Readers will slip inside her skin and long, as she does, for possibility." Jo Ann Mapson
"Lyrical literary stylist Elizabeth Dewberry surprises with His Lovely Wife – sure to climb bestseller lists everywhere. Wrenching and inventive, this is her best novel yet." Lee Smith
"Elizabeth Dewberry gives eloquent voice to a world of women whose stories often go untold: those who feel defined by the more powerful men in their lives and recognize this with growing despair. With the beauty of language and nuance of gestures, she captures the unspoken yet profoundest truths between husband and wife. I predict His Lovely Wife will find a huge audience and grab those lucky readers by the heart." Amy Tan
"His Lovely Wife is told in understated yet succinctly lovely language. By delving deeply into Ellen's life, Dewberry reveals the challenges many women face as they look for a meaningful place in their relationships and the world." USA Today
HIS LOVELY WIFE is the story of Ellen Baxter, a beautiful woman who, to her surprise-because she was not a Princess Diana fanatic-finds that Diana's death affects her so deeply that it triggers an identity crisis. She's staying at the Paris Ritz on the weekend Diana died because her much-older husband, a Nobel-prize winning physicist, is attending a professional meeting there, and after the crash, she begins to realize that her life parallels Diana's in more ways than she has previously articulated, even to herself, the most important being that almost everything in her life is what it is because of who she married. As she begins to ask some of the same questions about the relationships between passion and compassion, connection and independence that Diana, the ultimate lovely wife, was asking in her last years, she also pursues an attraction to a member of the paparazzi who was in pursuit of Diana when she died. And as she tries to tell her story, to listen to her own voice, she begins to hear Diana's voice as well, and Diana-or her ghost or, perhaps, my character's imaginative re-creation of her-becomes a major character in the book. Like Diana's, Ellen's is a story about what it's like to be a beautiful-but-not-quite-beautiful-enough woman (because she finds it impossible to feel beautiful enough) who loves an emotionally unavailable man and tries, perhaps too late, to create an identity for herself in terms other than those her marriage and the culture have provided for her.
When tall, blond, and beautiful Ellen Baxter enters the Paris Ritz the day before Princess Diana dies, shes mistaken for Diana by the paparazzi. The next morning, as Ellens older, Nobel-laureate husband attends a physics conference, she goes to the site of the fatal crash and finds an uncharacteristic photograph of Diana. Surprised by how deeply the death has affected her, Ellen pockets the photo. As she hears Dianas voice in her head and begins to understand the parallels between their lives, she tracks down the person who took the photograph, hoping that this man who deals in surfaces can penetrate her beauty, as he did Dianas, and help her love the woman inside.
Elizabeth Dewberrys complex, surprising novel uses string theory to weave together two womens lives and explore a culture that celebrates women for their beauty—then exacts a terrible toll.
Dewberry's complex, surprising novel uses string theory to weave together two women's lives and explore a culture that celebrates women for their beauty-then exacts a terrible toll.
About the Author
Elizabeth Dewberry has written three previous novels, including Sacrament of Lies. Her plays have been produced in a variety of venues. She lives in Tallahassee, Florida, with her husband, Robert Olen Butler.
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