The air pulses. As I’m staring at the computer, the computer I share with my husband, and holding our screaming three-week-old baby on my lap, my stomach tightens. I read the first line of the e-mail and bile begins to rise into my throat.
A Beautiful, Terrible Thing: A Memoir of Marriage and Betrayal by Jen Waite is reminiscent of Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins and Gone Girl but Gillian Flynn, both psychological crime thrillers with a psychopath featured as the villain, except that Waite’s tale is a true account of events… Yes, I know, it’s shocking that similar situations can happen in reality and not just from the comfort of the fictional world. Whether you’ve already experienced the effects of someone with an anti-social personality disorder or are interested in a gritty and awe-inspiring memoir, A Beautiful, Terrible Thing will provide an engrossing, captivating read, as well as the ultimate guide on how to spot a psychopath, which might just save you a hell of a lot of grief in the future.
After a disturbing email sparks Waite’s suspicion that her husband is having an affair, she tries to uncover the truth and rebuild trust in her marriage. Instead, she finds more lies, infidelity, and betrayal than she could have ever possibly imagined. Waite can’t help but obsessively analyse her relationship as she tries to find a single moment from the last five years that isn’t part of the long-con of lies and manipulation. In the end, the truth is too big to avoid, her husband of five years, her lover, best friend, father of her three week old infant child, the love of her life, was in fact, a psychopath.
With a dual-timeline narrative structure, we see Waite’s romance bud, bloom and wither simultaneously, making the heartbreak and disbelief even more affecting.
Louisa’s screams fill my ears and penetrate the deep recesses of my brain where my decision-making neurons lie… there is a black tidal wave creeping toward my eyes, and suddenly I am on the carpet, on my knees, holding Louisa straight out in front of me, just above the floor…
We experience Waite’s emotions as she does from the first person narrative, and as the text reads like fiction her shock and disbelief becomes that much more immediate. I wonder whether the fictional edge to her writing was deliberately achieved to emphasise the surrealistic atmosphere of her situation – it certainly works.
Her response to her husband’s suspected infidelity and his revelation of his own numb feelings are raw and deeply moving.
“You’re telling me you haven’t noticed anything over the past year?” His usual sweet, chipper voice is replaced by a monotone, and his eyes are… dead.
“… we’re happy. We’re so happy.” My voice comes out high. I am happily married. I am happily married and in love. I am so in love, and I just had a baby with my husband.
We can’t help but sympathise with Waite as she struggles to come to terms with her husband’s lack of affection towards her and the truth of what that might mean. The repetition of ‘happily married’ and ‘love’, accompanied by the short, staccato sentences highlights her shock and disbelief. Clearly, Waite hadn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary in the past year of their relationship, or even prior to the time her husband is referring to. Speculation can be caused as to whether anyone could fall victim to a person with an anti-social personality disorder, even those who are deemed highly intelligent, or do some have the predisposed disposition to suss out an unbalanced, deceitful soul?
What’s interesting is that Waite doesn’t just pick apart her husband’s character but also self-reflects on her own. Perhaps this gives a little more understanding on how she fell into a marriage with a sociopath in the first place, perhaps it doesn’t, but it makes for an enlightening read and may prompt others to look deeper at themselves. For instance, Waite’s obsessive rifling through of her husband’s emails and possessions, including Uber receipts displays her own unhealthy behaviour and might be something to alter in the future.
A gripping, suspenseful story, more so because of it’s true nature and the exquisite writing from Waite which sucks you in without releasing its grip – even until the very end… If you’re fascinated by psychology, interested in personality disorders and want a fast-paced, drama infused tale of deceit, relationships and heart-wrenching revelations then this is the one for you.
A Beautiful, Terrible Thing: A Memoir of Marriage and Betrayal by Jen Waite releases on 13th July 2017 (£19.99, h/b, 272pp, 9780735216464)