“Dead to Her,” Morrow, by Sarah Pinborough
Sarah Pinborough skirts the edge of a soap opera as her third novel delves into a morass of marital infidelity, greed and controlling spouses set against the backdrop of a wealthy, insular community in Savannah, Georgia. “Dead to Her” begins as a typical “life among the rich” family drama but it morphs into a more sinister story that hinges on revenge.
Marcie Maddox has fought hard to be accepted by the social circle to which she and her much older husband, attorney Jason, belong. It hasn’t been easy. At 34, she is by far the youngest wife in the group and everyone knows that Jason left his first wife for her. But being involved with acceptable charities and forging friendships with the other wives has paid off — to a degree. “They weren’t Marcie’s friends, they’d simply absorbed her into them. Scrubbed her up and made her respectable.”
Life is predictable, but boring, though Jason’s money pacifies Marcie. Then Jason’s boss, William Radford IV, returns from London with a beautiful young wife, Keisha, only four months after his much beloved first wife, Eleanor, died a painful death. At 22, Keisha is a former cocktail waitress who is a bit rough around the edges for this high-society community. That Keisha also is black raises the element of racism. “She’s not one of us” is a refrain of the older wives.
Marcie is immediately jealous of this new upstart — especially when Jason seems to take an unusual interest in Keisha. “Once a cheat, always a cheat,” thinks Marcie of her husband. Instead, Jason says he wants Marcie to become Keisha’s friend so that she can persuade William to retire and Jason can take over the firm.
Just as “Dead to Her” seems moribund in the lifestyles of the rich, the novel evolves into an exciting path with myriad unusual twists. It’s difficult to have much affinity with the two couples. The husbands are emotionally cruel, dictating the way their wives dress and speak. Marcie and Keisha both have dark pasts and secrets they wish to hide, but they also thrive on a shallow lifestyle, eliciting little sympathy for their boredom or the lack of control over their lives. They both knew the kind of marriages they were entering. Marcie’s judgment that Keisha is only a gold digger carries little weight since that's exactly what she is.
More interesting are the female servants who spend much of their time observing the household’s antics as well as several of the rich women who know the value of deep friendships. These women understand that “ghosts would always have their vengeance.”