Freshly Baked Books: The Pocket Wife

The Pocket Wife is Dana Catrell, who feels she is slowly going crazy. Celia, Dana’s friend and neighbor, has been murdered, and Dana suspects that she is the killer.

Published by HarperCollins and launching on March 17, The Pocket Wife is Susan Crawford’s first novel, and it’s a humdinger. It follows the stories of Dana and Jack Moss, the detective who’s investigating the crime.  Jack has his own issues.

Dana, who suffers from bipolar disorder, is on the edge between sanity and insanity. She knows she’s close to going over the cliff because her senses are so sharp. For example, she can read much faster than usual.

Sometimes, when she finishes a book at record speed, Dana feels a slight letdown, as if a good friend has hung up the phone in the middle of a conversation. 

She lives in a suburb of Paterson, N.J., close to Manhattan, and she knows her husband, Peter, is cheating on her. He comes home late, treats her with disdain and barely speaks to her unless he wants something or wants to criticize. She smells perfume on him.  When she shows him threatening notes someone has sent her, he dismisses them. The title of the book comes from how he treats her.  She calls him when he’s pocket wife better coverin a meeting, and he says, “I’m just going to stick you in my pocket for a moment till I can, you know –  till I can get out in the hall and–“

She’s a pocket wife.

Dana has drinks with her friend Celia across the street. They both are very drunk, but Dana remembers her friend getting out her cell phone and showing her an intimate picture of Peter with another woman in a restaurant. And she remembers the last thing she said to Celia: “I don’t want to ever see you again.” Back home, she hears the sirens coming closer and closer to her street until the ambulance pulls up at Celia’s house.  Dana runs across the street and sees Celia lying in a pool of blood.

Under pressure from the sexy and ambitious assistant prosecutor, Jack investigates in his thorough and plodding way, building up to several possible suspects, including Dana.  Meanwhile, his wife, having prepared an anniversary celebration that he misses, packs up and leaves for good, and he is trying to restore a relationship with his estranged son from a former marriage. The son also may be involved in the crime.

Dana, already suspecting herself of the murder, knows the police will suspect her, too. She struggles to remember what happened, and she does some investigating of her own. And, while her mind is sharp in some ways, it’s also foggy as her madness closes in.

Crawford, a member of the Atlanta Writers Club, is a skillful and beautifully descriptive writer.  I loved her use of anthropomorphism (for example, her father’s blue car panting on the railroad tracks), her characterization and meaningful flashbacks, the emotional conflicts within Dana and Jack. She prefaces the book with a poem “If You Forget Me,” by Pablo Neruda, one of my own favorite poets, explaining that it seemed to echo Dana’s thoughts.

If you think it long and mad,

 the wind of banners

that passes through my life . . .

In creating Dana, Crawford says she has always been interested in how people act and react. She studied psychology and worked toward a Masters in Community Counseling. And, she says, “I have had close friends with bipolar illness, so I was able to discuss with them different issues that came up in the book. I have also seen their lives in tatters during and after particularly devastating episodes, their subsequent struggles to put the pieces back together. Everyone is different, so there are aspects to Dana’s journey that are unique to her. I often felt I was in Dana’s head while I was writing the book.”

As for Jack, he “just materialized,” Crawford says.  “I could see him sitting at his desk, slugging down coffee, being an anchor to the story as Dana sparkled off the deep end.  He has his issues, but he is fairly solid. He’s dependable. He fills in the spaces that Dana leaves in the book.” To help create Jack, Crawford also spoke to an Atlanta area detective, Josh Sellers, who answered her questions about police work.

Susan Crawford

Susan Crawford

Crawford says she never formally studied creative writing but did take afternoon workshops through the Atlanta Writers Club and occasional classes at conferences. She is a four-time winner of the Atlanta Writers Club award for her short fiction and poetry. Her work has been published in the literary magazines Loves Lost, Long Story Short, and a short piece in The Sun.

Currently, she’s writing another book –this one about two women who are the widow and the girlfriend of a man who has recently died in a car accident. “The toppling of both their lives becomes more complicated when the policeman on the scene thinks there is more to the deadly crash than black ice,” Crawford says.

That sounds like a thriller to look forward to.

What books have you read in which mental illness plays a role?


5 thoughts on “Freshly Baked Books: The Pocket Wife

  1. One of the most interesting books in which mental illness may play a role is Henry James’ Turn of the Screw. The thing is, the reader is left guessing throughout whether the narrator, a young impressionable governess, imagines what happens and contributes to the violent ending or…is the victim of the ghosts of two evil former employees of the estate. Talk about a humdinger–this short novel is the classic example!

  2. “Still Alice” is a searing look at early onset dementia from the point of view of a linguistics professor who is diagnosed at age 50. It is a novel but carefully and well researched. A must read! I guess
    dementia can be classified as mental illness…

  3. Did you see that the author spoke at Eagle Eye this week? Having read this review, I was sorry I had a conflict and couldn’t hear her speak.

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