The Doctor's Wife
by Elizabeth Brundage
"The memory starts here, in my apron pocket, with the gun."
Lydia Haas is devoted to Jesus, her church, and her husband. Only recently, after it's too late, has she understood how much she has sacrificed to all of them.
Michael Knowles is a rising young doctor, an OB/gyn at a prominent hospital. A man committed to his principles, to rescues with uncertain outcomes; to his wife. The life they've made. He never intended to have to make a choice.
Annie Knowles is the "doctor's wife." The first time she walked into their 1812 Federal-style home in High Meadow, an idyllic town in upstate New York, she thought she'd be happy there forever. But that dream wore thin, and another man - a colleague at the local college where Annie teaches - is insinuating himself slowly, surely, passionately into her life.
Simon Haas' paintings of his wife Lydia - dating from when she was a child - made him famous. The story behind those paintings, and behind his marriage, is not one Simon chooses to tell. Until he meets Annie Knowles.
Elizabeth Brundage's stunning debut work of fiction is the story of these four and the cataclysmic intersection of their lives.
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1. The thriller plot of The Doctor's Wife deals with violence against doctors who perform abortions. How did your own views about abortion affect your reading of the book?
2. Although the thriller plot focuses on the doctor, Michael Knowles, the title suggests the most important character is his wife Annie. Why?
3. Annie's affair with Simon is sure to press as many hot buttons as her husband's work in the women's clinic. How did you feel about the affair? Was it "justified"?
4. Lydia's religious beliefs are exploited by a "reverend" with a political agenda. Who's responsible for her actions --- Lydia, Reverend Tim, or both?
5. Mothers beam when their daughters marry doctors, but Annie is disappointed in Michael precisely because he is a doctor. Medicine, she believes, has turned him into a "weary, densitized workaholic." That could be a description of many professional men. Would it be better if those men married women in their professions?
6. "They had come to a place in their marriage when they were blind to one another, and it was mutual." How does this change for Annie and Michael over the course of the book? What do you think happens to Michael and Annie?
7. Simon teaches Annie's class one day, and delivers a lecture --- directed at his wife --- about black-and-white. "Gray is where you want to go, but it's difficult," he says. In reading this book, do you feel the author prodding you to see life in its complexity, as shades of gray? Or is that a rationalization people adopt when, say, they're having affairs?
8. How do Simon Haas' paintings of Lydia reveal how he views women? Does this view change when he gets to know Annie?
9. How do you visualize Simon's work? What painter's work do you see?
10. Which character, if any, were you sympathetic towards? Why?
11. Talk about the theme of guilt that runs through the book. Annie is guilty about her affair with Simon. Michael is guilty about his relationship with Celina. Simon is guilty about his life with Lydia. Lydia is guilty about murdering her father. What does this guilt do to the characters?
12. When you first started reading this book did you expect that the story would take the twists and turns that it did? What surprised you most?
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"Timely...[an] examination of what happens when we are drawn to the very things that promise to destroy us."
"Elizabeth Brundage has exquisitely captured the tension that resides at the crossroads of self and society. It is here -- in this meticulously rendered town and in each vivid character -- that the blurry lines between passion and zealotry, denial and deception, and, moreover, fleeting affection and true love are examined with unflinching, delicious honesty. The Doctor's Wife encapsulates not only our uncertain, conflicted times but the maddening, endearing, fascinating contradictions of the American moral construct. This novel is as politically pertinent as it is a page-turner."
Meghan Daum, author of The Quality of Life Report
"The Doctor's Wife is certainly a tense and compelling psychological thriller, but it's more than just a page turner. In her dark depiction of small-town intolerance, Brundage invites us to question our moral assumptions, social responsibilities, in short, our engagement with the world. My favorite (and truly the darkest and saddest) line of the book is the very last.
Ruth Ozeki, author of My Year of Meats and All Over Creation
"What Elizabeth Brundage has done with The Doctor's Wife kept me up two nights -- the first was the one in which I read it, and the second was the night when I kept trying to argue with her. 'He wouldn't do that,' I wanted to say -- but yes, he would. He would almost surely do all that. And so would she."
Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina and Cavedweller