“It was amazing, the effect a father had on a person. A father was the benchmark that told you what to expect. What to accept. And, perhaps most importantly, what to believe about yourself. Her father had taught her to expect nothing and to accept less. And he’d taught her to believe that she was nothing.”
― Sally Hepworth, The Younger Wife
Sally Hepworth’s 2022 novel, The Younger Wife, to me, is the proverb about envy and perception – ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’. This book begins on the day of Stephen and Heather’s beautiful wedding. The whole family is in attendance, included Stephen’s adult daughters Rachel and Tully. After vows are exchanged, the family goes into the back of the church to sign the registry. A scream erupts from the back. The pastor runs out covered in blood, yelling for a doctor. The story then jumps back in time and progresses forward to the day of the wedding. What made this story engaging is that it is told from multiple points of view: a mysterious narrator whose identity isn’t revealed immediately, Tully, Rachel, and Heather. I was engaged from the moment the wedding started – the whole situation was very awkward and I needed to know why.
The Aston family is the definition of dysfunctional. The father, Stephen Aston, is a 64-year-old heart surgeon who has fallen in love with 34-year-old interior designer Heather. When Stephen introduces Heather to his two daughters, Tully and Rachel, for the first time, they actually announce their engagement. The problem: Stephen is still married to Pam, who has dementia and is living in a nursing home. Stephen plans to divorce Pam so he can marry Heather, a plan that sends Rachel and Tully into a spiral. After all, Heather is almost the same age as Rachel and Tully. They both are completely unhappy with the idea of the divorce and remarriage.
Rachel and Tully are determined to learn Heather’s motives for marrying their father. They also have questions regarding their father’s reasons for divorcing their mother. The two start poking around, looking for the truth about their family’s secrets. The closer the wedding gets, the more they question what they thought was true their entire childhood. Heather also has secrets of her own and a deep desire that they stay hidden. The longer she is in the Aston family, the more worried she becomes. What has she gotten herself into?