This is a memoir, but it reads more like a romance novel turned psychological thriller. In it Jen Waite shares the harrowing story of her fairytale marriage to a man who starts off as her soul mate and dream partner, but who becomes, more or less overnight, someone completely different.
The book is Jen’s struggle to understand why her loving, kind, supportive husband suddenly becomes withdrawn, cruel, selfish and untrustworthy. It takes some time, but eventually Jen is able to figure out that her husband’s behaviour is not because of their relationship or anything she has done, but because he fits all the descriptors of psychopathy. I found the subject matter of this book fascinating. I am very interested in how the brain functions, both in terms of “normal” human responses, and abnormal psychology. The human brain is such an intricate thing, and so many things can have huge impacts on how it functions and how we experience and interact with the world. This book was particularly interesting to me because it is the first time I’ve read about a psychopath from the perspective of someone who loved them, and not in the context of a murder mystery.
The story is accessible – once I started reading, I wanted to find out what would happen next. The majority of the story takes place after Jen has given birth to her first child, and being a new mother myself, I had so much sympathy for what she was dealing with – particularly since learning how to be a mother on its own is a massively difficult thing. Never in my life have I been so overwhelmed; never have I needed my support system so desperately. I don’t know how she made it through so much at one time in her life. I felt for her, and I also worried about her daughter and stepson and how the situation would impact them as they grew up and began to understand more of their father’s personality. It’s an emotionally difficult story, and it’s impossible not to feel the betrayal and pain Jen does in recounting not only the loss of her husband, but the tearing apart of a family and future she expected to be hers.
The story is wrenching, and because of that I felt an emotional connection to the author, but the book wasn’t perfect. Jen had a story to tell, but she’s not first and foremost a writer. The writing itself I would describe as raw – I got the feeling that not a lot of time had passed between what she went through and her writing about it. There were times when it seemed a bit repetitive or overwraught, and while I think it was realistic to what she must have experienced – and probably was still experiencing while she wrote it (going over the same thoughts again and again, trying to make them make sense; the emotional rollercoaster; and the inability to reconcile the man she married with the man he became after their daughter was born) – as a book, reality doesn’t always work perfectly in terms of plot progression and narrative.
The other issue I had was that because she’s writing from only her own perspective, it is quite one-sided. There were some decisions she made and some things she did throughout her relationship that weren’t exactly blameless but that she glossed over to paint herself in a more sympathetic light. Don’t get me wrong, in comparison to her husband’s many betrayals, any mistakes or errors in judgment she may have made weren’t ones I was going to hold against her, but I did find myself raising an eyebrow at times because of how and when they were presented. I could see how the story had been edited and carefully plotted to elicit sympathy from the reader – which it did – but I felt ever so slightly manipulated by it.
And while it was fascinating to experience what Jen went through in learning about and dealing with her husband’s psychological issues, it left me wanting more. She shared some of his statements and puzzling behaviours as they appeared from her perspective, but it actually made me curious about what it was like from his perspective. When he said he felt numb, was that something new to him? Was this the first time in his life he’d felt such an absence of emotion? Did he know what was happening? Did he ever seek psychological help? Would a trained psychologist have come to the same conclusions? His parents are part of the story – they came to lend support and Jen talked to them about what was happening with their son. Her portrayal of them is that they were completely shocked by his actions, but I wanted to know whether, on further reflection, they were able to look back and see any hints at something being not quite right at any other point in his life. He’s also portrayed as having a good relationship with the mother of his son, who is also very friendly with Jen. What had her relationship with him been like? Had she seen any signs of similar issues? And what about Jen’s daughter? How will she deal with explaining all this to her, and did she have concerns about how publishing this book and making their family history public would affect her when she got older? As much as I got from reading this, it left me with so many unanswered questions.
I’m definitely glad I read this book. It was very easy to read – easy to get into, quick to get through – but the topics and experiences it discusses are truly chilling. If you’re looking for a memoir that is deeply meaningful or beautifully written, this might not be at that level, but if you are interested in memoirs as a genre or if you have an interest in abnormal psychology and how it can manifest in the daily lives of otherwise ordinary people, this book will be a unique perspective for you to experience.
I’d be interested to hear from anyone else who has read this book – did you have similar issues with it? Did you enjoy reading it? Was it what you expected going in? If you haven’t read it, do you think it’s one you’ll pick up in the future?
What do you do when you discover that the person you’ve built your life around never existed? When “it could never happen to me” does happen to you?
These are the questions facing Jen Waite when she begins to realize that her loving husband–the father of her infant daughter, her best friend, the love of her life–fits the textbook definition of psychopath. In a raw, first-person account, Waite recounts each heartbreaking discovery, every life-destroying lie, and reveals what happens once the dust finally settles on her demolished marriage.
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 imagined. Waite obsessively analyzes her relationship, trying to find a single moment from the last five years that isn’t part of the long-con of lies and manipulation. With a dual-timeline narrative structure, we see Waite’s romance bud, bloom, and wither simultaneously, making the heartbreak and disbelief even more affecting. – Goodreads
Book Title: A Beautiful, Terrible Thing
Author: Jen Waite
Published By: Penguin Publishing Group
Released: July 11, 2017
Date Read: October 7-16, 2017