Book Review: Dear Wife by Kimberly Belle
By Janet WebbJune 28, 2019
Dear Wife by Kimberly Belle is a psychological thriller about escaping abusive relationships: after plotting for a year, Beth Murphy is on the run from her abusive husband, and Sabine Hardison’s husband comes home to find Sabine is missing… but one detective will not quit until these missing women are found.
Meet Beth Murphy, a woman on the run from her abusive husband. Her initial thoughts are worthy of a country-song anthem like Martina McBride’s “Independence Day.”
I hit my blinker and merge onto the Muskogee Turnpike, and for the first time in seven long years, I take a breath. A real, full-body breath that blows up my lungs like a beach ball. So much breath that it burns.
It tastes like freedom.
Kimberly Belle goes into exquisite detail about how Beth planned her getaway, what steps she takes along the way to bury her identity, and how and why she makes Atlanta her destination. What readers don’t find out is the name of her abusive husband—in Beth’s anguished musings, he’s you. As in, “you have three moods lately: offensive, enraged or violent.” Unlike the glamorous married life of the victim that Julia Roberts portrays in Sleeping with the Enemy, Beth’s former life appears pedestrian and brutish. But no matter, she tells herself: “Those days, like Arkansas, are in my rearview mirror.”
Alternating with Beth’s escape narrative is the story of missing wife Sabine Hardison. Her husband Jeffrey comes home from a four-day seminar to find his house empty. Let’s put two and two together: Beth drives away on Oklahoma’s Muskogee Highway, she meets an accomplice in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Jeffrey and Sabine share a house on the Arkansas River: ergo Beth must be Sabine. That was my instantaneous hypothesis.
But niggly little facts and descriptions warred with my conclusion. Beth checks into a seedy hotel and does what every escaping woman does: she cuts her hair before she dyes it. Blonde, no more flowing brunette locks. She’s flooded with memories of her husband yanking her long hair although she admits that chopping it off with scissors is “a hell of a lot less painful than when you grab me by the ponytail and lift me clear off the bed.” Beth might clean the bathrooms of a similar joint one day.
Not exactly what my parents were hoping for when they paid for my college, but a better paying job, a job I’m actually qualified for, would send up a smoke signal you might spot.
Jeffrey’s wife is a high-powered realtor. She lives on her phone—a phone that rings into the night when Jeffrey calls it, which is most unusual. Should he call the cops, report a disappearance—tell them that his “wife missed her curfew?” Curfew seems like a suspect word. When Sabine’s twin-sister Ingrid can’t reach her sister on the phone, she storms into Jeffrey’s house and interrogates him. Ingrid is nothing like Sabine.
She is the angry, ogre version of Sabine, the kind that bathes in swamp water and gnaws on bones under a bridge. Her face is scored with pillow marks, angry purple lines in the shape of a cross.
Belle’s imagery is visceral and disturbing. The heated interchange between the in-laws is illuminated with sounds, smells, and bile.
Ingrid doesn’t trust Jeffrey because she and her twin are practically telepathic. She hurls accusations at Jeffrey, harkening back to an incident when he hit his wife: “Ingrid’s condescending tone burrows under my skin like a tick.” Belle’s imagery is visceral and disturbing. The heated interchange between the in-laws is illuminated with sounds, smells, and bile. Ingrid is stunned and scornful when she realizes that Jeffrey doesn’t even know the name of Sabine’s boss—did they not communicate at all? In contrast, the “you” in Beth’s story seems like a guy who knows every detail of his wife’s day. Consider the laborious process of Beth amassing a $2,000+ escape fund.
Ten and twenties mostly, siphoned from grocery funds, birthday and Christmas money, forgotten bills swiped from your pockets when you were passed out. Saving was a long, laborious process that took me almost a year to do in a way that you wouldn’t notice. I bought things on discount and shopped sales. I switched to cheaper toilet paper, coffee, washing powder. Ironically, I stopped cutting my hair.
How could Sabine—“a real estate broker, a really good one”—be a woman shopping sales and cutting her own hair? But there are too many coincidences: two women from the same part of the country, both abused, both missing? Kimberly Belle drops clues and hints with a surgeon’s precision. The mystery deepens, the tension ratchets up: it appears inevitable that Beth’s violent husband will not let her escape alive. Two questions prevail: “Where is Sabine? And who is Beth?” Will Sabine be found alive and will Beth survive if her husband tracks her down? Dear Wife is a terrifying page-turner with a conclusion that is entirely unexpected—I highly recommend it although fair warning, read it under bright lights.