Book Review: The Hunting Wives by May Cobb
This sexy, funny, and surprisingly smart thriller follows a hot mess of a housewife as her inclusion into her new home’s in-crowd finds her tangled up in murder and lies. Sophie O’Neill thought that turning her back on her fast-paced life as a magazine editor in Chicago in order to be a mommy blogger in small-town East Texas was a good idea. Nourished by her own lack of stable upbringing and encouraged by the pervasive cultural lie surrounding domestic bliss perpetuated in our modern era by social media influencers, her fantasy of satisfying suburban living focused almost exclusively on her son and husband soon fades into a restless dissatisfaction that she doesn’t know how to properly negotiate:
This was my idea, I remind myself. I used to sit in the noisy offices of the magazine’s headquarters, parked in my tiny cubicle as cars whirred past the glass window and daydream about this. Daydream about a life with less exhaust, more nature, more time. Slowed-down meals with Jack and Graham. Being there for Jack at every stage of his childhood. Making Shrinky Dinks together on Friday nights, burrowing into the sofa with a metal bowl of popcorn to watch movies. Having time for these things instead of being overworked, overscheduled, our lives soldier-marched by a frenzied whip on our necks.
[S]o why isn’t all this enough?
Bored by the lack of intellectual challenge and the sameness of her limited social circle, Sophie soon becomes fascinated by Margot Banks, the beautiful, sophisticated socialite whom Sophie’s only friend in Mapleton warns her off of. According to earth mother Erin, Margot is “not a nice person.” But after Sophie finally finagles her way into Margot’s notice, she finds herself powerless to resist the older woman’s invitation to join her charmed circle of Hunting Wives, a small group of women who gather at Margot’s lakeside house every Friday night to drink, shoot skeet, and behave badly.
Soon, drinking with the girls turns into road trips to out-of-the-way bars and clubs where several of the other wives get frisky with strange men. Margot makes the rules but she’s also the one most likely to break them. Sophie is utterly fascinated, even as she knows she shouldn’t be lying to her husband about her whereabouts or drinking so much she’s barely able to function on the Saturday mornings that are supposed to be about farmer’s market visits and fun meals with her family. But wherever Margot goes, Sophie feels compelled to follow. She’s obsessed with Margot, and has been for quite a while:
I found myself looking forward to checking Facebook to try and catch posts she was tagged in. And thinking about her more and more, wondering about her life, which seemed so much bigger than my own. And yes, digging her name out of the phone book and locating her house. It wasn’t envy, though; I didn’t want to be her.
It was so much more than that. I wanted to be near her. For her to notice me, too. The idea of it took my breath away. It became powerful and even consuming.
Being near Margot doesn’t detract from the mystique: if anything, it only fuels Sophie’s obsession, to the point where she’ll risk her husband and her entire blog-perfect lifestyle to get even closer. But when a teenage girl is found shot to death in the same area where the Hunting Wives shoot for sport, and the evidence points to Sophie as the killer, she has to decide whether risking her actual life is worth being part of this deadly in-crowd.
I was totally caught off-guard by the solid murder mystery here, due in large part to how sucked in I was by Sophie’s welter of emotions and the high drama surrounding her. Deeply flawed but highly relatable, Sophie’s struggle to make sense of her conflicting emotions propels her and the reader through this twisty, salacious narrative. No one is really what they seem (and I’m probably in the minority in thinking that Graham sucks for using his kid to punish his spouse) and no one is particularly generous or kind, but these are all believably awful people doing the best they can when beaten down by a fictitious American dream. If only their impulses could be channeled into productivity and empathy! But then books like these wouldn’t feel so realistic and relevant, I suppose, on top of being so wildly entertaining.