Book Review: The Third Mrs. Durst by Ann Aguirre
In Ann Aguirre’s The Third Mrs. Durst, an ambitious woman trapped in an abusive marriage attempts to flip the script and get away with murder.
“I got on a bus when I was sixteen.”
The beautiful Marlena Altizer left her addict mother, her younger half-siblings, and grinding poverty in rural Kentucky for a different life. For a while she spent time on the streets of Nashville, where she met Jenny, who would become a lifelong friend (and a bit more) and kept her eyes out for her ticket to the big time: Del Morton, a talent agent who recruited her from among Nashville’s street kids, offering them a safe place to sleep and a chance to find steady work. Exactly to plan, Morton sets his sights on Marlena, and she eventually becomes an in-demand model, a far cry from the starvation and abuse she endured in Kentucky. However, her ascent isn’t without significant hiccups. During a shoot for a music video, she’s sexually assaulted by the lead singer, which is something that sadly isn’t new to Marlena, but she won’t allow the incident, no matter how horrendous, to derail her plan.
And she does have a plan. It only becomes clear just how complex that plan is a bit later in the story after she’s met and married the rich, handsome, and wildly monstrous Michael Durst. At first, he’s loving and solicitous, as so many abusers are, but as soon as Marlena is firmly on the hook, he begins to show his true colors. It starts with controlling what she wears and where she goes. She even has a full-time bodyguard named Vin. Though Michael would insist it was for her protection, Marlena is pretty sure Vin’s real job is to keep an eye on what she’s up to. It’s not all bad. Marlena gets a great education in art history and Michael even buys a gallery that she can call her own. But, of course, all of this isn’t out of the goodness of Michael’s heart, because Michael doesn’t have a heart, and anything Marlena does could put those she loves in danger, which is why Marlena is shocked when her little sister Ariella shows up.
She clenched her arms around me, smelling of road dust and old sweat. I could tell she’d been traveling for days, probably not a proper bath in sight. There was nothing I could do but take her in, even as the fear of Michael’s reprisal multiplied exponentially; terror-spiders hatched and laid eggs, scurrying in my head until I could hardly think.
Marlena is terrified of what Michael might do to her sister, but she has some tricks up her sleeves, even if she has to suffer more than ever before to put them to good use.
For readers familiar with Ann Aguirre’s extensive body of work, this is a huge departure for her; The Third Mrs. Durst is largely a plot-driven effort. Readers expecting to find out why Durst is such a scumbag will be disappointed. This isn’t about that. He obviously hates women and feels like they’ve been placed on the planet to please them. That’s really all you need to know. Aguirre offers a quick and dirty revenge tale that doesn’t flinch when it comes to the gritty, disturbing details. Refreshingly, she presents the narrator Marlena as a very calculating woman. Is she “likable?” Warm and fuzzy? Not really. Should she be? Heck no! She’s certainly not an unfeeling revenge machine, quite the opposite. She’s a woman that’s come from the direst of circumstances and has decided she won’t let anyone else dictate her life or abuse the people she cares about. There’s a reason she’s focused on Durst, and there’s a reason she’s putting herself through hell (boy does she.) But the “why” is for readers to discover, and those that love a good little revenge fantasy will have a lot of fun doing it.