3 Sentence Summary
The Wife Between Us is a psychological thriller by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. The story follows recently divorced Vanessa Thompson as she tries to prevent her ex-husband’s second marriage to the woman he left her for. We see the unhealthy behaviour, the stalking, the drinking and the escalation of behaviour that Vanessa resorts to in order to stop the wedding.
Summary Read Time: Less than 5 minutes
Actual Book Length: 346
First Published in: 2018
Below is the detailed yet quick summary of the book:
The novel is divided into three parts; Part 1 switches between Vanessa’s first-person narration and Nellie’s third-person account. In the Prologue, Vanessa stalks the young, pretty woman her ex-husband, Richard, left her for. She ominously alludes to the harm the other woman may suffer if she stays with Richard.
Nellie, a pre-school teacher with a history of anxiety and insomnia, is getting married to Richard, a successful businessman. Nellie was deeply affected by a traumatic event during her college years, which fueled her lifelong battle with insomnia. Recently, she started receiving anonymous phone calls that have made her even more anxious. However, she feels comforted by Richard’s ability to calm and protect her.
After her marriage broke down, Vanessa moved in with her Aunt Charlotte. Now, she spends her time obsessing over Richard and her “replacement.” Vanessa learns of her ex-husband’s engagement while at work, and the news sends her into hysterics.
The remaining part 1 of the book alternates between Vanessa’s and Nellie’s stories. Nellie is getting married soon, but she’s feeling really nervous about it because she’s not sure if Richard is the right person for her. She tries to rationalize it, even though there are lots of signs that he’s actually really controlling. For example, he doesn’t let her spend time with her friends, he pressures her to quit her job, and he doesn’t include her in important decisions. Vanessa spends her time trying to get in touch with Richard’s fiancée. She gets more and more obsessed with it as she keeps failing to reach her.
In part 2, we learn about Vanessa’s trauma and the abuse she suffered at the hands of Richard. During her senior year of college, Vanessa was responsible for a sorority event in which a pledge, Maggie, accidentally drowned. Vanessa blamed herself for the accident—and so did Maggie’s brother, Jason. At her funeral, Jason threatened Vanessa with revenge. Vanessa’s guilt and terror motivated her to move from Florida to New York.
Richard’s abuse is psychological, emotional, and physical. When Vanessa confronts him, he calls her irrational and suggests she has inherited her mother’s mental illness. Whenever Richard feels he is losing control of his wife, he punishes her. After his first attack, Vanessa convinced herself it would not happen again. Eventually, she began to keep track of his deceits in a notebook. When Richard found this notebook, thinking she was planning to leave him, he nearly strangled her. Vanessa realized that in order to leave her marriage unharmed, it must be Richard’s idea to end it.
Part 2 ends with another twist: Vanessa orchestrated Richard’s affair with Emma, hoping he would replace Vanessa with Emma. However, once Vanessa realizes that she is condemning Emma to the abuse she suffered, she resolves to save her. Vanessa finally gets through to Emma, but she fears Emma has been pulled back in by Richard’s charm, so she takes desperate measures. Vanessa plans a confrontation with Richard in the hallway of Emma’s apartment, hoping Emma will catch him in his violence. Though Vanessa knows she may not survive, the risk is worth it to her to ensure that Richard never harms another woman again.
Vanessa angered Richard, causing him to attempt to choke her to death, but Emma interfered. Once his violence was exposed, Emma left Richard and he was required to undergo inpatient therapy.
A final twist comes in the epilogue when we learn that Emma is the daughter of a professor Vanessa had an affair with in college. Emma started her own affair with Richard to hurt Vanessa for her role in breaking up her parents’ marriage, but she feels guilty once she learns that Vanessa was unaware of the professor’s family situation. Emma tells Vanessa the truth and the women part ways.