Isaacs, Susan. As Husbands Go.

NY: Scribner, 2010.

Isaacs has written maybe a dozen novels over the past couple of decades and I’ve read most of them. She’s a terrific writer; her characters are four-dimensional, her dialogue sparkles, and her sense of humor is the drollest imaginable. Like the author, most of her protagonists are middle-aged Jewish women living on Long Island. They tend to be upper-middle-class but smug or snobbish they’re not.

This time, the focus is on Susie Gersten — okay, Susan B. Anthony Rabinowitz Gersten — wife of a very successful Manhattan plastic surgeon, who is extremely happy with her life, not to mention her four-year-old triplet boys. She’s a partner in a small florist business which is doing well, she has a terrific fashion sense, she’s an excellent cook, and she’s a self-taught member of fashionable society. And then one morning she discovers her husband didn’t come home the night before. He’s very loyal, very ethical/moral, and a monogamist by nature, and he adores his kids, so she knows he hasn’t run off or anything like that. And then he turns up dead in the apartment of a prostitute on the Upper East Side, stabbed with a pair of scissors. Susie doesn’t consider herself uncommonly intelligent — in fact, she has to work at reading good literature and keeping up with the international news — but she turns out to be very much on the ball in dealing with this disaster, and in finding out what happened. No, make that “what really happened.” Because she doesn’t buy for a minute that Jonah was killed by a hooker. Her Grandma Ethel, a fixture on Miami television (and who deserted her own daughter, Susie’s mother, at the age of eight), calmly tells her that if she’s convinced of this, then she simply has to discover the reason why Susie’s husband was there that doesn’t involve sex. (Ethel is a great character.) The story first follows Susie through her grief and uncertainty about what will happen to her life without Jonah in it — an traumatic experience even to read about, and which is very well done indeed. Then she has to deal with Jonah’s ultra-snobbish parents and his failure of a brother, and his two partners in the surgical practice, all of whom have their own axes to grind. And then she slowly but determinedly sets out to discover the truth, borrowing the talents of her friends where she can, taking advice from Ethel and her business partner, cutting corners when necessary. Because she’s always going to be a widow for all the rest of her life — but she’s damned well going to know why. My favorite supporting character in the story, actually, is Hugh, Susie’s partner’s husband, and better known as “Fat Boy” — a 300-pound finance and investments genius who knows he’s brilliant and doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him. This isn’t Issacs’s best novel, but it’s still a very good read.


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