Meet Leslie Carter.
She could be someone you know, someone you’ve heard of. Perhaps she’s even you. A middle-aged married woman. A stay-at-home mom whose children are grown adults, one traveling in Kathmandu, the other a struggling real estate agent with a child of her own. A wife whose husband controls everything, demands everything, and gives nothing.
The last original wife.
Leslie and husband Wesley (yep … Les ‘n Wes) have been married 30 years, and in the last few, Wes’s friends have traded in their “original wives” for younger, hotter models. Okay, so one of them was a widower who remarried a scant few months after his wife’s death, but still. How is Leslie supposed to be friends with these “Barbies”? What does she, a woman nearing sixty, have in common with with women young enough to be her daughter?
As Leslie grows to realize that the answer to that question is a big fat NOTHING, it takes her literally falling into a manhole to rectify the situation. Yes, a manhole. No pun intended.
To try and figure out what course she wants her life to take, Les leaves Wes and heads to her hometown of Charleston to stay with her gay brother (Wes so does not approve of Harlan) and his pampered pooch. Her visit entails some soul searching and self-actualization of sorts. What do you do when you’ve got around twenty years left on this earth? Do you spend it with someone you no longer respect or trust? Or do you convince yourself that you can’t do better – that you don’t deserve better?
One of the fantastic things about this book is how relatable it is. Leslie could be any of us. She gave her best to her marriage, despite having to beg for extra spending money, despite having to drive a used clunker of a car while Wes continually upgraded the lease for her Mercedes Benz, and despite not traveling to places she wants to visit, instead tagging along with Wes on his golf junkets.
Does this sound like any kind of life to live?
Don’t even get her started on her children. Bertie is lazy and self-indulgent, thinking that roaming hte Kathmandu countryside is akin to making a living, while Charlotte abuses her mother’s free daycare and eschews the “sales” portion of her job.
Leslie is fed up, disgusted, and ready to leave.
But first she needs to take some responsibility for where her life is right now.
Who allowed Wes to become the brute he is? Who coddled and subsidized her children’s irresponsible decisions? Who allowed her family to take advantage of her?
Leslie does address these issues, although she never really admits her own culpability. She gives lip service to it, but as far as she’s concerned, Wes is a horse’s ass and her children aren’t much better. The thing is, Leslie, they behaved the way you allowed them to behave. Of course Wes expects a clean house with a monthly housekeeper, fresh coffee, and breakfast to order. Of course he spends all weekend on the golf course. Of course he plans their vacations at his preferred destinations.
Why wouldn’t he? Leslie has allowed and participated in those decisions for the entirety of their marriage. She played as much a role in where she is now as her husband and children did. Her inability to accept this was something that frustrated me about her, yet it also made her more real. Sure, she has a throwaway line here or there in which she admits fault, but she doesn’t really mean it. It’s too painful for her.
I did like how Benton Frank explained the second marriage phenomenon. These men aren’t marrying twentysomething cuties; they’re marrying women in their thirties, women who are nearing the end of their fertility and are panicking. Theirs is a desperate act of coupling, brought on by fear, just as Leslie stays in her marriage for the same reasons.
For all of the seriousness addressed in this novel, it does have its fun, humorous moments. Leslie is occasionally brittle and unlikable, but she’s real.
She could be you. She could be me. She could be any of us.
- Dorothea Benton Frank’s website
- Dorothea Benton Frank’s Facebook page
- THE LAST ORIGINAL WIFE on Goodreads
- Buy the book on Amazon, IndieBound, and B&N