A Beautiful, Terrible Thing Review

Synopsis: What do you do when you discover that the person you’ve built your life around never existed? When “it could never happen to me” does happen to you?
These are the questions facing Jen Waite when she begins to realize that her loving husband–the father of her infant daughter, her best friend, the love of her life–fits the textbook definition of psychopath. In a raw, first-person account, Waite recounts each heartbreaking discovery, every life-destroying lie, and reveals what happens once the dust finally settles on her demolished marriage.

After a disturbing email sparks Waite’s suspicion that her husband is having an affair, she tries to uncover the truth and rebuild trust in her marriage. Instead, she finds more lies, infidelity, and betrayal than she could have imagined. Waite obsessively analyzes her relationship, trying to find a single moment from the last five years that isn’t part of the long-con of lies and manipulation. With a dual-timeline narrative structure, we see Waite’s romance bud, bloom, and wither simultaneously, making the heartbreak and disbelief even more affecting.

Review: 3/5

I received an ARC of this book through Penguin First to Read. Thank ya!

Oh my God, my friends. This book…this book is WILD.

I have this really terrible habit of requesting ARCs without really looking into them. And this book was no exception. All I knew was that this was, essentially, a nonfiction thriller about a marriage. And that’s not totally what I got, but damn if it wasn’t close. HOW FUN IS THAT?!

So we follow the author, Jen, in chapters that alternate “Before” and “After.” The event that distinguishes the author’s life into two parts is the realization that her husband, whom she fully adores in a way that borders on worrying, isn’t who she thought he was. Later, she decides he’s a SOCIOPATH. Dun dun dun!

Oh, also they have a newborn baby. So that ups the stakes.

I really liked the first half of this book. I read it in a sitting. It’s sooooo next-level intense – I can’t stop using that word – and Jen keeps realizing stuff and you’re like WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN?! JEN, WHAT’S HAPPENING?! TELL ME JEN! The Before/After stuff works really well here.

The second half…I’m like, not as into. This may sound totally b*tchy of me, so bear with me, okay? I’m sorry about who I am as a person.

At this point, the Before/After stuff becomes less helpful. Because lovely Jen then has to make us realize stuff about her husband in the “Before” sections…even though she totally wasn’t realizing it at the time. Which feels forced. Also, honestly, it gets to a point where it’s not as interesting. It doesn’t have the same edge-of-your-seat what’s-to-come fascinating quality that the first half locked down.

The other thing about this book is…I don’t think anyone in it understands sociopathy. Including the frequently-featured therapist. Because this acts like a sociopathy diagnosis is the answer to why every marriage has ever gone wrong in the history of time. Your fiancé left you? Sociopath. Your husband took your money and split? Textbook sociopath. Your dad’s been married five times? Total f*ckin’ psycho. And I’m just sitting there like…Does anyone know what they’re talking about?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure I don’t. In terms of experience I have, like, a high school-level intro to psych class and every true crime story I can get my hands on. But there are two things I definitely for-sure know about sociopaths. (Yes, one of them is from the podcast Serial, what of it??? It’s the story that changed a nation!)

Okay, so. Those two things. One, there aren’t that many sociopaths in the world. (This is the one I know from Serial.) So when you’re constantly like, “Hey, maybe that dude who took the last popsicle from the communal box is a sociopath!” that’s not the most legitimate possibility. And two, they’re really flippin’ hard to diagnose. So, Jen should probably start off this book like: My husband is a total asshole. Maybe he’s pathological on top of that? But that’s not what goes down.

Instead, she comes into it all “HEY HERE ARE ANSWERS” and throws 265 pages at us. And her stupid therapist Lisa doesn’t help. Lisa is the psychology-major equivalent of that professor who throws a textbook in the trashcan and tells the class to call him by his first name. (I gendered the professor male because aren’t those ~cool instructors~ always dudes?) Anyway, this comes even though I’m 97% sure therapists aren’t supposed to just…diagnose people they’ve never goddamn met based purely off the testimony of their traumatized and estranged spouses. Lisa’s all, “Oh my god…based off the one hour I’ve known you…I think your husband might be a total freaking psycho!!!!” Anyway, I guess what I’m saying is if a certain Maine-based therapy practice loses its license for employing a woman whose only certification is a Starbucks rewards card, I called it.

Also, like I mentioned, the second half of the book is a lot more boring than the first half. But that makes sense. Because at a certain point, it has to become Here Is My Progress Here Is My Life Now. And I appreciate that that has to happen and all. It can’t all be me having fun with the tragedies in the lives of others. I’m not a sociopath.

Or am I?

Bottom line: I recommend this. It’s not perfect (in the writing especially), but it’s pretty fascinating and better than I expected.

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