Recipe for a Perfect Wife

This was a beautiful rendering of two women, from different decades, learning their strength as women.


  • Enjoy character-driven books
  • Like alternate characters
  • Enjoy 1950s and contemporary settings
  • Are in the mood for a book about women

TitleRecipe for a Perfect Wife | Author: Karma BrownRating: 4/5

I didn’t expect to enjoy this book as much as I did.

When Alice Hale leaves a career in publicity to become a writer and follows her husband to the New York suburbs, she is unaccustomed to filling her days alone in a big, empty house. But when she finds a vintage cookbook buried in a box in the old home’s basement, she becomes captivated by the cookbook’s previous owner–1950s housewife Nellie Murdoch.

Alice is a driven, professional Manhattanite – until she gets fired from her publicity job. She doesn’t tell her husband she’s been fired – only says she’s left the company. Living off of one income – her husband Nate’s – the two of them move to the suburbs into a home whose owner died the year before. At first, things are fine, but then Alice begins to realize Nate expects her to be a “wife” – he expects a clean house, cooked meals, and soon, a baby. Alice swings between feeling guilt of losing her salary, and feeling guilt of not being a good wife, and not supporting the household. She also realizes Nate may be hiding secrets of his own.

Rummaging through the items left behind, Alice finds an old cookbook, one filled with recipes and notes in the margins. The owner was Nellie Murdoch, a “good” 1950s housewife who was obedient to her husband, stroked his ego, and was a wonderful hostess to their neighbors and friends.

But Nellie isn’t happy.

Through the years, she writes a series of letters to her mother she never posts, and Alice reads through them, piecing together Nellie’s life, along with her cookbook notes.

Nellie’s husband is abusive – he strikes at her, leaves bruises, and rapes her. But Nellie takes it like a “good wife should.”

The book alternates between Nellie and Alice, and so we get a full picture of the two women’s lives. We also get a picture of two unhappy women who are trying to redirect their lives. Nellie commits a crime to do so, and Alice gives her husband an ultimatum of sorts. I supported both by the end of the book.

What I loved were the voices: Nellie and Alice both hold in their hearts what every human wants: love, happiness, and the freedom to have their own mind and make their own decisions. Each tries to get to that state in different ways.

What I also loved were the snippets of what “good women” and “good wives” should be like, from books written in the late 18902 all the way to WW2. The snippets angered and saddened me, as they relegated women to being next to worthless in a patriarchal society.

One of the better books I’ve read this year so far.

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