A Woman Betrayed is the latest Barbara Delinsky original paperback novel to be re-released in hardcover. The book jacket suggests that the cloth edition is “sure to be treasured by fans everywhere,” but I’m not quite as enthusiastic about its keeper status. While not a bad novel, it shows its age by featuring an “Oh, poor me!” heroine, who is eventually overshadowed by her best friend.
The novel uses the “woman in jeopardy” theme endemic to many television movies of the time. Laura Frye has everything she wants in life - a husband, two children, a successful restaurant and catering business. Then one day her accountant husband, Jeffrey, fails to return home. As days drag on with no word and no clues to his disappearance, Laura tries to keep her spirits up, but she is faced with mounting stress. Her mother, a psychology professor in their small New England town, is more critical than supportive. Her mother-in-law’s health is failing. Her teenaged daughter turns her anger towards Laura. Her Ivy League son is accused of a heinous crime. And then Laura is contacted by officials who have uncovered a nasty secret about her missing husband that could very well explain his absence.
The wife of 20 years has to finally admit that she didn’t know Jeffrey as well as she thought, and that their allegedly perfect life together had major flaws. Looking back to examine what went wrong means revisiting an earlier, passionate relationship, the end of which sent her into Jeffrey’s arms. Surprisingly, Jeffrey’s disappearance could mean a second chance with a first love.
When I first read A Woman Betrayed ten years ago, I didn’t notice that Laura, supposedly a woman in charge, spends most of the novel reacting to the series of increasingly bad things that happen to her and her loved ones. We rarely see her be proactive or decisive. Her blindness to the obvious problems in her marriage is annoying, although the scales do fall from her eyes by the novel’s conclusion. Fortunately, the secondary romance is much more interesting than the primary one. Laura’s best friend, Daphne, is a tough-as-nails attorney who has always put her career first. She meets a man who should be her opponent, but is instead her perfect match. Daphne’s struggle to make decisions about her future and her friendship with Laura reveal her to be a complex, multi-faceted and sometimes flawed character who is responsible for most of the action in the novel.
Delinsky’s intelligent and sensitive handling of family dynamics has always been a trademark. Laura’s relationship with her overly analytical mother has never been strong, but through this crisis Laura finally learns to stand up for herself. She also faces the challenges of parenting two older adolescents, who are almost grown but still need guidance and reassurance. Other characters have issues to resolve with their family members and secrets that have to emerge before it’s too late.
A final plot twist makes A Woman Betrayed a satisfying relationship drama, but its heroine, who is too traditionally passive, prevents it from being stronger. The fascinating secondary heroine foreshadows the multi-layered characters Delinsky would go on to create in later novels. Daphne is the best justification for paying hardcover price for a novel whose paperback version is probably still available in used bookstores or on-line.