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My Only Wife

My Only Wife

Named a Finalist for the 2013 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction and winner of the Paula Anderson Book Award




Jemc’s subtle touch is evident in the focus and attention of My Only Wife. The reader’s heart stirs and stops on her whim. This is a lovely, finely tuned book.
— Amelia Gray, author of Threats, Museum of the Weird, and AM/PM
Jac Jemc’s My Only Wife operates with the calm, pristine clarity of an enormous marble room. In moving, methodically arranged sentences, one comes across the surpassing surfaces and relics of a kind of intimacy that seems an increasingly difficult proposition to rightly preserve. At last, here is a novel concerned with timeless dedication, love, and respect, which phrased through Jac Jemc’s steady warming eye needs no punchline or coincidence or cataclysm to give true glow to the glow itself.
— Blake Butler, author of There Is No Year and Nothing: A Portrait
I adored this book. I adored the slippery, enigmatic wife of the title and I adored her adoring husband and I adored every lovely, heartbreaking sentence in this deftly written, beautiful book.
— Elizabeth Crane, author of When the Messenger is Hot and We Only Know So Much


Her work has been distinguished by a sort of cold beauty, a precision that opens up space in her stories, and My Only Wife reads as the finest expression of that aesthetic.
— Jonathan Messinger in Time Out Chicago
So beautifully rendered but emotionally wrenching.
— Christopher Higgs on HTMLGiant
Like so many polished surfaces that come together, refracting light as they do, My Only Wife gains meaning, effect, through accretion of detail. One comes to feel the husband’s sense of loss, his grief, sharply, poignantly, by the novel’s end.
— Jessica Treat at Drunken Boat
My Only Wife is a sneaky book. It guiles the reader with clean prose and apparent simplicity into believing that it’s a novel about the narrator’s only wife. It may be about many things – about absence, emptiness, and loss – but it really isn’t about the narrator’s only wife. It’s more like an empty glass from the cupboard, an abstraction, a form, and it invites us to fill it with particulars from our own experience.
— David Allan Barker on Nouspique
The book asks us to consider the differences between understanding the ones we love, the limits of that understanding, and the flaws of attempting to understand how we understand them. Perhaps this last point is the step that goes too far, where life de-solidifies and confusingly comes apart in our hands. It forces us to examine ourselves, whether we are the wife, who has crossed over into disappearance, or the husband: broken, humiliated, but remaining in life.
— Jarret Middleton at Small Doggies
My Only Wife is a novel for readers who want to engage with, rather than be merely entertained by, characters, writing and ideas. Jemc has a distinctive style, using some non-traditional elements such as repetition in sentence openings and stand-alone sentences, that convey artistic confidence and that force the reader to pay attention to both what is said and how it is said.
— Jennifer Messner at Books, Personally
Reading Jac Jemc’s novel My Only Wife casts a somewhat strange (in that good sense related to excellent fiction), thrilling dream.
— Justin Nicholes at Our Stories
My Only Wife opens with an epigraph from Emily Dickinson: “That those who know her, know her less, the nearer her they get.” This is the reader’s obsession and compulsion and joy, shared by the husband, who has been left, who recounts for us the stories of his wife. This novel is so well-written, so well-crafted, I was constantly torn between slowing down to linger in the wonderful prose and speeding up to chase the intoxicating story, which is to say, the intoxicating wife. A woman who rips pages from her favorite books, tosses the pages out of windows for passersby below to find and read. A woman who erases the first love letter her husband ever wrote her because it was written in pencil (and for a more heartbreaking reason I won’t divulge here). A woman who collects oral histories of strangers, records them secluded in a closet, out of earshot of her husband. A woman you’d expect to find in a foreign film, where women are celebrated for their strength and wit and independent spirit and unknowability. And while we are making comparisons to the movies, there is a Hitchockian ending I didn’t see coming (as one shouldn’t, Hitchcockian endings!). All in all, a brilliant novel I will add to my shelf of favorite books, alongside Memories of My Melancholy Whores and The Lover and I Look Divine and The Postman Always Rings Twice and Suicide and A Single Man. Books to read again and again. Books to obsess over and devour.
— Elizabeth Ellen, author of Fast Machine
It is an engrossing read, perhaps because of what isn’t being said as much as all of the seemingly-extraneous detail that is being provided.
— Larry Nolen at The OF Blog