by Fritz Leiber
So here’s a love story that starts with this premise – what if all women were inherently gifted in the art and practice of witchcraft? Seriously. Mothers instructing daughters in secret, women experimenting with spells on their own, and no one ever speaking of it openly?
Conjure Wife successfully takes this epic-scale concept and focuses it squarely on a small college town, and one suburban family in particular. Norman Saylor is an ethnologist at Hempnell College and he and his wife Tansy live a quiet, happy and mostly unremarkable life together in their middle-class neighborhood. One day Norman decides to break a quaint, mid-century rule of married life – he pokes around in his wife’s dressing room. The consequences of this transgression are the foundation of Fritz Leiber’s outstanding first novel.
Written in 1943, Conjure Wife (according to the Internet Movie Database) is the inspiration for at least three films and an episode of television. It’s not hard to see why. The author ably handles the potentially silly central idea, and much of the book’s spooky entertainment comes from the relative believability of the plot’s twists and turns. Years later, ‘Bewitched’ would mine this territory for laughs, but here Leiber plays it straight and nails it.
This is a classic of vintage dark fantasy and should immediately be sought out by readers of the fantastic…or those looking for an unusual romance that doesn’t have a thing to do with brooding vampires.