Substitute Wife (1962)

Bill Russo
Playtime Books

Don Whitney is the young and talented star of an advertising firm in the early 1960s, and freshly married to college sweetheart Janet.  Lately, though, Janet seems more interested in rehearsing her role in a community theater production (with Don's partner Clyde) than spending time with Don, especially in the bedroom. Don's not happy about any of this, being a red-blooded American husband and all, but he figures Janet will be less distracted once the play is over.

In the meantime, however, all the single women around Don sense that something is amiss in his marriage and move in for the kill (as single women so often do in pulp from this era).  Buying tickets for the Don-lottery:  a secretary at work, a client in Chicago, and the most determined of all, Janet's little sister, Leila, a young widow (her drunkard husband having fallen asleep on some train tracks) who shows up one morning on Don and Janet's doorstep for a surprise visit.  As the cover suggests, Leila spends a lot of time standing by the fireplace in her negligee hoping to entice Don away from her big sister.  And she succeeds, at least temporarily.

Thinking that his wife is sleeping with Clyde anyway, Don auditions the charms of all the women hovering at the margins of his marriage.  At the end, however, we discover that Janet and Clyde's "relationship" is totally platonic.  Meanwhile, Janet admits she had been deliberately withholding her sexual attention to Don--not because she wanted to---but because she had been told that rationing sex was the best way to keep a newlywed husband interested.  Who gave her this advice?  Leila, the scheming little sister!  Together, Don and Janet fix little sis's wagon and renew their devotion to one another.

Pretty pedestrian as far as sleazy "marriage test" books of the era go.  What makes this particular title of at least regional interest is its setting.  Substitute Wife takes place entirely within Madison, Wisconsin, and the book is chock full of local references.  Don and Janet live in Shorewood Hills, make excursions to Lake Mendota, and pass through scenic Middleton. All of the geography is very accurate--the only suspicious detail is the claim that Don's ad firm is on the 9th floor of a building downtown.  I'm not sure there actually were any 9-story buildings in Madison in 1962--but that's for someone else to figure out. 

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