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Ladies night on steroids: 'Hunting Wives' already getting raves

Sharyn Vane
Special to the American-Statesman
May Cobb says the idea for her new book came from stories her mom told while on a road trip.

May Cobb knows you’re ready to walk on the wild side – and she’s ready to take you there.

The Austin writer’s Texas-set thriller, “The Hunting Wives” (Berkley/Penguin Random House, $26), gives us permission to vicariously revel in bad behavior.

We clearly are eager. The Book of the Month club tapped the novel as an April selection, with “Gossip Girl” alum Leighton Meester lauding it on Instagram as a “wild, exciting ride.” It garnered pre-publication starred reviews from industry journals Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. Bustle dubbed it one of 20 Beach Reads You Won’t Be Able to Put Down, Frolic named it one of a dozen “hot reads” for May, and Pop Sugar anointed it as one of the month’s best thriller and mystery books.

“I wanted to subvert the whole men's club thing, and have this be a place where women could do messy, adult, bad things that men get to do in fiction and don't get the clapback,” Cobb said in a phone interview. She’ll officially launch the book Tuesday at BookPeople, in conversation with New York Times-bestselling thriller author Riley Sager.

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“The Hunting Wives” follows Sophie, aspiring Instagram influencer and mom to toddler Jack, who with her husband, Graham, decides to move from Chicago to small-town Texas. The appeal of a slower-paced life soon evaporates, and Sophie finds welcome diversion in a group of moms led by the cruelly captivating Margot Banks. What starts as a girls’ night evolves into id-driven boundary-pushing that eventually leads to murder.

"Hunting Wives" by May Cobb

“I knew I wanted her to get in over her head at some point,” Cobb said of Sophie. “I really wanted to ask Sophie a question that the novel I hope asks: ‘What if you say yes to your darkest desires, instead of repressing them?’ From the safety of my desktop, it was easy to watch her life implode and explode.”

Margot invites Sophie to join the club of the title, a gathering at Margot’s lake house where the moms sip sauvignon blanc and shoot at clay targets. Cobb’s mother planted the seed of the novel when she shared memories of her teen years while the two were driving through Longview.

“She's just a remarkable storyteller,” Cobb said. “Out of the blue she starts telling me about something called the Hunting Party in the mid- to late ‘60s. This group of rich, cool guys would invite people to go into the woods, sit on the hood of their trucks, drink beer and shoot at rabbits. … That image stuck in my brain about this sort of party, with rich people with guns in the woods and how easily a night like that could go wrong.”

Sophie is a deliciously complex character wrestling with multiple truths. Her attraction to Margot and all she represents – particularly the freedom to pursue what she wants, with little concern for social mores or even the limits of the law – reflects both Sophie’s disjointed childhood and longings familiar to those who’ve spent hours ministering to young children.

“Her choices are an escape from the monotony and the slowed-down life, which she did yearn for,” Cobb noted. “The grass may be greener, but it’s boringly green.

“Her father abandoned her, and she has this restless nature. Even though she craves stability, there's a side that craves excitement and danger and unsavory things. She has the right to be both those people.”

And though her readers likely won’t go as far as her characters do, it’s fun to go along for the ride, Cobb said.

“That whole thing women wish for when they have a ladies’ night out, that escape from reality, leaving it all behind? This is that on steroids.” 

If you go

May Cobb will talk about “The Hunting Wives” in a virtual BookPeople event at 6 p.m. Tuesday. It’s free to attend, but copies of the book are for sale. Information and registration: bookpeople.com/event.