‘Girl on the Train’ Team Takes on ‘The Wife Between Us’ (Exclusive)

Holly Bario

Holly Bario has picked up the January thriller for Steven Spielberg's Amblin Partners.

The same book scout who urged Holly Bario to buy the rights to the book The Girl on the Train when it was a mere manuscript has struck again; Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners, where Bario is president of production, is now planning a film of the psychological thriller The Wife Between Us by a new writing duo: Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. The novel hits bookstores Jan. 9 from St. Martin’s Press.

“Marcy Drogin, who found Girl on the Train, called me when we were in production for that movie,” Bario recalls. “She had read The Wife Between Us and she told me, ‘This is going to be a big book too and you have to take the chance.’”

Bario was ripe for reading a female-centered thriller. “Since I was living Girl on the Train at that moment, I was already sort of fever-dreaming — thinking about unreliable narrators and women characters who aren’t great to each other or to themselves,” she adds.

The Wife Between Us tells the tale of Vanessa, whose hot, hedge-fund husband Richard abandons their marriage, spinning her into wine-soused financial straits. When Vanessa learns that Richard is newly engaged to a woman she thinks of as her “replacement,” it seems like the novel is headed straight for bunny-on-the-stove territory. But Hendricks and Pekkanen flip expectations when they reveal exactly why Vanessa wants to stop the wedding. And then they flip them again. And again and again in a story that divulges itself so unhurriedly that the motivation and modus operandi of even seemingly minor characters create thrilling moments of revelation.

“It was not what I expected,” cautions Bario, who could read only sections of the book as it was still being written, and was eager to find out what happened next.“They wouldn’t tell me the end, but I still wanted to do it and then when I got the whole book I was like ‘Oh, wow!’”   

St. Martin’s Press bought the book in a bidding war and has announced a whopping first printing of 250,000 with rights already sold into 29 countries.

Under Bario’s watch, Girl on a Train was the debut picture for Amblin Partners, which was created in December 2015 by Spielberg and Participant Media founder Jeff Skoll, with Universal as distribution partner. Amblin Partners develops and produces movies under the banners of Amblin Entertainment, DreamWorks Pictures and Participant Media. Key investors include Participant, Reliance Entertainment, Entertainment One, Alibaba Pictures and Universal. Bario originally joined DreamWorks in 2008. During her tenure, the company produced the Oscar-nominated drama The Help, I Love You, Man, Lincoln and The Hundred-Foot Journey, among others.

Pekkanen was working as a journalist eight years ago when she began writing her first novel (The Opposite of Me) and placed Hendricks atop her list of “dream” editors.

During Hendricks’ more than 20 years at Simon & Schuster, she edited hundreds of first-time authors and many best-sellers, including the first novel How to Be Single by Liz Tuccillo, who made her name as a writer for Sex and the City and then as co-author of nonfiction book He’s Just Not the Into You, on which the 2009 rom-com was based; the book The Perks of Being a Wallflower, whose author, Stephen Chbosky, went on to script the screenplay for the 2012 film starring Emma Watson; and a dozen books by powerhouse writer Jennifer Weiner, including In Her Shoes, which became the 2005 comedy starring Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette.

Pekkanen’s dream became a reality, with Hendricks ultimately editing seven of her books, including several best-sellers. Author and editor became such close friends that soon after Hendricks decided to quit corporate publishing, Pekkanen suggested, “Let’s write a book together.”  

As fans of Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies and Showtime’s The Affair, Hendricks and Pekkanen (now at work on their second book, which they emphasized is not a sequel) knew they wanted to explore a narrative from the perspectives of different characters. And they kept the possibility of a movie in mind during their writing process. "We approached our story cinematically from the start and framed our chapters as scenes,” recalls Hendricks. “And we pushed each other to keep the narrative taut on every page.”

Bario notes that when she first bid on the book in spring of 2016, it was a different political and social climate for women — well before the election of Donald Trump and long before the continually breaking news of systemic sexual harassment by Harvey Weinstein and others and the rise of  #MeToo movement that is building momentum by the day. “Without giving too much away, I consider the story feminist,” she says, adding that amid current events, “The Wife Between Us is all the more relevant.”