Day 712: Literary Wives: My Father’s Wives

Cover for My Father's WivesToday is another Literary Wives discussion about the book My Father’s Wives by Mike Greenburg.

Be sure to read the reviews and comments of the other wives! If you have read the book, please participate by leaving comments on any of our blogs.

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If there is such at thing as a male equivalent for chick lit, My Father’s Wives fits in the genre. Take a similar focus on romance and family, keep the background of wealth and focus on expensive brand names, replace shopping with basketball and witty dialogue with earnestness. Mix in a bunch of underdeveloped characters that readers don’t care about. Make it light as a feather despite themes that could be heavy and also make it thoroughly predictable. There you have it. This genre can even have a similarly rhyming name, but it would be rude to say it.

Jonathan Sweetwater has led a privileged existence. He is the son of a U.S. senator. He has a job as a banker that he enjoys, and he has been taken under the wing of the CEO because of a mutual love of basketball. He is happily married with two kids that he loves.

One day before he is due to leave for a business trip, he decides to come home early from work and sees what he thinks is evidence that his wife Claire is having an affair. I’m not giving away anything here. This happens almost at the beginning of the book.

Instead of simply walking into the room or, failing that, asking his wife about what he saw, Jonathan hires a private detective. This is what movie reviewers call the lame-brained plot, the plot that continues when the problem could be cleared up with a few sentences. If he had behaved at all rationally, there would be no story, however. By the way, this detective’s shenaningans, supposedly an effort to protect his client’s anonymity, are ridiculous.

Then for some reason, Jonathan decides he really needs to find out about his father, from whom he and his mother have been estranged since he was 9. I would call this the McGuffin if it had any other purpose than making the book a little longer. To do this, he tracks down all six of his father’s wives, doing so while pretending to be on business trips.

I felt the premise behind this novel, although not unlikely, didn’t really relate well to its trigger. That is, why would thinking his wife was having an affair make him run out to find out about his father? The people in the novel are very thinly characterized, even Jonathan. We know, for example, that he’s supposed to be destroyed by his discovery, but we don’t feel it. In any case, I think we all know that there will be some explanation for Claire’s apparent infidelity.

I would also like to mention the choices in this novel and the lack of a sense that some of the choices are not ethical or moral. Jonathan sees nothing wrong with hunting up his father’s wives while he’s pretending to work. His boss behaves more like a mafia don than a CEO, and if he was really spending his nights with cocaine-sniffing models, he wouldn’t take an employee along. In any case, that relationship is inexplicable and unlikely. Claire does one questionable thing that is unexplained, and I cannot say more about it.

What does the book say about wives or the experience of being a wife? In what way does the woman define “wife”—or in what way is she defined by “wife”?

Although there are a lot of wives in this book, I don’t think we learn much about them. We don’t even see that much of Claire. Her role seems to be very conventional—to be a good suburban wife and mother. She is warm and someone Jonathan feels comfortable with.

Literary Wives logoOf Percy Sweetwater’s six wives, we learn that he left each one for not being perfect. Jonathan’s mother is intelligent, educated, and cultured, but she doesn’t worship Percy, so he leaves her for Christine, who does. But he soon tires of Christine for her lack of the qualities he admires in his first wife. Next, he marries Elizabeth, a doctor, for her intelligence. He continues on, always marrying his current wife’s opposite. But we barely learn anything about them except their jobs. I don’t think we can gain much of a coherent view from this novel of how the author views wives. Clearly Percy views a wife as someone who has to meet all his needs for admiration, intelligence, charm, and beauty, but just as clearly, that is not Jonathan’s view of a wife. What is his view? That’s not clear. Maybe a companion.

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23 thoughts on “Day 712: Literary Wives: My Father’s Wives

  1. Naomi June 1, 2015 / 7:59 am

    I was afraid I’d be the only one who thought all these things, but I’m happy to see that I’m not.
    Yes, this book was completely predictable, and I agree that the trigger for his sudden interest in his father didn’t make a lot of sense. His whole life seemed unreal to me.
    This made me laugh: “…this detective’s shenanigans, supposedly an effort to protect his client’s anonymity, are ridiculous.” I thought the same thing. And, isn’t shenanigan a great word?
    We don’t get to know any of the wives very well, but it sure rubs me the wrong way that Jonathan seems to feel sorry for them for being dumped by his dad. I did like his mother, but Claire just seems too perfect.

    • whatmeread June 1, 2015 / 8:04 am

      Do you mean the wives should feel lucky to get rid of Jonathan’s dad? I think we were supposed to believe that he is a man of great charm. I think people with great charm get away with a lot of stuff. I was imagining him as something like the husband on The Good Wife.

      • Naomi June 1, 2015 / 8:14 am

        Not lucky to get rid of him, but also not pining away fro the rest of their days. I like to think they were able to pick up and move on.

      • whatmeread June 1, 2015 / 8:16 am

        I didn’t get the impression they were pining, but you’re saying that Jonathan thinks they probably are?

      • Naomi June 1, 2015 / 8:29 am

        I didn’t get that impression from them, either, but Jonathan described them all as sad. Because I hadn’t seen that in them, I wondered why he had.

      • whatmeread June 1, 2015 / 8:31 am

        Projection? I don’t remember that. Were we supposed to think that Jonathan suddenly wanted to find out about his father to understand what kind of person cheats? I don’t know. I didn’t understand it at all. That’s why I called it a McGuffin. The book is pretty short, and frankly, I feel almost as if Greenburg found he didn’t really have much to say.

      • Naomi June 1, 2015 / 8:46 am

        No, in the end, he pretty much didn’t have a lot to say. I would like to know, though, what he thinks of his main character. Does he think he’s pretty great, or does he know what bad decisions he made (the worst being not confronting his wife at the very beginning of the novel).

      • whatmeread June 1, 2015 / 8:49 am

        I think that throughout he had the sheepish attitude that some men have when they know they’re doing the wrong thing, and I think that somehow they think that sheepishness is going to get them out of it.

      • Naomi June 1, 2015 / 9:59 am

        I like that.

  2. whatmeread June 1, 2015 / 8:15 am

    I wouldn’t say it was maddening, but it’s a pretty stupid book. I think Naomi said there didn’t seem to be any purpose to it, and I would agree.

  3. Emily J. June 1, 2015 / 10:13 am

    Oh my goodness! I seriously guffawed at your suggestion that this is “chick lit” that we could call with a similarly rhyming word. Nice! So true. That is the perfect way to describe this one. And I like how you pointed out the lame-brain plot. While my reaction was to the stupidity of the character(s), the lack of realistic plot absolutely contributed to the ridiculousness of this novel. Great review. Love it!

    • whatmeread June 1, 2015 / 10:16 am

      Thanks! I wondered if anyone would say anything about my joke about chick lit.

  4. Emily J. June 1, 2015 / 10:14 am

    And, I like the new look of your blog! Have you thought about changing the tagline to something that describes your writing and posts? I think this is MUCH more than “just another wordpress site.” 🙂

    • whatmeread June 1, 2015 / 10:17 am

      I guess I should. I think when I got the first site, that was the default and I didn’t have the ability to change it. But now I do. I just have to think of something.

      • Emily J. June 1, 2015 / 10:35 am

        You changed it! I like. How about A Prolific Reader Reviews One A Day? Just kidding. I think what you have is fine. I am just always impressed with how much you read.

      • whatmeread June 1, 2015 / 10:38 am

        Yours is probably better than mine. I’m waiting for inspiration to strike. I’d go with something like One a Day Reviews, but I don’t want to have to post if I don’t want to. If you have any good ideas, let me know.

    • whatmeread June 1, 2015 / 10:17 am

      I really like it, too. It seems cleaner and more modern. I only had one person say she missed my library picture.

  5. Lynn at Smoke & Mirrors June 1, 2015 / 7:22 pm

    Well, I’ll stick up for this one! 🙂 Chicklit or ____lit or not! 🙂 I agree, nice one with the rhyming suggestion, Kay! 🙂 Perhaps the two themes weren’t so disconnected to me because I have had my world turned upside down by infidelity and I remember just how isolating and destructive it was for me. And…honestly, I did start “searching” for connections at that time. So for me, this rang true in many ways. Obviously, not so for you-all! 🙂 I think that idea of always wondering about your father held such a strong resonance for me, too! Ah, well, hopefully the August read will provide you-all with some enjoyment! 🙂

    • whatmeread June 2, 2015 / 7:31 am

      Anyway, it always adds interest to the discussion if there is a disagreement of opinion.

      • Lynn June 2, 2015 / 8:20 am

        Very true! 🙂

  6. Carolyn O June 2, 2015 / 3:48 pm

    Oh Kay, I love it when you hate a book.

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