Day 1035: Literary Wives: The Wife

Cover for The WifeToday is another review for the Literary Wives blogging club, in which we discuss the depiction of wives in modern fiction. If you have read the book, please participate by leaving comments on any of our blogs. Be sure to read the reviews and comments of the other wives!

Ariel of One Little Library
Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J.
Kate of Kate Rae Davis
Lynn of Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi of Consumed By Ink

My Review

I’ve only read one other book by Meg Wolitzer, and I found it mildly interesting. The Wife, however, I found much more impressive.

Joan Castleman is traveling to Finland at the beginning of the novel. Her husband Joe is a famous novelist, and he is on his way to accept the Helsinki Prize for literature. On the flight, Joan decides their marriage is over. For too long, Joan has put up with Joe’s selfishness, including his infidelities. But their marriage is founded on a more fundamental lie.

The novel flashes back to incidents in the couple’s life, beginning with Joe’s seduction of her when she was a Smith co-ed in the 50’s and he was her literature instructor. Their relationship caused the end of his marriage and his fatherhood of a new baby.

Aside from a deft and insightful portrait of the end of a marriage, this novel deals with such feminist themes as the bias against women in the publishing industry and the sexual politics of marriage. Although I sometimes dislike Wolitzer’s apparent fascination with bodily functions, I found this carefully observed novel both dryly amusing and terribly sad. It had a twist that I saw coming, but that did not lessen the power of the novel.

What does this book say about wives or the experience of being a wife?

Although this novel comments on the experience of wives from the Greatest Generation, these experiences continue, in their own way, in many current-day marriages. In her marriage, Joan continually caters to the needs of her selfish and unfaithful husband on the grounds that he is a great writer. But she does even more for him than raise the kids, keep his house, meet his every need, and be a loyal wife. In fact, their relationship is entirely one-sided, with him becoming ever fatter and more self-satisfied.

In fact, the sacrifices Joan makes for her husband are shocking. But I am determined not to tell too much. Although Joan thinks the bargains they’ve made are exciting at first, she goes into her marriage with extreme naivety. In fact, over time, it is difficult to understand what Joan gets from the marriage at all, while it is clear what Joe gets from it.

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6 thoughts on “Day 1035: Literary Wives: The Wife

  1. Naomi February 6, 2017 / 12:21 pm

    I felt like the marriage was already destined to be doomed when Joan and Joe so hastily fell into their relationship – it wasn’t a very careful or thoughtful start to things.
    Spoiler:
    One thing I can think of that possibly kept Joan in her marriage is that she might have believed their ‘arrangement’ the best way for her to have her writing recognized at the time, even though it was in someone else’s name. By the end of their marriage, though, things had changed.

  2. whatmeread February 6, 2017 / 5:08 pm

    It didn’t take much to convince her that she didn’t have much chance to get recognition. I thought myself that she found it exciting, like she said. But of course you’d get upset after you watched someone taking credit for your work.

  3. Emily J. February 6, 2017 / 5:48 pm

    I have never read any other of Wolitzer’s books, and I did try one, but I couldn’t get into it. This one was great, though. I really enjoyed it. You are so right that being able to see the twist didn’t ruin the novel. Good on you for not revealing it. I felt constrained by my review so I had to talk about it in order to make sense of what I felt about the novel. I liked the feminist themes as well.

  4. whatmeread February 6, 2017 / 7:43 pm

    I understand because I wrestled with whether to tell the ending or not. I usually try not to tell anything important that happens toward the end unless the blurb reveals it. I liked this one a lot better, too, and felt it was more appropriate for our club than many we have read.

  5. Lynn Gerrard February 12, 2017 / 11:00 pm

    Agreed. This one definitely gave us much to ponder with regard to “wife” and the role of “wife.” 🙂 I like the way you emphasize that Joan was so very naive in the beginning of their relationship (and so young) and she initially found it very exciting that her writing was published recognized, just not as hers. I couldn’t imagine keeping that a secret and lying even to your own children! It seems bizarre to me, but…things can become comfortable in other ways…

    • whatmeread February 13, 2017 / 10:18 am

      In light of all her thoughts about it, it’s hard to imagine that she decided to keep quiet at the end, but typical considering what happened before.

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