Review 1333: Literary Wives! Wait for Me, Jack

Cover for Wait for Me, JackToday is another review for the Literary Wives blogging club, in which we discuss the depiction of wives in 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!

Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J.
Eva of Paperback Princess
Lynn of Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi of Consumed By Ink

* * *

Wait for Me, Jack is the story of a marriage, told backwards. I remember this technique being used for the movie Betrayal, giving the final scenes of the enraptured beginning to an affair a certain poignancy. That’s not really the effect of this novel, however.

The novel begins with a few scenes before the death of 80-something Jack. His wife Milly can hardly walk, increasingly more debilitated since her injury in a car accident in her 40’s. Jack has had a couple of heart attacks. Both have been suffering from the indignities of old age.

The novel works its way backwards, showing them at two- or three-year intervals, until they meet at work in their 20’s in 1950. This backwards approach may have worked better if it was not so regular, if we saw them at less frequent but more significant times of their lives. Instead, it visits them at purposefully mundane times—not when they split up but when they are separated, not when their son dies but before and after.

A more significant issue, though, is that their problems are trite and not very interesting. Jack is a philanderer. Milly is dreamy and a  neglectful housewife. Their personalities are ill-defined. Sure, we see their thoughts over a period, but we still don’t have much of a sense of them as people. I started out mildly interested in them but eventually bored, especially when I found that the last four or five pages echo the first four or five almost verbatim. Really? Why not end with their first sight of one another? Wouldn’t that have been more poignant?

And by the way, what did they see in one another? We’re told that Jack first thinks he’s meeting a classier lady than Milly proves to be. He has upward ambitions. But he must find out that is not so fairly early on. In any case, their reasons for staying together are not clear. I disliked Jack and found Milly to be silly, and the other characters are just ciphers, there for the plot to continue.

I have commented on this before for other novels, but I also disliked Jones’s technique of having her characters think words  like “Gee” and “Jiminy.” These might be words that people say, and she obviously thinks these expressions are cute, but we don’t ever think these sort of interjections.

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

Despite her occasional insights, I found Milly to be much more enigmatic than Jack. For a girl who at the beginning of the book seems to want adventure and a change from her lower-class roots, she settles pretty quickly into a standard 50’s housewife at first not much better off then her parents were.

She actually reminded me of my mom, a dreamy person not really suited to her role, at one point imitating Jackie Kennedy. She accepts her role better than my mother did, though, and stays devoted to her husband even when he strays. Why is that? Is that just because it is what you did in her generation? But that’s clearly not true, as it is just at this time that divorce increased so much in the U. S.

Jack has the typical 50’s view of his wife and never really advances out of it. He considers their money his and discounts the effort she spends caring for the kids or keeping the house. “What do you do all day?” he asks, even though anyone who has done both roles knows that keeping a house and caring for children is a lot harder than working in an office. These were accepted views of the time, though. Still, Jones herself seems to have the same view, having Milly watch soap operas and read magazines and daydream more than showing her engaged in her daily tasks.

So, how to answer this question? I see Milly as a woman who accepts her traditional role as defined in the 50’s and doesn’t really advance much with the times. Jones shows her, for example, puzzled about feminism in the 60’s and 70’s but not really getting it. She inexplicably puts up with Jack’s dalliances and accepts his illegitimate son into her family. Most of the time, she doesn’t really seem to love Jack (although I think she loves him more than he loves her), just as he doesn’t seem to love her but criticizes her all the time. However, she stays devoted to him in other ways.

Maybe this describes most marriages. I don’t know. But I think the biggest problem with this book is that it takes a surfacy look at marriage.

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8 thoughts on “Review 1333: Literary Wives! Wait for Me, Jack

  1. Jane April 1, 2019 / 1:37 pm

    This does sound depressing, how many women gave up (or didn’t really believe in) their dreams for marriage. But it’s such an interesting topic, it’s a shame Jones didn’t delve deeper. I like your point about her not getting it either – having Milly watching soap operas etc – is this a dig at stay at home mothers?

    • whatmeread April 1, 2019 / 2:35 pm

      I don’t think she meant it that way. She based this book on her parents. Maybe she doesn’t remember how hectic it was when the kids were little.

  2. Naomi April 1, 2019 / 3:21 pm

    After reading this, I kind of want to say that the author was maybe trying to show that after all the ups and downs in their marriage, there’s still love there (so it was all worth it?). But if that’s the case, I don’t think she succeeded. Maybe if, like you said, we get to know a little bit more about them and the things they did or interested them beyond their children and work. Or maybe the point is that Milly doesn’t ever have anything beyond that, and neither do many other women in similar marriages? I find it hard to believe that the love could still be there – it was hard to see in the first place.

    • whatmeread April 1, 2019 / 4:16 pm

      Yes, I agree. In some ways, I think their marriage was typical of the time, including some of Jack’s attitudes, but it was hard to see why they were even married. Also, we may have related to them better if we’d seen them during more dramatic times of their lives, although I think Jones wanted to portray the everyday.

  3. Emily J. April 3, 2019 / 5:32 pm

    I like that you critique the writing. The characters ARE flat, their problems are boring, and overall it was a boring book (which is why I didn’t finish it). While Naomi made the point that the overall depiction of marriage is “depressingly realistic” the message (whatever it is) doesn’t quite translate when the writing is so poor. I think a book about these same themes and problems could be much better done and therefore be compelling and interesting and perhaps life changing for those reading it. Perhaps the bad writing is the worst part: it then negates the portrait of a marriage that does need to be told. Being real about how hard marriage is and how bad men like Jack can be seems like a worthy novel. The author just didn’t pull it off well. Your last line gets at this.

    • whatmeread April 3, 2019 / 6:24 pm

      Those are very good points. Think about They Were Sisters, which, although a little more sensational, covered some of the same problems. It was much better and more balanced. You could see why the successful marriage was successful and the unsuccessful marriages failed.

  4. The Paperback Princess April 8, 2019 / 5:10 pm

    I was also struck by the decision to check in with them on regular days and not at the watershed moments of their lives. I had a similar reaction to the reading, initially being intrigued by the beginning and ending up being disappointed and kind of grossed out by the beginning. The whole novel, the relationship, the characters were all missing a spark.

    • whatmeread April 8, 2019 / 5:12 pm

      Yes, I agree. I think it may have been more effective if they visited them at more important times.

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