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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Day 693: Fallout

Cover for FalloutMost of Fallout is told as a flashback, but the opening section is very short, so we can say we really encounter Luke Kanowski in 1961, when he is 14. He has busted his mother out of the mental asylum where she’s lived since he was five to take her to visit the art museum in London. The expedition is not a success, but while they are being questioned by a security guard, Nina Hollings notices them.

Nina is with her mother Marianne, a selfish woman who hands her off to her sister Mat when Nina is in her way but reclaims her before she can gain any stability. Later, she does other things to sabotage Nina’s self-confidence. Marianne works sporadically as an actress.

Luke is a young adult when he meets Paul Driscoll and Leigh Radley. He has been working at a mill, but shortly after he meets the two, he decides his life is harmful to him. Luke feels immediate friendship for Leigh and Paul and has soon moved to London. There the three of them work together with a few others to open a new theater.

Leigh has fallen immediately in love with Luke, but Luke is busy seducing practically every woman he meets, so Leigh becomes Paul’s girlfriend. Leigh’s father was unfaithful to her mother, so Leigh decides to stick with the man she feels is safe.

Then Luke meets Nina, who her mother has essentially pimped out to Tony Moore, a theatrical producer. Tony and Nina are soon married, Nina naively not realizing that Tony is using her as his beard. That is, she doesn’t realize until she finds him with two waiters during a party.

Luke’s first play is being produced as he and Nina begin an affair. This affair and the things Luke is willing to do to try to “save” Nina have repercussions for several people.

This novel is completely different from Jones’ The Uninvited Guests, which I enjoyed more. Although I was compelled to read the novel, I really don’t enjoy fiction where men betray themselves for a woman, or vice versa. Usually, the woman in these novels is bad. Nina isn’t, but she is weak and selfish and eventually asks Luke to betray his friends and his art.

Finally, I feel as if the ending of the novel is unrealistically hopeful and pat, when I think of the wreckage that has gone before. The background of the theater and play production with a bit about the politics of theatre is very interesting, though.

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