Recommended Reading: The Wife by Meg Wolitzer

A tip of the hat once more to my friend Katie, who pointed me toward Meg Wolitzer (Katie was, at the time, reading The Ten-Year Nap, and that’s on my list now, too!). The Wife is about a very unfunny subject —the unravelling of a marriage — but in Ms. Wolitzer’s capable hands, Joan (the wife in question) tells her story in darkly comic fashion.

Photo courtesy Tanatat /

Photo courtesy Tanatat /

Joan’s husband is the much-awarded novelist Joe Castleman, and when the novel opens, she’s made up her mind to leave him as they fly to Helsinki, where he’s to receive his latest accolade. From there, Joan takes the narrative back to Smith College in the 1950s, and we learn how the pair met, and just how it all went wrong.

As a narrator, Joan is simultaneously unreliable and honest, and always a keen observer, not only of her own marriage, but also of the changing world around her. Though The Wife was published ten years ago, Joan’s observations about the role of wives echo loudly, especially with the recent debates about Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article on work-life balance in last summer’s Atlantic. Here’s Joan near the end of the novel:

Everyone knows how women soldier on, how women dream of blueprints, recipes, ideas for a better world, and then sometimes lose them on the way to the crib in the middle of the night, on the way to the Stop & Shop, or the bath. They lose them on the way to greasing the path on which their husband and children will ride serenely through life. (183)

Apparently, I’m not the first reader to love this passage; the page was dog-eared when I picked up the book.

9 thoughts on “Recommended Reading: The Wife by Meg Wolitzer

  1. Wow, that is a great quote. And thanks for this review. I see this book a lot and always wondered if I should pick it up…I started Ten Year Nap earlier this year but for some reason couldn’t finish it. I am not sure if I truly didn’t like it or if I was simply not in the “right place” for the story at the time. I’m glad you enjoyed The Wife!

    • I just read The Ten-Year Nap, and I have to say that I found it uncomfortable reading. I probably won’t get around to reviewing it for a week or two, but I can see why it wouldn’t grab the reader. I felt invested in The Wife much more quickly.

      • I’m glad to hear that, as I’ve otherwise heard good things about Meg Wolitzer and the topics she writes about are ones I love to read about. I will put The Wife on my TR list!

  2. I am still reading The Wife, and I must say that while I find the story to be very well-written and interesting in its way, Joan is very off-putting to me. So that I don’t leave any spoilers here, I guess I’ll just say that I get very irritated with people who allow others to do to them the type of thing that Joan allows to happen to her, and even assists in (sorry for a very poor sentence). I suppose it does make her a more realistic character though!

    Also, I figured out the “twist” about 30 pages in, and then I felt like, “Well, of COURSE,” rather than, “Aha!” about it.

    • I completely agree that Joan can be irritating, but even though the “twist” was pretty obvious from the get-go, I was interested enough to want to know how it happened.

  3. Pingback: Recommended Reading: Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff | Rosemary and Reading Glasses

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