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 / Freedigitalphotos.net

Photo courtesy Tanatat / Freedigitalphotos.net

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.

Literary Wives

Do you find the current trend of “wife” books (The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Zookeeper’s Wife, American Wife, etc.) encouraging or alarming? Should we feel positive that authors are focusing on female protagonists, or troubled that these women, at least in the titles, are defined by their relationships to others? Or both?

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I’m still mulling it over myself, so today I’m pleased as punch to share that I’ll be joining founding bloggers Ariel, Audra, and Emily, as well as fellow newcomers Cecilia and Lynn, in the Literary Wives series. Every other month, we’ll be posting about a different book with the word “wife” in the title, focusing on two questions in particular:

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

2. In what way does this woman define “wife”—or in what way is she defined by “wife”?

On October 1, we’ll share our thoughts about Sena Jeter Naslund’s novel Ahab’s Wife.

We hope that you’ll join us by reading along, visiting the six blogs, and sharing your thoughts in the comments!

Meet the Literary Wives Bloggers:

Ariel, of One Little Library

Ariel Coffee Republic

Ariel is an editorial assistant at a Southern California publishing house. A literature enthusiast, she likes heroines full of gumption and conflicts fraught with ethical dilemmas. Her favorite book is and always will be Jane Eyre.

You can find Ariel on Twitter  and Facebook.

Audra, of Unabridged Chick

Audra

Audra is a 30-something married lesbian with a thing for literary fiction and historical novels, classic noir and vintage favorites.  She lives in Boston with her wife and works for a non-profit.  She loves interesting heroines, gorgeous prose, place as character, and the occasional werewolf.

You can find Audra on Facebook and Twitter.

Emily, of The Bookshelf of Emily J.

Emily J

You can find Emily on Facebook.

Carolyn, of Rosemary and Reading Glasses (that’s me!)

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After five years in graduate school, Carolyn O is on hiatus to be the read-at-home-parent to her small son. She works as an editor, proofreader, and writer on the side, and hopes to return to teaching soon. She loves used bookstores, early modern drama and poetry, feminism, and anything Joss Whedon creates.

You can find Carolyn on Twitter.

Cecilia, of Only You

Cecilia

Cecilia teaches writing and self-presentation skills to international professionals by day and night (the curse of time zone differences) and in between squeezes in some reading and writing of her own. Her reading tastes are pretty eclectic, though she loves literary fiction and memoir most of all, and works by women and international writers in particular. The best part of her day is the end-of-the-day book club that she shares with her 9 year old son.

You can find Cecilia on Twitter and Facebook.

Lynn, of Smoke & Mirrors

Lynn

Lynn writes that she is “an avid (some might say “obsessive”!) reader, former Borders bookseller (my dream job!), and now blogger of books and reviews! My only limitation to reading and posting more often is that necessary full-time job! I am mother to three sons, soon-to-be 10 (yes, 10!) grandchildren, and one beautiful and “purr”fect gray kitty, Smokie…oh, and perhaps most importantly, I can count one of the kindest, most caring, and complex men I’ve ever known as my full-time partner and husband! Life is good!”

You can find Lynn on Twitter.