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The Wife


The Wife

Stereotypes often make life easier to navigate. Upon second glance, however, they are inherently flawed. No one person fits the same mold as another. Yet in THE WIFE, a novel by Meg Wolitzer, readers buy into the stereotype of a young co-ed who falls in love with her accomplished writing instructor, marries him, has a family and lives a successful life. Buying into this myth, this picture-perfect scenario, readers trick themselves into believing that things are as they seem. What they discover, however, is exactly the opposite.

After reading the first few pages, readers understand that "happily ever after" is not part of this story. But most will not grasp the full extent of this one wife's reality until the very end of the story. It is a surprise ending that will startle the most intuitive readers.

Wolitzer proves herself a crafty and deft author with her ability to distract her reader from the core of this story: the real reason Joan stays married to a notorious womanizer and famous novelist by tempting him/her with tasty morsels, why she quit her job at a publishing house that launched his career and shelved the impressive writing talent that drew him to her in the first place. Joan, who speaks clearly to readers as the narrator, is a mildly embittered woman who has come to resent the very existence she created. As a freshman at Smith College, a published female author warned Joan, a promising creative writing student, about the fraternity of the publishing world and urged her to apply her talents elsewhere. Seemingly Joan took that advice. She raised three children and nurtured her husband's successful literary career. She attended literary events and research meetings, from interviews with prostitutes to tours of war-torn Vietnam. Joan details the intricacies of her life, her compromises both small and large, and at times the litany seems self-indulgent and repetitive. It is not until the end of the story when readers fully comprehend the depth of her sacrifice that her tirade seems justified, even perhaps understated.

On a larger scale the story will prompt readers to evaluate their own roles in relationships and question the exceptions they have made to their own rules. Because the hardcover edition of this book followed hot on the heels of THE SINGLE WIFE by Nina Solomon, I found myself contemplating the meaning of the word wife.

"I'd been a good wife, most of the time. Joe had been comfortable and safe and surrounded, always off somewhere talking, gesturing, doing unspeakable things with women, eating rich foods, drinking, reading, leaving books scattered around the house facedown, their spines broken from too much love," says Joan.

"Joe once told me he felt sorry for women, who only got husbands … But wives, oh wives, when they weren't being bitter or melancholy or counting the beads on their abacus of disappointment, they could take care of you with delicate and effortless ease."

THE WIFE is a surprisingly perceptive story about a man and a woman whose union seems to allow them to live the lives they want. A strong undercurrent of this story is a message to women who avoid future disappointments by compromising in the short run. What readers learn from Joan is that, in retrospect, possible disappointments pale in comparison to those realized along the safer road.

Reviewed by Heather Grimshaw on January 24, 2011

The Wife
by Meg Wolitzer

  • Publication Date: April 6, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 219 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • ISBN-10: 0743456661
  • ISBN-13: 9780743456661