Review

Nine Wives

by Dan Elish



You've heard of Chick Lit, the genre where twenty- and
thirty-something female characters struggle to balance personal
lives and careers, all the while keeping one sharp eye out for a
sale on designer high heels and drinking martinis with a snarky
best friend.

Think "Sex and the City" on paper. It is one of the hottest
literary genres on the market, inspired in great part by BRIDGET
JONES'S DIARY by Helen Fielding. Some of it, like Fielding's, is
smart and sassy. Some of it is just insipid. But in most of it, men
function as symbols: the likable friend, the wise brother, the
unattainable hunk, the sexy boss, the one with marriage potential.
In NINE WIVES Dan Elish has turned the tables. Here we find a
32-year-old man desperately seeking marriage (or companionship
anyway) and categorizing women in his fantasies as objects and
types rather than seeing them for who they really are.

Henry Mann hasn't had a serious relationship since his college
girlfriend dumped him; now that everyone around him seems to be
getting married, his thoughts turn to marriage as well. Each
chapter of the book is devoted to a particular woman and how she
figures into Henry's plans. There is Tamar, the lusty but
untrustworthy woman he dates for a few months, and Christine, the
funny but not quite pretty enough co-worker. He has a lot in common
with each, but that doesn't stop him from thinking about marrying
or at least sleeping with the "perfect" woman. Most of the women in
the book, from Amanda (who it turns out is dating his father) to
Jennifer Aniston, remain just fantasy fodder, and his fantasies are
detailed. Even his seven-year-old niece, Jill, factors into his
marriage fantasies. Could they marry? Henry wonders. Yikes!

Henry's supporting cast includes his self-help guru mom and his
best friends and co-workers. Sometimes their advice is helpful,
other times less so.

In Henry, Elish has written a character who embodies many
stereotypes (the neurotic and slightly oversexed Jewish man,
egotistical yet vulnerable) and who, in turn, stereotypes women
(the wife, the whore, the girl next door). Although there are funny
and charming moments, and although Henry is generally likeable,
this juvenile view of the relationships between men and women seems
contrary to what Elish wants to do --- that is, to explore the need
Henry has for companionship and the desire many men have for
marriage. Henry's view of marriage and the interplay between men
and women seem to be that of a 15-year-old: when he pictures
domestic bliss it is usually a lovely house, loving kids, and lots
of passionate sex in places like haylofts. That, we can assume, is
just one of the reasons Henry is still single; he is emotionally
immature. Elish doesn't really take advantage of this to have Henry
grow at all; instead, we seem to leave him content to settle for a
woman he may be able to get used to or spend a bit of time
with.

Of course, women don't corner the market on the desires to get
married. Men, too, long for partnership and commitment. Yet,
Elish's novel only shows the shallowest reasons for wanting to be
with someone: because other people are married and to have a sexual
partner. Overall, Elish's writing is good, but he would have needed
to dig deeper in order to make NINE WIVES a complete success.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 13, 2011

Nine Wives
by Dan Elish

  • Publication Date: August 1, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
  • ISBN-10: 0312339437
  • ISBN-13: 9780312339432