Review

The Wife

by Meg Wolitzer



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