What happens when the love of your life, the one to whom you pledged your love and with whom you've made a life, stops being the one you focus your attention on and starts just blending into the background of the rest of your life? That may be what's happening to Alice and William Buckle, the quintessential perfect married couple who nevertheless might be in big trouble.
"Too often, when couples are in the thick of career-building and child-raising, their obligations to themselves and to each other get lost. Gideon understands this challenge intimately and portrays it clearly and fearlessly."
Alice is about to hit 45, and she's not taking it easily. Beyond all the usual concerns and fear about aging, Alice is also struggling with what her bereavement group calls the "tipping point year" --- when she will become the age that her mother, who died when Alice was a teenager, never reached. Alice feels lost and alone, perplexed by parenting her two children, disillusioned with her job teaching drama to elementary school students, and powerfully lonely in her marriage with her husband of nearly 20 years.
Shortly after Alice --- who tends to look online for the answers to all her problems --- Googles "Happy Marriage," she receives an intriguing invitation in her email inbox. It's an offer to participate in a study of marriage sponsored by a research institute near her home in San Francisco. At first Alice hesitates, but then she accepts, and is soon known in the survey only as "Wife 22," spilling out her most personal secrets to an anonymous man she knows only as "Researcher 101."
As Alice confesses her hidden failings and secret desires in this online survey, she also casts her mind back to the days when she first met William, to their courtship and marriage. Will remembering those times, recalling who they both were and still are, rekindle Alice's marriage? Or will her growing attachment to Researcher 101 result in the end of anything resembling a happy marriage with William?
Melanie Gideon, who previously wrote a memoir called THE SLIPPERY YEAR that also explores many of the same ideas about marriage, communication and connection that she examines in WIFE 22, offers readers a portrait of a marriage that will be familiar to many. Too often, when couples are in the thick of career-building and child-raising, their obligations to themselves and to each other get lost. Gideon understands this challenge intimately and portrays it clearly and fearlessly.
She also keeps the novel topical, addressing either obliquely or directly our contemporary obsession with online communication (often at the expense of "in real life" relationships), our uncertain economic environment, and parents' concerns about smothering their adolescent children. In WIFE 22, readers will see their friends, their families and themselves --- and maybe they'll start asking, and answering, some of their own questions, face to face.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on June 1, 2012