Sunday, March 8, 2020

Book Review: The Wife by Meg Wolitzer

A novel about being an award-winning author and the family's price told from the spouse's point of view.

In 1956, twenty-something Joe teaches English 202 - Elements of Creative Writing at Smith College and dreams of becoming a successful author, but he has no natural talent.

Of his own writing, Joe says, '"I'm certainly not one of the naturals... I'm the type that sits there slaving away all day and thinking someone will give me credit for effort."' (p. 48)

Nineteen-year-old Joan--Joe's best student--is a natural writer in a male-dominated world. 

Elain Mozell, a novelist who had just released a new book, told Joan, '"Don't think you can get their attention... The men who write the reviews, who run the publishing houses, who edit the papers, the magazines, who decide who gets to be taken seriously, who gets put on a pedestal for the rest of their lives... [Y]ou could call it a conspiracy to keep the women's voices hushed and tiny and men's voices loud."' (p. 53)

Can these two dreamers...? Can these two wannabe authors...? Can Joe and Joan help each other achieve their goals.

Published by Scribner
an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Published in 2003

Joan narrates the tale that explores her 45-year relationship with Joe. I found her a difficult narrator to like. She's coarse, demanding, and critical. I wondered why she was so deeply unhappy. Despite these character traits, Joan captivated me until the surprising, satisfying end.

What kept me glued to the page?

Perhaps it was the intriguing questions The Wife explored, such as...

-What does it take to be a successful author?

-What is it like to be the spouse or child of a successful author?

-What obstacles did and do women authors face?

Or maybe it was simply that The Wife was about an author and the writing life.
'I made myself begin to write something. Without censoring it or condemning it for being trivial or narrow or simply poorly constructed.' (p. 46)
Some readers aren't intimidated by the number of pages in a book or chapter length. (And if this is you, read Henry Eliot's How to navigate your way through the longest classic books.) I am. I'm most comfortable reading books with around 250 pages and chapters of about 10 pages.

The chapters in this book averaged about 30 pages. If The Wife hadn't been such an engaging read I would have abandoned this book for another. But I needed to learn more about Joe's life. I needed a strategy.

Meg Wolitzer wouldn't give me short chapters. So I made them myself. When I needed a break I looked for a transition in the story and marked the spot with a small arrow. I normally don't like to deface books but made an exception in this case.

Are you guilty of any of these 'crimes against books'? 
Matt Blake

Next Sunday evening...

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