I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed The Wife by Meg Wolitzer. If you are a wife or, more likely, if you were a wife and are now divorced, I imagine there are some themes here that will pique your interest.
The novel’s narrator Joan Castleman is the wife of a literary giant, Joe Castleman. The couple’s lives revolve around Joe’s incredibly successful writing career and, as the book starts, they’re on their way to Helsinki so he can receive one of the world’s most prestigious awards for literature.
Joan spends some time in the present, using the couple’s trip as a springboard for flashbacks on their history. She tells us how they fell in love in the first place (he was married, she was his student), about Joe’s struggles to become the preeminent novelist he is today, and about the experience of raising their three children.
Along the way, we see how their relationship became what it is. We get all the resentments and struggles, which may sound tedious as I’m describing them, but I thought the book moved along at a great pace. I didn’t get bored with the background story as I often do. The story itself is interesting and Joan has a great dry tone that made me like her immediately.
What fascinates me most about Joan is that she makes a big choice as a young woman that sets the stage for the rest of her life. We see her at that crossroads. She’s running away with her married professor and commits, with only slight hesitation, to being his wife, yes, but also his secretary, his sounding board, his bosom companion, and his number one supporter. She lives for him, essentially making his literary career possible.
Also, the writing is fantastic.
“Everyone needs a wife; even wives need wives. Wives tend, they hover. Their ears are twin sensitive instruments, satellites picking up the slightest scrape of dissatisfaction. Wives bring broth, we bring paper clips, we bring ourselves and our pliant, warm bodies. We know just what to say to the men who for some reason have a great deal of trouble taking consistent care of themselves or anyone else. ‘Listen,’ we say. ‘Everything will be okay.’ And then, as if our lives depend on it, we make sure it is.”
All this builds up to a big reveal, which you may have guessed by now. And then, there is a very final ending, which I thought was rather uninteresting, just too easy an out. You’ll know what I mean if you read it.
A warning: If you have any overarching anger surrounding men in high places, this novel could fuel your fire. But I recommend it anyway.