Synopses & Reviews
Meg Wolitzer brings her characteristic wit and intelligence to a provocative story about the evolution of a marriage, the nature of partnership, the question of a male or female sensibility, and the place for an ambitious woman in a man’s world.
The moment Joan Castleman decides to leave her husband, they are thirty-five thousand feet above the ocean on a flight to Helsinki. Joan’s husband, Joseph, is one of America’s preeminent novelists, about to receive a prestigious international award, and Joan, who has spent forty years subjugating her own literary talents to fan the flames of his career, has finally decided to stop. From this gripping opening, Meg Wolitzer flashes back to 1950s Smith College and Greenwich Village and follows the course of the marriage that has brought the couple to this breaking point—one that results in a shocking revelation.
With her skillful storytelling and pitch-perfect observations, Wolitzer has crafted a wise and candid look at the choices all men and women make—in marriage, work, and life.
"This important book introduces another side of a writer we thought we knew: Never before has she written so feverishly, so courageously. It almost becomes possible to imagine a female Philip Roth..." Kera Bolonik, The Washington Post Book World
"[Wolitzer's] hilarious gripes about marriage make this tale a pleasure best indulged in away from your better half." People Magazine
"Wolitzer's crisp pacing and dry wit carry us headlong into a devastating message about the price of love and fame. If it's a story we've heard before, the tale is as resonant as ever in Wolitzer's hands." Publishers Weekly
"[A]n eviscerating and acerbically funny novel....Wolitzer keeps us guessing right up until the gut-wrenching twist of a finale." Entertainment Weekly
"Meg Wolitzer has fashioned a light-stepping, streamlined novel from...dolorous, bitter-sounding themes....[A] near-heartbreaking document of feminist realpolitik." Claire Dederer, The New York Times Book Review
"popular and shrewd novelist Wolitzer choreographs [Joan's] ire into kung-fu precision moves to zap our every notion about gender and status, creativity and fame, individuality and marriage, deftly exposing the injustice, sorrow, and sheer absurdity of it all." Donna Seaman, Booklist
"Forty-five years of a bad marriage laid out in pat detail....Connect-the-dots predictable except for those occasional tasty morsels of nastiness." Kirkus Reviews
"[The Wife] features amazingly crafted prose....Complete with a staggering twist ending, this is not one to miss." Library Journal
"Wolitzer never really develops her characters and savvy readers will guess her surprise ending quite early on, but she has great fun satirizing an all too recognizable stratum of literary life." The New Yorker
"Wolitzer's world is John Updike's world, but her writing is at once grittier and bigger....I hope that The Wife might appeal to both men and women. It is as much about the male psyche as it is about the woman's." Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles
Tackling everything from the challenges of marriage to the nature of gender, this bold work by Wolitzer seizes the reader and never lets go.
THE WIFE is the story of the long and stormy marriage between a world-famous novelist, Joe Castleman, and his wife Joan and the secret they've kept for decades. The novel opens just as Joe is about to receive a prestigious international award, The Helsinki Prize, to honour his career as one of America's preeminent novelists of the Mailer-Bellow-Updike school. But this isn't a book for writers; it's a book for readers, for people who are interested in questions such as: Is there a 'male' voice and a 'female' voice? Do men and women see the world differently, and how? THE WIFE takes on these issues, which are relevant not only in a writer's marriage, but in any marriage, where issues of gender and power are sure to arise.
About the Author
Meg Wolitzer's highly praised books include Sleepwalking, This Is Your Life, and Surrender, Dorothy. A recipient of a Pushcart Prize, whose short fiction has also appeared in The Best American Short Stories, she is a frequent contributor to the public radio show The Next Big Thing. She lives in New York City with her husband and two sons.
Reading Group Guide
Reading Group Guide for The Wife by Meg Wolitzer
1. After attempting her first short story in the library stacks at Smith College, Joan, the protagonist of The Wife, imagines "what it was like to be a writer: Even with the eyes closed, you could see" (p.46). Explain how this observation could also be made of wives. What does Joan see even when other people think her eyes are closed?
2. In Chapter Two, Joan meets the writer Elaine Mozell who warns Joan against trying to get the attention of the literary men's club. How might Joan's life have been different without Elaine's discouraging advice haunting her?
3. On a trip to Vietnam with Joe, Joan finds herself on an airstrip, in a segregated clump, with the wives. But Lee, the famous female journalist, chats with the men. Joan laments to herself "I shouldn't be here! I wanted to cry. I'm not like the rest of them!" (p.134) How is Joan different from the rest of the wives who appear throughout the novel? In what ways is she similar?
4. Joe's friend, Harry Jacklin, praises Joe's work, telling him, "You've got that extra gene, that sensitivity toward women" s (p. 25). Indeed, we discover that Joe's "sensitivity" is primarily thanks to his wife. How do you think Joan would have been received in the literary world if her name had been attached to the same material? Do you think she would have been as successful?
5. After Joe receives the call confirming he has won the Helsinki Prize, Joan envisions the days ahead, realizing that "I wasn't going to handle this well; it would inflame me with the worst kind of envy" (p. 37). Discuss envy, regret and loss with respect to Joan's choices regarding her writing career.
6. Over the years, many people come to admire Joan for her steely resolve in the face of blatant betrayal and infidelity. Is Joan, in fact, an admirable character? Why do you think Joan waits so long to decide to leave Joe?
7. There is a lot of talk from the women about "The Men." Specifically, Joan describes Joe as "one of those men who own the world" (p. 10), and Elaine Mozell harbors contempt for the men who conspire to "keep the women's voices hushed and tiny..." (p.53). What is your opinion of Joe and the men he represents? Considering that the reader sees him through the eyes of his wife, do you think he is presented fairly?
8. On being a wife, Joan admits: "I liked the role at first, assessed the power it contained, which for some reason many people don't see, but it's there" (p.119). Discuss the quiet power of wives, particularly during the late fifties when Joan is initiated into wifehood. Do you think the power wives wield is more visible today?
9. Towards the end of the novel, Joan reveals the secret that she and Joe long shared about his career. Joan acknowledges that, among others, her "children, each in their own separate ways, had suspicions" (p. 201). As a reader, are you surprised by Joan's revelation or does Joe's sudden merit as a writer seem suspect? What clues support your hunch?
10. At one point their children David and Alice go so far as to confront both Joan and Joe about their secret. Do you think the children are convinced by Joan's staunch denial? If Joan were your mother, would you be disappointed or proud of her?