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The Wife by Meg Wolitzer

The Wife (2003)

by Meg Wolitzer

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Joseph Castleman is a world-famous novelist. Although he's won many literary prizes, the major prizes have eluded him until now.

As a young man, he taught writing in a prestigious girls' college. He lived in a cramped apartment with his wife and newborn baby who was actually born the very day he met Joan, a student who appeared to be a gifted writer and soon became his lover.

After his wife physically attacked Joan, he divorced the wife, married Joan, and published an acclaimed semi-autobiographical novel of the incident.

His writing career skyrocketed from there with many acclaimed novels. And now, he's won a major prize, considered to be a stepping stone for the Nobel. He was always a man who lived for acclaim and enjoyed the rarefied limelight his novel writing gained for him.

As always, wife Joan, accompanies him and supports him at the award ceremony in Finland. She had long ago given up writing and subjugated her promising career to be the support her famous husband required throughout their 40 year marriage.

But there's a secret in their life that a sharp eyed journalist writing a biography of Joe has discovered – and which Joe and Joan's grown children have also long suspected. Joan herself has tired of the deceit.

If you've seen the recent movie, you know the twist. This is an interesting novel of a gifted woman's place in the literary field and the still-too-prominent promotion of male over female authors. ( )
  streamsong | Mar 12, 2019 |
I always find it difficult to enjoy a book when all of the characters are so unlikeable. Joe seemed to have no redeeming qualities and Joan, who sacrificed everything for him, seemed silly to do so. If the author had shown us some endearing qualities that Joe may have had, it would have made Joan seem less iritating, as well. ( )
  JGoto | Dec 22, 2018 |
Depressing. ( )
  grigoro | Nov 7, 2018 |
Everyone has been talking about this novel recently, as its film adaptation hits cinemas amid whispers of an Oscar nomination for its protagonist Glenn Close. I’m keen to see the film, which gave me the impetus to finally dig out the book from my TBR pile. That pile houses several other novels by Wolitzer, although this is the first I’ve read. If it’s anything to go by, I have plenty of other treats in store. Acerbic, ironic and wise by turn, this novel is a blistering criticism of male privilege, set in a very particular milieu – 1970s and 1980s American literary circles – which, like a stone dropped into a deep pool, sends out ripples which lick against our modern shores...

For the full review, please see my blog:
https://theidlewoman.net/2018/10/18/the-wife-meg-wolitzer/ ( )
1 vote TheIdleWoman | Nov 6, 2018 |
This book was written 15 years ago, but a film adaptation was released this summer, so I decided to read the book before seeing the movie.

Joan and Joe Castleman are enroute to Helsinki where Joe is to receive a prestigious literary award. Joan has decided to leave her husband and plans to inform him of her decision at an opportune time. In the meantime, she tells the story of her marriage beginning with their first encounter in 1956. A promising writer, she abandons a career when she falls in love with her creative writing professor. Joe becomes a successful writer but their marriage is not always happy: Joe is a serial philanderer who ignores his children and obsesses about his reputation as a writer instead. Joe and Joan share a major secret which the reader learns at the end.

The secret is not really a surprise because there are so many clues. Besides the obvious hints, what is not said also serves as a clue. Joan speaks little about herself and so the reader starts to fill in gaps. Her personality, however, is developed in detail. She is intelligent but self-effacing. She lets Joe take the limelight he so enjoys while she stays in the background and takes on the role of the supportive wife.

Of course, Joe’s personality is also revealed. He is self-centered and vain. His fame has only bolstered his ego and he constantly yearns for recognition in the form of literary awards and the adulation of fans. We see Joe primarily through Joan’s eyes so there may be some bias in her portrayal, but when he appears, his words and actions confirm her observations. Though he is “one of those men who own the world” (10), he is a petulant boy “who had no idea of how to take care of himself or anyone else” (11).

Naturally, Joan’s role is to take care of him and the family. As she points out, “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” (184).

This is not the role she initially envisions for herself when she attaches herself to Joe “in an early fit of girlish optimism” (160) believing that Joe “was the important one, and I was unfinished. He could finish me . . . he could provide the things I needed to actually become a whole person” (63). When she is young and imagines becoming a writer, she is warned about the sad future for women writers; she is told emphatically that she won’t be able to get the attention of the men: “’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 up on a pedestal for the rest of their lives. . . . I guess you could call it a conspiracy to keep the women’s voices hushed and tiny and the men’s voices loud. . . . There’s only a handful of women who get anywhere. Short story writers, mostly, as if maybe women are somehow more acceptable in miniature. . . . But the men with their big canvases, their big books that try to include everything in them, their big suits, their big voices, are always rewarded more. They’re the important ones. And you want to know why? . . . Because they say so’” (53 – 54).

Joan is given this advice in the 1950s when men did indeed own the world. Things have changed and female writers are now as common as male writers, but the book provides a look at the recent past and shows that change has come slowly. It is not just the fewer opportunities for a career that were a problem. One of the Castleman daughters wonders why Joan doesn’t leave the marriage if she’s miserable and Joan responds with, “She knew nothing about this subculture of women who stayed, women who couldn’t logically explain their allegiances, who held tight because it was the thing they felt most comfortable doing . . . She didn’t understand the luxury of the familiar, the known” (82).

This is an engaging read. I loved Joan’s acerbic wit. Her final statement about her husband may surprise some readers but I interpret it as a way of her taking control of her narrative. Now I’m off to see how the film interprets the book.

Note: Please check out my reader's blog (https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.com/) and follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski). ( )
  Schatje | Oct 14, 2018 |
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For Ilene Young
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The moment I decided to leave him, the moment I thought, enough, were thirty-five thousand feet above the ocean, hurtling forward but giving the illusions of stillness and tranquility. Just like our marriage, I could have said, but why ruin everything right now?
As a rule, the men who own the world are hyperactively sexual, though not necessarily with their wives.
All first wives are crazy-- violently and eye-rollingly so
Everyone knows how women soldier on, how women dream up blueprints, recipes, ideas for a better world, and then sometimes lose them on the way to the crib in the middle of the night, on the way to the Stop & Shop, or the bath. They lose them on the way to greasing the path on which their husband and children will ride serenely through life.
But it's their choice... They make a choice to be that kind of wife, that kind of mother. Nobody forces them anymore; that's all over now. We had a women's movement in America, we had Betty Friedan, and Gloria Steinem... We're in a whole new world now. Women are powerful.
Everyone needs a wife; even wives need wives. Wives tend; they hover. Their ears are twin sensitive instruments, satellites pricking 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.
'Ah, a Sarah Lawrence girl,' he said with pleasure, deciding at that moment she was a highly creative type, her hands damp with both acrylic paint from art class and ambrosia from some middle-of-the-night winter-solstice ritual."
New York City was a spectacular place in which to take a walk in the middle of the night if you were a young, ambitious, confident man.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743456661, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:58 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Joan Castleman decides to divorce one of America's preeminent novelists, about to receive a prestigious international award. Joan has spent forty years subjugating her own literary talents to fan the flames of his career and has finally decided to stop. Tells the story of their marriage to show what has brought them to this breaking point.… (more)

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