The Wife by Meg Wolitzer: Book Review

FictionThe Wife, Meg Wolitzer
Released March, 2003

228 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased

Plot Summary 

On a flight to Helsinki to watch him receive a prestigious literary prize, Joan decides to leave her famous novelist husband, Joe, after a decades long marriage. 

My Thoughts

I had The Wife on my Kindle for months and finally got around to reading it (thanks to Shannon’s review and prodding). And, I’m so mad at myself for waiting this long! It’s easily one of my favorite books I read in 2014 and would have been a contender for my Best Book of the Year had it been published in 2014. Why? Because of the absolutely gorgeously perfect writing (and, yes, it needs 2 adverbs and an adjective)…that’s why!

The Wife is a story of the power dynamics of marriage as told from Joan Castleman’s perspective. Joan was a talented writer in college and gave it all up to support her less talented, but extremely successful husband in his writing endeavors.

It’s about living life as a “babysitter for a successful man’s ego” and being married to a “gigantic baby”, which Joe, coddled by a doting, all female household as a child, has grown into. Wolitzer nailed what it’s like to live with this type of person, as I know from personal experience since my father grew up in the same type of household with similar results.

You know the type I mean: those advertisements for themselves, those sleepwalking giants, roaming the earth and knocking over other men, women, furniture, and villages.

What to say about the writing…it’s this package of astute, “yes, that’s exactly how it is” observations about life and love in a compact 228 pages. My ineloquent words certainly don’t do it justice, so here are some quotes:

Because as you get older, life sort of eats away at you like battery acid, and all the things you once loved are suddenly harder to find. And when you do find them, you don’t have time to enjoy them anymore, you know?

You might even envy us – him for all the power vacuum-packed within his bulky, shopworn body, and me for my twenty-four hour access to it, as though a famous and brilliant writer-husband is a convenience store for his wife, a place she can dip into anytime for a Big Gulp of astonishing intellect and wit and excitement.

The Wife surprised me in a few ways. It explores the role of “the wife” in society and the expectations and pressures that come along with that. And, it tackles the conundrum many women face of choosing to harness their talents or devote themselves to their families…or some balance between the two. Finally, the ending was pure perfection.

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.

I’m going out on a limb by saying that I might have loved The Wife even more than I loved Wolitzer’s The Interestings, which sets a high bar! It’s a must read for anyone who loves savoring fantastic writing and would make a great book club selection. It’s also going on a Great Books Under 300 Pages List I have planned for 2015.

You May Also Like

Florence Gordon by Brian Morton
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

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17 Comments

  1. Gosh, Sarah. My list keeps growing and you aren’t helping me any. This looks too good to pass up, simply because The Wife sounds like me. I’m considering the audiobook version, but I don’t want to miss the beautiful writing. Thanks for sharing such a great review.

    Posted 1.15.15 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      I’m not a fan of audios because I find myself zoning out and having trouble concentrating (although, I did start the Serial Podcast today and had NO trouble concentrating…had me hooked!). I’m a Visual learner 🙂 But, since the thing that really carries this book is the writing, I’d recommend reading it…and it’s so short!

      Posted 1.15.15 Reply
  2. Oooh, you liked it more than The Interestings! That is definitely saying something. I was wild about The Interestings and I’ve been thinking about dipping into The Wife ever since.

    Posted 1.15.15 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      Yep – it’s definitely saying something for me since I absolutely loved The Interestings. This is just a tighter, less sprawling book and it really lets her gorgeous writing shine. You should definitely give it a shot!

      Posted 1.15.15 Reply
  3. I’m definitely going to have to read this one, Sarah; I love these quotes and the premise behind the story. Thanks so much for the enticing review!!

    Posted 1.15.15 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      You’re welcome! And – I’m purposely avoiding your Girl on the Train review today (but, I will come back to it!)…I’m trying not to find out too much more about it before I read it. And – I have to finish my current book for an online tour, then I’m jumping into Train!

      Posted 1.15.15 Reply
  4. I didn’t think I could love one of her novels more than The Interestings, but I think this one did it for me, too. Plus, it has one of the best opening pages I’e read in a long, long time!

    Posted 1.15.15 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      Now I need to go back and reread the opening page! Thank you again for spurring me to read this!

      Posted 1.15.15 Reply
  5. Anita wrote:

    Sold!! Have to admit I haven’t read anything by Wolitzer, I tried The Interestings and it had too many characters for me..eh. This sounds really good, and because it’s an older title I’m hoping I can find a good deal on it. Thanks!!

    Posted 1.15.15 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      And – there are far less characters than The Interestings. It’s a much tighter, less sprawling story!

      Posted 1.15.15 Reply
  6. Great review Sarah. I’m going to add this to my to read list.

    Posted 1.16.15 Reply
  7. I just read this book for the first time in the last year, but it’s become one of my all-time favorites. I love its discussion of power dynamics and sexual double standards — and, of course, its parallels to The Bell Jar! So glad you loved it 🙂

    Posted 1.16.15 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      I think it’s one of my all-time favorites too, but I always like to let books sit with me for awhile before I add them to that list! So, check back in a few months! And I’ve never read The Bell Jar, but now I’m interested!

      Posted 1.17.15 Reply
  8. Susan wrote:

    Yes. I need to add this to my TBR pile. Sounds great

    Posted 1.20.15 Reply
  9. I love your review. I just finished listening to it and came back to check why you’d included Joe in the Villians post and saw the link to your review. So many outstand phrase and word choices in this book!I’ll be reviewing it soon–I needed a print copy to get all the quotes I wanted to keep–I got tired of either stopping on the commute or nearly getting killed trying to write and drive.

    Posted 10.26.18 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      I bought a print copy for my shelves after reading an e-book! But, you’re right, SO many great quotes and thrilled you liked it!

      Posted 11.3.18 Reply

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