I tried to watch the movie, but it annoyed me too much. Apparently I’m not alone.
The following review was sent to me by my friend and fellow writer, Marj Charlier. I enjoyed it so much I wanted to share it with you. Marj is an author and publisher (SunAcumen Press) from Palm Springs, California.
“Any woman over fifty who has been in a long marriage (you define long; for me, it’s anything over twenty years) will recognize the shudder-inducing repulsion that Joan Castleman expresses for her husband in the opening paragraphs of Meg Wolitzer’s The Wife. No matter how much you love the man (or woman) you have committed to, there are things that he or she does that threaten to drive you off the cliff. (How much noise he makes when he chews an English muffin? How he waits to wash his hands until dinner is on the table and getting cold?)
“For Joan, it’s so many things that I couldn’t imagine how she has managed to stay with Joe Castleman all these years (nearly five decades). For some women, there’s no choice: having given up their careers (and let their skills obsolesce) to raise a family, perhaps, they have no other financial options. For some, the kids are still at home, and they’re committed to seeing them through their adolescence before returning to work. But Joan has no such excuses. Which is perhaps the most troubling problem with the plot of this short novel. But more on that in a moment.
“Joan is on her way to Helsinki, Finland, with Joe, who is going to accept a literary prize just a little short of a Nobel, when she decides their marriage is over. As soon as they get through the ceremonies and celebrations, she’s going to tell him she’s leaving him. The novel then flashes back (in a lengthy tell-don’t-show fashion that would never be accepted by an agent or a publishing house from a writer with less fame than Wolitzer) to their early years together – how she met him when he was her professor, how he left his first wife, where they lived in New York, the parties they attended, Joe’s first books, the birth of their children. And then, interspersed with the action (or not) in Helsinki, we hear of their middle years together: his growing fame, the children’s estrangement, and Joe’s frequent affairs. At the end, she dumps a lot of narrative summaries that, if they had been explored as scenes earlier in the novel, would have given us a much richer picture of Joan and Joe.
“You may already know how it ends (it was made into a 2018 movie starring Glenn Close, who was nominated for an Oscar for her role), but I’ll not spoil it here for those who don’t. Suffice it to say, many readers will have already guessed at the big secret Joan and Joe share, and most probably hope to God that she decides to reveal it after she leaves the man. She deserves to let the world know.
“Wolitzer’s prose is polished as ever, and I found myself rushing through this thin volume over a weekend, hoping for some kind of redemptive detail about Joe that would explain why Joan is still with him or some payback for Joan’s long suffering. But despite the fabulous sentences and occasional (although not as abundant as some critics have claimed) wit, I found the plot unsatisfying and characters poorly explored. The deus ex machina and the decision Joan makes at the end are cop-outs—a dodge that saved Wolitzer from exploring a much more obvious, complicated, and riskier ending that would have repaid Joan for staying with this overgrown man-child and satisfied the readers’ need for a complete story.
“I recommend the book for people who are as tired of their spouses as Joan is (misery loves company), but not for readers who enjoy a compelling narrative arc.”
Lynne here: Thanks, Marj, for this great review. I already had mixed feelings about Wolitzer’s work. For example, I gave The Interestings only 3 stars, although it is regularly feted in media. I tried to watch The Wife but Glenn Close’s character drove me batty; I wasn’t in the mood to watch the dance between a doormat and a boor. However, the big secret you hint at makes me consider enduring the movie just to see it all unravel.
Readers, did you watch or read The Wife by Meg Wolitzer? What did you think? PS I would have loved to see Ms. Close get the Oscar for anything. She deserves it.