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The Wife: A Novel Paperback – April 13, 2004

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 219 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (April 13, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743456661
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743456661
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (290 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #261,873 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Wolitzer (Sleepwalking) opens her latest tale in the first-class cabin of an airplane. Joan, a still-striking 64-year-old woman, observes her husband, the "short, wound-up, slack-bellied" famous novelist Joe Castleman, as he lolls in his seat and accepts the treats and attention offered him by the flight attendants. The couple are on their way to Finland, where Joe will receive the fictional Helsinki Prize, not quite as prestigious as the Nobel, but worth a small fortune-the crown jewel in a spectacular career. Yet as the once blonde Smith College co-ed looks over at the once handsome creative writing teacher who seduced her, she realizes that she must end this marriage. The reader is prepared for a tale of witty disillusionment. Here is Joan on the literary fame game: "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." As the narrative flows from the glamorous present back to the past, tracing the bohemian Greenwich Village beginnings of the couple's relationship and Joe's skyrocketing success and compulsive philandering, an almost subliminal psychological horror tale begins to unfold. Wolitzer delicately chips away at this seemingly confident and detached narrator and her swaggering "genius" husband, inserting a sly clue here and there, until the extent of Joan's sacrifice is made clear. There is no cheap, gratifying Hollywood ending to make it all better. Instead, 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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

On the way to a big literary-award ceremony, the wife of a famous New York Jewish novelist—sick of his philandering, his self-importance, and his limited talent—decides on divorce. Her stingingly comic story of their marriage shows why. They met in 1956, when she was his writing student at Smith and he was the author of one very bad published story. Only after running off with his talented and self-effacing pupil does he burst into literary stardom. Although they have three (variously unhappy) children, he has always been the real child in the family, dragging her along to the fêtes at which he is flattered and flirted with while she drinks her jealousy away. 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.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

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Customer Reviews

Insightful and well written.
catherine bieber
By the end of the story, I didn't feel like I really knew (or cared about) the characters because there wasn't enough dialogue or conflict sequences between them.
Eric K.
These is the second novel I have read by Meg Wolitzer, the first was, The Interestings.
Donna Smit

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Gwen A Orel on August 19, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is an excellent novel, well-paced, sharply observed, witty, bitter, sad-- and also forgiving.

It's true as other readers have noted that the subject is not 100% original. But in my view it's the best execution of a story about a literary wife-- and isn't it the execution that matters? This book is a joy to read; the prose is elegant and economic. Yes it is a portrait of the changing times, but there is a central "story question"-- what is the final thing prompting Joan to divorce her famous husband, Joe Castleman, after a lifetime of marriage? Is it just bitterness that she never pursued her own talent, anger over his cheating and taking her for granted, self-actualization?

There is a twist in the book-- I didn't see it coming at all, but when it did, like the movie Sixth Sense, everything else fell into place. This is a must-read for anyone with literary aspirations or for anyone in a long-term relationship. I only knew Wolitzer as a comic writer before, and there are some comic scenes, but in this book she equals Gail Godwin and Philip Roth (who had to have been part of the inspiration for charismatic, crude Joe). This is as palatable as any beach novel but is so much more substantial!
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By **** on February 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This novel's auspicious opening sentence, combined with other readers' hints of a surprise ending, tantalized me into ordering the book. However, as early as the first chapter I guessed the "secret" underlying the story but kept reading to the end just to see if I was right.

Joan Castleman is a disgruntled wife who provides a first person account of her 45 year marriage to Joe, a vain, self-satisfied, unfaithful man who happens to be a very successful author. The story opens with her decision to leave him while they are flying at 35,000 feet in the first class section of an airliner carrying them to Finland. Joe is about to receive the Helsinki Prize, the fictitious equivalent of the Nobel prize for literature. The next 200 pages is a literary autopsy of a defunct marriage. She remembers their decades together that began as an adulterous affair between a married college writing professor and his more talented student. The ensuing scandal caused her to drop out of school; he lost his teaching position, and they fled, nearly penniless to Greenwich Village.

Despite Joe's apparent lack of writing talent, after they marry he writes a novel, which is surprisingly well written and becomes a best seller. Over the years more literary sucesses follow, and the accolades make him more insufferable. As his celebrity grows, so does his appetite for other women. He is also a neglectful father. As Joan's resentful memories accumulate, you begin to wonder why this intelligent woman didn't leave him years before. Why did she trade her own writing ambitions to become a wife and mother? Has she really been satisfied basking in his reflected light? Did the women's liberation movement somehow bypass her?
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36 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Fernando Melendez on May 28, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The WIFE surely contains some of the most delectable prose to be seen in print in recent years; but it is not because of the wonderful writing that this novel demands a second reading. No, it is that the surprise ending of the book needs to spend its awesome power in order to set us free to thoroughly enjoy the subtext and underlying structures of the book; for these can only be seen and felt once we know how the novel ends. A second reading is just as delightful, and perhaps more rewarding, than the first one.
The book's layering of thought and emotion is so deftly rendered that on its surface it appears to be another in the genre that deals with the tensions between an older, prestigious, male and the younger pretty female dilettante, who in time becomes an acolyte to the man's talent; but all along we sense that under the surface there is much more than that, as, indeed, there certainly is. The author is an irrepressible humorist of the type that is funny especially when she is trying not to be. It is a book about the sweet and deadly revenge of the weak against an oppressor; it is a sociology about how a human relationship can evolve from symbiosis to parasitic exploitation, from sharing to taking to grabbing; and if Meg Wolitzer borrows some of the techniques of police novels, she rewards the reader by serving up the Holy Grail of detective books: a truly perfect crime. An extraordinary book that is likely to become a minor classic.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By tina on August 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Once I started The Wife, I could not put it down thanks to Meg Wolitzer's ability to draw me into the world of spineless Joan Castleman and her husband Joe Castleman, a major cad. They have a marriage that I won't soon forget: he is a misery you would not want to know however many successful novels he publishes and prizes he wins, and she is a female nonentity willing to compromise herself shamelessly as she puts up with this misfit of a husband and father of her children. While they appear on the surface to be upright, educated, hardworking, and successful; they are, in fact, a mess. The saddest proof of their failures is their son, David, who is on the brink of either joining the homeless or folks stuck in some institution.

The ending of the book is a bit of a surprise, but remains (to me) unsatisfying. It seems to be an easy, somewhat contrived way out of the complexity of the end of the book.

What is most noteworthy and memorable, is Wolitzer's daring to protray the cunning, deceptive traits and characteristics of an egocentric male who, despite his pronouncements and credentials, cares about nothing but himself. I wonder why he had to be Jewish. I also wonder whether there are still women around today who fall for a con artist such as a Joe Castleman.
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