Book Review: THE WIFE by Meg Wolitzer

The Wife by Meg Wolitzer (book cover)

I picked THE WIFE by Meg Wolitzer for our book club, as I thought it would be so much fun to have a corresponding “go to the movies night” to compare the novel with the new movie featuring Glenn Close. Unfortunately, the movie’s actual release date came later than our book club meeting and didn’t allow us to see it in theaters or stream it together.

At any rate — I’d never read a Meg Wolitzer book, and I have to say: I’m impressed with the whip-smart writing, the descriptive and unique metaphors, and the story… Writers may appreciate this book more than anyone – and my book club event will determine if that is the case – but I think there are parts of this story that will resonate with almost any woman. In fact, I’m downright excited for the upcoming discourse. With discussion questions like, “Discuss the quiet power of wives, particularly during the late ‘50s, when Joan is initiated into wifehood. Do you think the power wives wield is more visible today?,” I think we’ll have plenty to talk about!

Main character Joan’s comments are caustic and, so often, laugh-out-loud funny that my husband had to ask why I was chuckling as I was reading. “Nothing, nothing,” I’d say, as Joan continued with her philosophy of “the great men.” The author’s descriptions of common sights and occurrences, told through Joan’s eyes — with vivid metaphor — are classic. I highlighted a lot of passages in this novel. Consider:

“… she was always powdered and perfumed and large but noble: a sofa that walked.”


“Apparently the world was full of girls like this, each of them simmering in her own stewpot, waiting to be savored by the men who would come by, lift their lids, and inhale.”


Of the literary prize her husband wins: “Maybe other life-forms give out awards, too, and we just don’t know it: Best All-Round Flatworm; Most Helpful Crow.”


“When you watch your husband’s colon at work, at play, see the shy, starburst retraction of his sphincter, the amble of barium through an endless human hose, then you know that he is truly yours, and you are his.”

Not to be misunderstood: THE WIFE is a serious book with serious themes about ‘the wife’s’ role in a relationship, about equality, about her own self-identity, about choices made, about regret, about resentment. In fact, with everything that is going on in light of women’s rights in the United States today, the timing couldn’t be better for the movie (Not coincidental, to be sure, since this book was published back in 2004). When I finally see the movie version of THE WIFE, I may pop back in to share thoughts of big-screen vs. print! I really enjoyed this novel and can’t wait to see Close’s performance of Joan!

*** UPDATE: I saw the movie version of THE WIFE and loved it. Thought it was so interesting to see the decisions made by the screen writers regarding what themes to beef up, which aspects of the characters’ personalities to highlight or to soften. And even some of the bigger details were changed completely. Glenn Close deserves the accolades she is getting for this performance. ***
(A version of Melissa Crytzer Fry’s review of THE WIFE by Meg Wolitzer was published at GoodReads on Sep 24, 2018. It is reposted here with the permission of the reviewer.)



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