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Authors: Meg Wolitzer

The Wife

BOOK: The Wife
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“Wolitzer has re-imagined the bitingly funny inner life of a female appendage to a Great Man. . . . When this man says, ‘My wife is truly my better half,’ we find out how true it is.”


The Boston Globe

“Meg Wolitzer has ripened into a chanteuse of a writer, a Dietrich of fiction; her smoky humor, her languid look at life, her breathless sentences are all let loose a little more than usual in
The Wife
. . . . Wolitzer’s world is John Updike’s world, but her writing is at once grittier and bigger. It’s hard to tell how old she is because she writes with so little bitterness. I hope that
The Wife
might appeal to both men and women. It is as much about the male psyche as it is about the woman’s.”


Los Angeles Times

“Here are three words that land with a thunk:
gender, writing,
and
identity.
Yet in
The Wife,
Meg Wolitzer has fashioned a light-stepping, streamlined novel from just these dolorous, bitter-sounding themes. Maybe that’s because she’s set them all smoldering: rage might be the signature emotion of the powerless, but in Wolitzer’s hands, rage is also very funny. . . . Wolitzer deploys a calm, seamless humor not found in her previous novels. The jokes don’t barge in and tap us on the shoulder. Instead, they gradually accumulate, creating a rueful, sardonic atmosphere. . . . The book represents a real step forward for Wolitzer.”


The New York Times Book Review


The Wife
isn’t just women’s lit with feminist issues. Deft and passionate, it raises questions about misguided aims and the deals we make with ourselves and others to reach them.”


Newsday

“There are women in New York City who would kill to be Joan Castleman, the narrator of Wolitzer’s frothy new comic novel. . . . [Wolitzer] paints an urbane picture of the book world of the ’50s and ’60s, when male writers would put down their pens and use their fists. Her hilarious gripes about marriage make this tale a pleasure best indulged in away from your better half.”


People

“Meg Wolitzer’s sixth novel,
The Wife,
may be her boldest yet—an exploration of the passionate highs and divorce-threatening lows of Joan and Joe Castleman’s forty-year marriage, delivered with signature wit, warmth, and a wise, woman’s-eye view.”


Elle


The Wife
speeds along, glittering all the way, equal parts Jane Austen and Fran Lebowitz: epigrammatic, perceptive, ironic, smart, and ringing with truth. . . . [It] crackles with such intensity that it’s hard to put down even for a few hours. . . . [Wolitzer] grabs hold of that brass ring of universal experience and takes us all along for the carousel ride.”


The Buffalo News

“A delicious read. . . . Philip Roth and John Updike have written tales like this, only we never hear the wife’s perspective. Wolitzer creates just the right voice for her overlooked heroine. She is at once witty and angry, bitter and tearful. . . . It is [Wolitzer’s] understanding of marriage that makes this tale such a delicious pleasure.”


The Cleveland Plain Dealer


The Wife
is a difficult book to put down, written with Wolitzer’s customary wit and verve.”


The Raleigh News & Observer

“Robustly satisfying . . . Wolitzer makes it easy and delicious to look, listen, and, ultimately, to judge. The vicarious experience is great fun. . . . Wolitzer is a fine writer who just keeps getting better. She takes her time, allowing her characters to develop real heft as she guides us through the world of New York literary life. . . . Wolitzer manages to modernize her novel in the timeless way she presents marriage itself.”

—UPI (United Press International)

“The author’s observations are sharp, true, and unsparing. . . .
The Wife
is surprisingly brief and easy to read but should be, perhaps not so surprisingly, long-lasting in its impact. Those echoes will continue off the page, raising again and again some profound old questions that still have all too few answers, for a long time to come.”


The Dallas Morning News

“Diabolically smart and funny . . . Wolitzer choreographs [Joan Castleman’s] ire into kung fu–precision moves to zap our every notion about gender and status, creativity and fame, individuality and marriage, deftly exposing the injustice, sorrow, and sheer absurdity of it all.”


Booklist

“A tale of witty disillusionment . . . 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.”


Publishers Weekly

“[
The Wife
] features amazingly crafted prose. . . . Complete with a staggering twist ending, this is not one to miss.”


Library Journal

“A triumph of tone and observation,
The Wife
is a blithe, brilliant take on sexual politics and literary vanity (as well as sexual vanity and literary politics). It is the most engaging, funny, and satisfying novel the witty Meg Wolitzer has yet written.”

—Lorrie Moore

“Meg Wolitzer’s sixth novel is her best—an astonishingly dry, funny, and gripping account of two writers trapped for life in an evermore bizarre marriage. Every detail she evokes about an era in American literary life, from college campuses to writers’ parties, is persuasive, hilarious, and even frightening, while the indignation she registers about her heroine’s predicaments is lightened and even liberated by her perfect comic timing.
The Wife
is a milestone in the career of one of her generation’s truest novelists.”

—Adam Gopnik

“The wife of
The Wife
is a brilliantly conceived character, smart and foolish, tough-minded and weak-willed, witty and profoundly sad. And Meg Wolitzer’s observations about gender and creativity: They are not only pointed, but penetrating. She has written some fine novels, but this is her best yet!”

—Susan Isaacs

“How does Meg Wolitzer do it? Write those witty, deft, hilarious sentences that add up to so much tragic understanding of life?
The Wife
is a funny, sad, beautiful novel. Unforgettable.”

—Katha Pollitt

“Unflinching and acute,
The Wife
packs a ferocious punch. And that is before Wolitzer’s stunning twist of an ending. If you’ve ever wondered what a female Philip Roth would write, here is the answer.”

—Stacy Schiff

“Funny, smart, sad, gripping, and utterly surprising. Meg Wolitzer’s subjects are the yin and yang of love and hate, and the various strange and shadowy transactions at the heart of a marriage—specifically a marriage between members of that cohort too young to snuggle easily into the certainties of the Greatest Generation and too old to catch feminism’s wave.”

—Kurt Andersen

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For Ilene Young

Chapter One

THE MOMENT
I decided to leave him, the moment I thought,
enough,
we were thirty-five thousand feet above the ocean, hurtling forward but giving the illusion of stillness and tranquility.
Just like our marriage,
I could have said, but why ruin everything right now? Here we were in first-class splendor, tentatively separated from anxiety; there was no turbulence and the sky was bright, and somewhere among us, possibly, sat an air marshal in dull traveler’s disguise, perhaps picking at a little dish of oily nuts or captivated by the zombie prose of the in-flight magazine. Drinks had already been served before takeoff, and we were both frankly bombed, our mouths half open, our heads tipped back. Women in uniform carried baskets up and down the aisles like a sexualized fleet of Red Riding Hoods.

“Will you have some cookies, Mr. Castleman?” a brunette asked him, leaning over with a pair of tongs, and as her breasts slid forward and then withdrew, I could see the ancient mechanism of arousal start to whir like a knife sharpener inside him, a sight I’ve witnessed thousands of times over all these decades. “
Mrs.
Castleman?” the woman asked me then, in afterthought, but I declined. I didn’t want her cookies, or anything else.

We were on our way to the end of the marriage, heading toward the moment when I would finally get to yank the two-pronged plug from its holes, to turn away from the husband I’d lived with year after year. We were on our way to Helsinki, Finland, a place no one ever thinks about unless they’re listening to Sibelius, or lying on the hot, wet slats of a sauna, or eating a bowl of reindeer. Cookies had been distributed, drinks decanted, and all around me, video screens had been arched and tilted. No one on this plane was fixated on death right now, the way we’d all been earlier, when, wrapped in the trauma of the roar and the fuel-stink and the distant, braying chorus of Furies trapped inside the engines, an entire planeload of minds—Economy, Business Class, and The Chosen Few—came together as one and urged this plane into the air like an audience willing a psychic’s spoon to bend.

Of course, that spoon bent every single time, its tip drooping down like some top-heavy tulip. And though airplanes didn’t
lift
every single time, tonight this one did. Mothers handed out activity books and little plastic bags of Cheerios with dusty sediment at the bottom; businessmen opened laptops and waited for the stuttering screens to settle. If he was on board, the phantom air marshal ate and stretched and adjusted his gun beneath a staticky little square of Dynel blanket, and our plane rose in the sky until it hung suspended at the desired altitude, and finally I decided for certain that I would leave my husband. Definitely. For sure. One hundred percent. Our three children were gone, gone, gone, and there would be no changing my mind, no chickening out.

He looked over at me suddenly, watched my face, and said, “What’s the matter? You look a little . . . something.”

“No. It’s nothing,” I told him. “Nothing worth talking about now, anyway,” and he accepted this as a good-enough answer, returning to his plate of Tollhouse cookies, a small belch puffing his cheeks out froglike, briefly. It was difficult to disturb this man; he had everything he could possibly ever need.

He was Joseph Castleman, one of those men who own the world. You know the type I mean: those advertisements for
themselves, those sleepwalking giants, roaming the earth and knocking over other men, women, furniture, villages. Why should they care? They own everything, the seas and mountains, the quivering volcanoes, the dainty, ruffling rivers. There are many varieties of this kind of man: Joe was the writer version, a short, wound-up, slack-bellied novelist who almost never slept, who loved to consume runny cheeses and whiskey and wine, all of which he used as a vessel to carry the pills that kept his blood lipids from congealing like yesterday’s pan drippings, who was as entertaining as anyone I have ever known, who had no idea of how to take care of himself or anyone else, and who derived much of his style from
The Dylan Thomas Handbook of Personal Hygiene and Etiquette.

There he sat beside me on Finnair flight 702, and whenever the brunette brought him something, he took it from her, every single cookie and smokehouse-treated nut and pair of spongy, throwaway slippers and steaming washcloth rolled Torah-tight. If that luscious cookie-woman had stripped to her waist and offered him one of her breasts, mashing the nipple into his mouth with the assured authority of a La Leche commandant, he would have taken it, no questions asked.

As a rule, the men who own the world are hyperactively sexual, though not necessarily with their wives. Back in the 1960s, Joe and I leaped into beds all the time, occasionally even during a lull at cocktail parties, barricading someone’s bedroom door and then climbing a mountain of coats. People would come banging, wanting their coats back, and we’d laugh and shush each other and try to zip up and tuck in before letting them enter.

We hadn’t had that in a long time, though if you’d seen us here on this airplane heading for Finland, you’d have assumed we were content, that we still touched each other’s sluggish body parts at night.

“Listen, you want an extra pillow?” he asked me.

“No, I hate those doll pillows,” I said. “Oh, and don’t forget to stretch your legs like Dr. Krentz said.”

You’d look at us—Joan and Joe Castleman of Weathermill, New York, and, currently, seats 3A and 3B—and you’d know exactly
why
we were traveling to Finland. 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.

BOOK: The Wife
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