(Literary Wives) Not Enough Marital Connection and Too Much Facebook: Wife 22

I apologize for my sporadic writing of late, but I’m back to review our (on-line book club) Literary Wives’ October book, Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon.

Wife 22 is a book about contemporary issues: growing disconnections in family – between mother and children and especially between wife and husband – and the role that technology has come to take in the modern family.

Alice Buckle is a 44-year-old mother to two (a surly teenage girl named Zoe and a still affectionate tween boy named Peter) and wife to William, an advertising professional who loses his job about a third of the way through the book. Alice is a passionate playwright who now, because of family commitments or a past failure, works part-time for the drama department at the local elementary school with funds from the PTA. Like many upper middle class suburban wives, she is trying to juggle schedules, raise good kids who would still like her, make sure she hasn’t lost her husband in the midst of parenting, and, somehow, remember what her own needs are.

Twenty years into her marriage, though, she is falling apart. Her position at the elementary school is shaky; her daughter is constantly sarcastic toward her; she is nearing the age at which her own mother had died; her husband feels like a stranger; and she is spending too much time on Facebook.

Then one day Alice receives an invitation to participate in a marriage survey/research study. She accepts it and is assigned the anonymous username “Wife 22.” She is given a lengthy set of personal questions asking her to reflect on her marriage and on marriage and love in general. She is paired up with an equally anonymous “Researcher 101” with whom she occasionally and then, eventually, frequently corresponds. Their emails soon become more and more flirtatious and more and more intimate. Alice is in the giddy but uncomfortable position of finally feeling the intimacy that she wishes she had with her husband.

1. What does this book say about wives or about the experience of being a wife?

There are several wives in the book. There’s Alice, of course, and then there’s her best friend and neighbor Nedra, who is about to marry her long-time partner, Kate. There are also a few minor characters in the book who are married. The experiences depicted in this book all fit our modern, western definition and expectations of what it means to be a wife: to be independent, to feel purpose beyond marriage, and to be emotionally connected to and respected by one’s partner. Alice is flailing in the absence of these things, and she needs them to feel herself again. She had once worked full-time in advertising along with William and she was good at it. She and William had once been so in love with one another, so connected. No doubt the intervening years parenting and the growing complacency in a long-term marriage have diluted that early connection. Nedra offers a contrast to Alice. She has been living in a committed relationship with Kate for many years now (and have a teen boy). Though not legally married until late in the book, their relationship is rock solid. There is another minor character who is happily married and another who eventually divorces, presumably all due to how well they’ve mixed their particular formulas for a successful marriage under our modern definitions.

2. In what way does this woman define “wife”—or in what way is she defined by “wife”?

Alice really wants connection with her husband and she is clearly very lonely. But she is passive. When her husband gets “laid off,” she goes behind his back and asks his co-worker to send her the video from work that did him in. She watches in horror but doesn’t let on to him that she knows anything about it. She later helps him get a job but she does that in a round-about way, behind his back, as well. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve read this book, but I don’t seem to recall an instance of her trying to talk to William about her feelings or needs. Of course, I understand this is a catch-22 (hence the book title perhaps…) – the less she and her husband communicate, the more distant they become; the more distant they become, the harder and more awkward it is to communicate. So she finds herself on the verge of getting in too deeply with another man and she has knowingly allowed herself to get into this position.

In my opinion Alice has defined “wife” as a rather weak player in marriage who allows circumstances to dictate the direction she – and her marriage and family – will go in.

~~~

Overall I really enjoyed the book. I’d been on a steady diet of literary fiction and very heavy subjects, and Wife 22 was a breezy, funny, and thoughtful read that was right up my alley. As someone who has also been married a long time, I appreciated the discussion of husbands and wives trying to connect, and the technology context was also quite fun. I wasn’t entirely crazy about the twist at the end of the book, which I had suspected, and which made the story a bit too romantic-comedy-movie for me. I can totally picture this book as a Jennifer Aniston movie. Anyway, I did like it all in all.

………………………

Please also check out my fellow Literary Wives club members to read their takes on the book!

Ariel of One Little Library (she will post in a couple of weeks)

Carolyn O of Rosemary and Reading Glasses 

Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J. 

Kay of WHATMEREAD

Lynn of Smoke & Mirrors

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17 thoughts on “(Literary Wives) Not Enough Marital Connection and Too Much Facebook: Wife 22

  1. You’re totally spot on about Alice being a rather passive character. At one point Bunny says to her, “Don’t let this just happen to you.” Alice says, “What?” Bunny answers: “Life.” That was a big moment in the book for me, because it really captured exactly what was going on. Unfortunately, I’m not sure she ever took Bunny’s advice. Great review!

    • Thanks, Ariel! And thanks so much for that quote! I got lazy and didn’t take notes, but that would be something I’d want to write down. Yes, Alice really could be a lot happier if she could just take the bull by its horns…

  2. Yes, I think you made some spot-on observations, also taking into account Alice’s friends, which I didn’t do. Alice didn’t take much action with her husband, didn’t notice what was going on behind her back at work (even though it was obvious), and just gave up on her playwriting career as soon as she had one bad experience. She was very passive!

  3. Pingback: Literary Wives: Wife 22 | One Little Library

  4. I am always intrigued when writers tackle marriage in their books. This book sounds as if it presents memorable characters and complex relationships. The added dimension of technology places an interesting twist on marriage and self.

    Glad to see your words, my friend. xoxo

  5. This sounds like a good book for exploring marriage in a light, entertaining way! I have never heard of it before. One thing I wondered about as I was reading your review is how much technology is going to start to feature in new contemporary novels about family and marriage. What effect does it have on the most important parts of our lives? Are writers going to want to write more about it, or are they going to shy away from it? I think adding the social media adds a unique and realistic twist. Do you think our relationships could be suffering because of technology? Or just different?

    • Such interesting questions, Naomi. I feel like there must be contemporary novels that touch on technology but I can’t put my finger on one at the moment. This one didn’t go so deeply into the issues (again, it really read like a romantic comedy). I think that for the most part technology is not really playing a big role in my marriage…it may have, though, when I was going through my obsessive blogging phase (my second year of blogging, I think). Instead of watching t.v. with my husband at night or getting into bed at the same time, I would be at my computer. But then again, I guess the same would be true if I were writing a book and writing on paper, or reading (though there is likely a more addictive quality to blogging). How about you?

      • The biggest thing that suffers because of my blogging is the housework, and I’m okay with that. (Although, maybe my husband isn’t, but most of the time he kindly refrains from saying so.) The number one thing that gets in the way of us connecting at night after the kids are in bed is my reading, but it has always been that way. He is just as bad with his internet surfing, so it’s pretty even. We do need to make more of an effort to connect, though. But, you’re probably right about the fact that if we aren’t doing one thing, we’d be doing another.

  6. I’m glad this book was a break for you! I can’t remember what I read right after An Untamed State, but I guarantee it was not that heavy . . . and I nice call about about Alice’s passivity!

    • Yes, it’s amazing how much heavy literature I can consume, and with pleasure. I may not have enjoyed this book as much had I read it at a different time 🙂

  7. Glad to see you also felt Alice was passive. I felt she was much like Alice in American Wife in that regard. Nice comments about the other wives, too. I rather liked the fact that Alice pursued the truth of Williams’ job less but then didn’t divulge her knowledge to him. I think sometimes it is best to let a partner retain “secrets” about themselves. Thanks for making me consider her actions from a different angle! 🙂

    • That is a really good point about the secrets, Lynn! It’s an overall interesting topic – the role of secrets in a marriage. You might remember that that was one of the survey questions in the book.

  8. Yes. When I was your age I didn’t consider that either of us should have “secrets” from the other, but as I’ve aged and experienced other relationships, I think it is a natural thing for most of us to keep some parts of ourselves to ourselves! 🙂 What I find is that we each seem to divulge “different” things to different people, but rarely or never do we expose everything about ourselves to any one person…

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