The Uncoupling, by Meg Wolitzer, is the second book I have read by this author (here is my review of The Ten Year Nap), and it's an equally observant and witty (though ultimately flawed) commentary on modern domestic life. The story is about a New Jersey suburb and the drama teacher who arrives at the high school and decides to stage the Greek drama Lysistrata, which is about what happens when the women of a community withhold sex from their husbands in order to get them to stop fighting a war.
In The Uncoupling, the women involved in the play, from its actresses to their mothers to the faculty at the school, ultimately find themselves under a spell similar to the one that Lysistrata cast in her play – they lose all physical passion and shut out their husbands both emotionally and physically. They don't talk about it, though, so unlike in Lysistrata, the women in The Uncoupling have no idea what is happening to them, and believe themselves to be alone.
Wolitzer is a beautiful writer – something I learned in The Ten Year Nap. She's astute and observant, and funny too. Here is a passage I liked about how parents take their kids to task for spending too much time online, while they themselves do the same:
All of which forced real-life parents to make curdled and no doubt ignorant remarks about what their kids were missing, even as the parents themselves were drawn to their own screens, where they sat slack every night before a radiant blast. As the hours disappeared, sometimes they purchased slippers; or read about a newly discovered species of lizard; or about a disease they feared they had; or about the unmysterious wars that quietly continued in Iraq and Afghanistan, as unseen as fires burning underground. Leanne had recently remarked that if you wanted to get to know someone's unconscious, all you had to do was take a look at everything they had looked at and done on the Intenet over the course of a couple of hours when they were all alone.
Wolitzer's cast – a fortysomething couple who both teach at the high school, their daughter and her boyfriend (the son of the drama teacher), the beautiful and many-partnered guidance counselor, the overweight and long-married college advisor, just to name a few – is richly textured. The first half of the book, when these characters were introduced, was my favorite. Later, as Wolitzer injected magical realism and the drama teacher's spell took hold, I started to enjoy the book less. I found a subplot involving the play's star and her own use of Lysistrata's methods to protest our current war to be unconvincing and unncessary, and I agree with other reviewers that the end of the book tied up too neatly. There was enough to go on here, just in the depiction of the relationships and the ways in which the play affected them, that the extras were unnecessary and, in my opinion, took away from the book.
I am also not a big fan of magical realism – I like my books very literal. I don't think the magical realism was necessary here, and was instead a distraction for me.
While I was disappointed in the book when I finished it, due to the unsatisfying ending and the needless flourishes, I am still glad that I read it. I love Wolitzer's writing, and thoroughly enjoyed these characters and the suburban life Wolitzer created for them. I'd recommend The Uncoupling despite its flaws.
Thanks to TLC Book Tours for selecting me to be a part of The Uncoupling book tour and to Riverhead Books for providing me a review copy of the book. I am the second to last stop on this book tour – here's a full list of all of the blogs that have reviewed The Uncoupling on the tour.
Are you interested in reading The Uncoupling? I have a copy to give away, thanks to Riverhead. Leave me a comment here and I will pick a name at random on Friday, April 29.