After 40 years of marriage, Joan Castleman decides it is time to leave her husband and her marriage. She comes to this decision sitting next to her husband, Joe, in first class cabin of the airplane that is taking them to Helsinki, where Joe is to receive a prestigious international literary award.
Reflecting on her marriage Joan tells us why she reaches this decision now, at this highpoint of their marriage, by going back to the very beginning when she was a 1950’s coed at Smith and he was her professor. Weaving through the decades, Joan tells the story of how she supported Joe throughout his career while raising their three children mostly on her own. Given the times, she realizes fairly quickly that very few women can succeed in the literary world and so she puts her own interests in writing on hold and devotes herself to her husband’s career. But as his literary fame grows and Joan must attend countless literary cocktail parties where she has to turn a blind eye to his compulsive philandering, Joan begins to feel the weight of the sacrifice that she has made.
Wolitzer gives Joan a crisp dry wit, and her descriptions of the literary scene over the decades are scathing. As Joe’s literary fame grows and his books admired internationally, Joe’s dependency on Joan becomes even more pronounced, causing Joan to think of him as another child even as their own children are now grown and have left home. Wolitzer is pitch perfect in describing Joe’s devastating narcissism, and the manipulative ways he interacts with both Joan and his family. Thinking only of himself, he perpetuates deception after deception, without seeing the cost to his family or to Joan.
In the end, it is the lies, that Joan cannot abide anymore, and as she makes the decision to leave Joe and the marriage, we understand with shocking clarity the significance of those lies on Joan’s life and what it has cost her to maintain the facade of a supportive literary wife for all these years.
Wolitzer has a keen eye for character, and her prose is sharp, original, and witty. One of the most popular underlines in the book shows her talent for acerbic prose as she has Joan reflect on their marriage: “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.”
This is another great summer read…one you will want to read in one big gulp!
Brenda’s Rating: ***1/2 (3 1/2 Stars out of 5)
Recommend this book to: Sharon and Keith
Book Study Worthy? Not really- You will need a strong drink when you finish though!
Read in ebook format.