Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Review: The Uncoupling

Summary: When the elliptical new drama teacher at Stellar Plains High School chooses for the school play Lysistrata-the comedy by Aristophanes in which women stop having sex with men in order to end a war-a strange spell seems to be cast over the school. Or, at least, over the women. One by one throughout the high school community, perfectly healthy, normal women and teenage girls turn away from their husbands and boyfriends in the bedroom, for reasons they don't really understand. As the women worry over their loss of passion, and the men become by turns unhappy, offended, and above all, confused, both sides are forced to look at their shared history, and at their sexual selves in a new light.

As she did to such acclaim with the
New York Times bestseller The Ten-Year Nap, Wolitzer tackles an issue that has deep ramifications for women's lives, in a way that makes it funny, riveting, and totally fresh-allowing us to see our own lives through her insightful lens. -- Riverhead

I have been so excited to read THE UNCOUPLING by  Meg Wolitzer ever since my book club discussed Ms. Wolitzer's THE TEN YEAR NAP a few years ago. While I admit that THE TEN YEAR NAP wasn't one of my all-time favorite reads, it did generate one of my group's best discussions ever. In addition, it really made me think about my role as a mother and wife as well as my career (or should I say lack thereof?) I had high hopes that THE UNCOUPLING would be another book that caused me to have more of these thought-provoking discussions.

And I am very happy to say that THE UNCOUPLING did not disappoint. In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed THE UNCOUPLING and actually thought it was a much easier (and enjoyable) read than THE TEN YEAR NAP. I'm not sure it "hit home" for me quite as much as THE TEN YEAR NAP, but it definitely entertained me a great deal and I adored all of the social commentary on women and their "relationships" with men. Having said that, I have plenty of friends who I'm pretty sure will relate to the "spell" that came over the women in the novel.

I have to say that THE UNCOUPLING has one of the most unique premises that I've come across in recent reading. Basically, a "spell" is cast over the women of this town where they no longer want to have sex with their husbands/significant others. Oddly enough, this spell occurs at the same time a new drama teacher begins auditioning for the school play Lysistrata. For those of you not familiar with this Greek comedy, it's a story about women who stop having relations with their men in order to stop a war. Needless to say, the women are confused about their behavior and changes of heart, while the men are just really confused... and frustrated.

I was extremely impressed with Ms. Wolitzer's ability to make this story work... because, if I'm being honest, this story seemed a little out there for me. One of the things that I most appreciated about this story is that the book almost seemed like a fairy tale of sorts. There was a magical quality to a few of the characters along with that whole "spell" business. And while parts of the story were mythical, the overall themes are guaranteed to resonate with female readers. I loved how the author was able to not only tie-in the story of Lysistrata with modern day women, but also provide some commentary (and potential food for thought) on the war in Afghanistan. And I loved the symbolism/comparison between the "spells" which cause humans to fall in love as well as the ones which cause them to fall out of love (or lust!)

Another thing that I really enjoyed about this book was that the chapters alternated between a variety of characters. This novel wasn't just a predictable story about middle-aged women who are fed up with their husbands and sex lives. Rather, Ms. Wolitzer showed how the spell affected all types of women (and also all ages of women.) It was interesting to see how each woman handled the sexual changes in her relationship, but I found it especially fascinating how each women then reflected on their own lives and needs and ultimately, their own happiness.

Ms. Wolitzer did a fabulous job with this novel and I really can't stress how terrific of a writer she is. Much of her prose is beautiful, but I most appreciate how spot-on her thoughts are about human nature... and specifically female nature. I definitely enjoyed all of the satire and humor that were woven into this story, and I admit that I did find myself chuckling a few times over the men's reactions to their women! One thing's for sure...Meg Wolitzer has an uncanny ability to make readers see (and think about) themselves through the characters that appear in her books.

The only negative thing I have to say about THE UNCOUPLING is that I was left wanting more. You see, I immediately felt the need to discuss the story with my friends. I'm not sure our conversation would be quite as open as it was for THE TEN YEAR NAP, namely because the subject matter tends to be more personal. However, I do think this book is perfect for female book clubs. There is an excellent reading guide available which delves into many interesting topics. Some things you might want to talk about include desire and loss of desire, marriage, sex, apathy, falling in love and falling out of love, and attraction.

I thought THE UNCOUPLING was a fantastic read and I highly recommend it to fans of women's literary fiction!

Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of this novel.


rhapsodyinbooks said...

What a different idea for a story! Sort of like the opposite of The Stepford Wives!

bermudaonion said...

I was thinking the same thing as Jill. I remember seeing Lysistrata in college and feeling quite sophisticated after I saw it.

Julie @ Read Handed said...

Sounds interesting. It's certainly unique. I'll have to check it out - and I'm also intrigued by the Ten Year Nap. I've just added both to my list at the public library!


Julie @ Read Handed

Anonymous said...

I have some how missed Meg Wolitzer'z books. I've heard mixed review of The Ten Year Nap and good review of this. You've convinced me to add this to my wish list.

Gayle Weiswasser said...

I enjoyed The Ten Year Nap, but also found it really hard to get through. Very slow! I am looking forward to reading this one - am on a book tour for it next month. Thanks, Julie!

Unknown said...

As I read your review I thought, like Jill and Kathy, what a strange and unique basis for a story. I think if I'd only read a summary of this book I might not be interested in reading it but as I continued to read your review and learned what Meg Wolitzer does with the story, showing the impact of the play on a variety of women, my interest grew. I have The Ten Year Nap and need to make time to read it but I think now I'm more interested in this book!
Women so often put the happiness of the people in their lives before their own and I like the idea that in this story some of them pay attention to their own happiness.
Thank you for another great review, Julie.

Athira said...

I'm so glad you loved this book. I'm going to request this from my library!

Swapna said...

This is one I really want to read - that premise sounds fascinating. Thanks so much for the review.

Beth F said...

Love the premise and I've heard only wonderful things about this book. I trust your opinion, so I must get to it soon-ish.