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The Wife
Cover of The Wife
The Wife
A Novel
Now a major motion picture starring Glenn Close in her Golden Globe–winning role!

One of bestselling author Meg Wolitzer's most beloved books—an "acerbically funny" (Entertainment Weekly) and "intelligent...portrait of deception" (The New York Times).
The Wife is the story of the long and stormy marriage between a world-famous novelist, Joe Castleman, and his wife Joan, and the secret they've kept for decades. The novel opens just as Joe is about to receive a prestigious international award, The Helsinki Prize, to honor his career as one of America's preeminent novelists. Joan, who has spent forty years subjugating her own literary talents to fan the flames of his career, finally decides to stop.

Important and ambitious, The Wife is a sharp-eyed and compulsively readable story about a woman forced to confront the sacrifices she's made in order to achieve the life she thought she wanted. "A rollicking, perfectly pitched triumph...Wolitzer's talent for comedy of manners reaches a heady high" (Los Angeles Times), in this wise and candid look at the choices all men and women make—in marriage, work, and life.
Now a major motion picture starring Glenn Close in her Golden Globe–winning role!

One of bestselling author Meg Wolitzer's most beloved books—an "acerbically funny" (Entertainment Weekly) and "intelligent...portrait of deception" (The New York Times).
The Wife is the story of the long and stormy marriage between a world-famous novelist, Joe Castleman, and his wife Joan, and the secret they've kept for decades. The novel opens just as Joe is about to receive a prestigious international award, The Helsinki Prize, to honor his career as one of America's preeminent novelists. Joan, who has spent forty years subjugating her own literary talents to fan the flames of his career, finally decides to stop.

Important and ambitious, The Wife is a sharp-eyed and compulsively readable story about a woman forced to confront the sacrifices she's made in order to achieve the life she thought she wanted. "A rollicking, perfectly pitched triumph...Wolitzer's talent for comedy of manners reaches a heady high" (Los Angeles Times), in this wise and candid look at the choices all men and women make—in marriage, work, and life.
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  • From the book

    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,...

About the Author-
  • Meg Wolitzer's novels include The Female Persuasion; Sleepwalking; This Is Your Life; Surrender, Dorothy; and The Position. She lives in New York City.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    February 3, 2003
    A starred or boxed review indicates a book of outstanding quality. A review with a blue-tinted title indicates a book of exceptional importance that hasn't received a starred or boxed review. THE WIFE Meg Wolitzer. Scribner, $23 (224p) ISBN 0-684-86940-3 Wolitzer (Sleepwalking) opens her latest tale in the first-class cabin of an airplane. Joan, a still-striking 64-year-old woman, observes her husband, the "short, wound-up, slack-bellied" famous novelist Joe Castleman, as he lolls in his seat and accepts the treats and attention offered him by the flight attendants. The couple are on their way to Finland, where Joe will receive the fictional Helsinki Prize, not quite as prestigious as the Nobel, but worth a small fortune—the crown jewel in a spectacular career. Yet as the once blonde Smith College co-ed looks over at the once handsome creative writing teacher who seduced her, she realizes that she must end this marriage. The reader is prepared for a tale of witty disillusionment. Here is Joan on the literary fame game: "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." As the narrative flows from the glamorous present back to the past, tracing the bohemian Greenwich Village beginnings of the couple's relationship and Joe's skyrocketing success and compulsive philandering, an almost subliminal psychological horror tale begins to unfold. Wolitzer delicately chips away at this seemingly confident and detached narrator and her swaggering "genius" husband, inserting a sly clue here and there, until the extent of Joan's sacrifice is made clear. There is no cheap, gratifying Hollywood ending to make it all better. Instead, 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.

  • Allison PearsonMeg Wolitzer is so smart and funny she should be bottled and sold over the counter. The Wife is a complex, compelling portrait of a marriage that raises painful issues, even as it has you howling with recognition. Why does the better half feel she has to protect the lesser half from failure and disappointment? What exactly is the nature of the transaction between men and women -- and who picks up the check? The Wife picks up some of the hard questions with the lightest, most glittering of touches.
  • Lorrie MooreA 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.
  • Susan IsaacsThe 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!
  • Katha PollittHow 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.
  • Stacy SchiffUnflinching and acute, The Wife packs a ferocious punch. And that is before Wolitzer's stunning twist of an ending.
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The Wife
A Novel
Meg Wolitzer
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