As promised, I'm catering for all readers here in this HuffPo blog, as we in the know call it (aren't we annoying?). For the last few weeks I've been on a thriller chase, so to speak, so this week's book, The Uncoupling by New Yorker Meg Wolitzer, is a welcome break, kind of like a soy frap = fluffy, light, and curious.
I must admit I picked up this book after I saw it featured in a 'Best Covers of 2011' article, which I read because my fellow same-agency author Stephen Kelman's Booker shortlisted Pigeon English was among the titles. The jacket, however, when it arrived in Phoenix Magazine's offices, was actually kind of schiz(ophrenic). The back cover features a synopsis that hints at an indie text with strong feminist undertones in the strain of Carol Shield's Unless, while the front cover is quietly comic and subtle, two feet turned away from another pair in bed, with a book entitled Lysistrata barely visible beneath a pair of glasses on the floor below the feet. The front cover communicated tones more reminiscent of The Breakup than Shield's sparse Pulitzer Prize winning prose.
A good choice by publishers Chatto & Windus, this reviewer thinks however, because in truth this book does sit between independent movie and mainstream romdramcom, with mild feminist leanings which conclude vaguely but firmly on the side of love between the sexes.
Dory and Robby Lang are two enviably lovely teachers who suddenly reach a sexual impasse two decades into their otherwise flawless marriage - in short, Dory Doesn't Want To Do It. Shocked by this unforeseen turn of events, usually sweet Robby becomes crabby, bewildered and frustrated.
All over the small New Jersey town where the novel is set (the setting was in part what gave the book its cute, indie feel - mainstream romdramcoms are set in New York, LA or Chicago), other women begin to turn down their perfectly buff partners, while quirky new drama teacher Fran Heller mounts the Aristophanes' play Lysistrata at the local high school - a piece where women withhold sex from men to stop them going to war. So is this coincidence (the book prompts us to ask)? Or is something more sinister afoot?
What Wolitzer does particularly well is to explore and record the minutiae of relationships between men and women, of young love, middle-aged love and how each change and grow. Her description of subtle looks, a slight turn of the shoulder away from a loved one, evokes undeniably clear and recognisable images. Her observations of human behaviour are truthful, if not particularly extreme, and her characters are easily visualised, walking fully-formed off the page into the reader's mind.
Personally I wanted a stronger conclusion from this novel, but you may feel differently. It's an enjoyable read in any case: a thoughtful, relaxing charmer of a book, perfect for holiday reading. Buy it as a Christmas present for any female friend (usually I don't like to be sex specific in my recommendations but this is a book about women for women), and look forward to her either thanking you for a pleasant read, or being ready for avid discussion of the conclusion and themes the next time you see her.
The Uncoupling by Meg Worlitzer is out in paperback.