The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer
Published by Riverhead Books
From the publisher:
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.
I had very high expectations for this book, my first experience with Wolitzer, because I’ve heard nothing but great things about her writing and her novels in general. While I wasn’t disappointed, exactly, the book didn’t wow me like I had hoped it would. HOWEVER. It was pretty good. So I will mostly explain what I thought was good about The Uncoupling.
The best thing about the book, in my opinion, is what a great job Wolitzer does at portraying the ordinary lives of her characters. We get an inside look at several marriages and one parent-child relationship. She does such an incredible job at making the mundane aspects of marriage and family seem fascinating. We never do know what’s going on in our friends and neighbors homes, do we? There is no way to understand another couple’s relationship, is there? In real life, there is rarely an opportunity to see the truth of someone else’s life but in this novel, Wolitzer shows that to the reader over and over again. And so much of what these couples do and say and feel are things that I could relate to, that I’m sure most people would nod their heads along as they recognize parts of themselves or their relationships in these characters. That I think is a gift Wolitzer has and I definitely appreciated that aspect of the novel.
Also, there are quite a few characters in this novel, especially for a shortish book like this, yet it never feels overwhelming to keep track of everyone. I definitely think that some could have been given more attention as there were a few one-dimensional characters here, but overall I thought Wolitzer did a good job creating a solid cast of well-rounded and interesting characters who all played a unique role in her story.
My least favorite thing about the book was actually the main plot point, which was the no-sex spell that came over the women. I have a hard time, with realistic fiction especially, being okay with not understanding why something happens, and while I get that this is fiction, the fact that this “spell” is never explained bothered me. It made it more difficult to connect to the emotional aspect of what these women and men were going through. At the end it’s sort of revealed that the drama teacher has something to do with it, but exactly what is still very unclear. I also feel that how everyone was miraculously cured of the spell wasn’t explained or handled very well, either.
While I liked The Uncoupling for many reasons, I didn’t love it like I had hoped that I would. I am, however, very intrigued by Wolitzer as an author and will definitely explore more of her work.