The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer

The UncouplingThe 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.

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12 thoughts on “The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer

  1. That’s weird that it’s a spell and not a decision, like in the Greek play, which is both hilarious and powerful. I keep hearing about Lysistrata remakes lately. Spike Lee just did one in his new film, Chi-raq.

    1. Yes it was definitely weird. In the end, the drama teacher directing the play itself was the catalyst for the spell? or something like that. I hate that I’m still unclear on that.

  2. This was my first Wolitzer too. I was not necessarily impressed with it either. I do remember being slightly confused by how it all ends. I wanted more concrete answers as to why or at least how the spell was cast too.

  3. This was my first Wolitzer book, too and I wasn’t wow’d either. Then I did the Ten-Year Nap and wasn’t wow’d by it either. I have The Interestings on my bookshelf and now I can’t make myself pick it up.

  4. I just…honestly am not that impressed with Wolitzer. I feel very out of step with the lit’rary establishment and blogging world, but still, that’s how I feel. And I also think “The Ten Year Nap” is a super insulting title and it makes me want to kick Meg Wolitzer in the shins even though I’m sure (sort of? I’m not that sure) that she doesn’t really actually think that women who take time away from work to raise their kids are doing the equivalent of taking a nap.

    1. I agree about it being super insulting but I was always under the impression that she meant it that way, not to be insulting, but to say that either a. society looks at it as a ten-year nap and it shouldn’t be, or b. the women themselves feel that it felt like a ten-year nap but they know they shouldn’t feel that way. That’s how I always took the title – hopefully I’m not wrong. I do have that one on my TBR shelves so if I read another Wolitzer any time soon, it will be that.

  5. What you say about the characters having believable relationships and relatable thoughts reminds me about what I enjoyed so much about Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You. However, like you, I don’t like not understanding why things happen. Even in magical realism or outright fantasy, I like there to be an internal logic to everything that happens in the story.

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