Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer

The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer
288 pages
Published April 2011 by Penguin Group
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

In a small town in New Jersey, new drama teacher at the high school has announced that this year's play will be "Lysistrata*," a play in which one Greek woman incites the rest to withhold sex from their husbands and lovers until the end the Pelopponesian War. Almost immediately a spell begins to settle over the women of Stellar Plains. Young and old, they begin to lose all interest in intimacy. The slightest touch has them pulling away.

It happens to Robby and Dory Lang, admired and beloved English teachers at the high school. Married for fifteen years, everyone assumes that Dory and Robby have the perfect marriage.
"It might have gone on like this for a long, long time. It might never have changed. They might have remained one of those miracle couples who never stop, never quit, and whom everyone regards in head-shaking awe. They might have stayed at an impressive pitch, sexually, even after so much time had gone by."
Then one night, Robby put a hand on Dory's shoulder and she felt a blast of cold air, a blast that was the spell, a spell that left her feeling disgusted by Robby's touch. And so it went throughout the town.
"Starting that night, and continuing for quite a while afterward, the wind picked up and the temperature dropped and the windows shook like crazy in their frames, and all over that town, you could hear the word "no."
The spell came over Bev Cutler, a woman who's been pulling back from her husband for some time but is still surprised to be so repulsed by him. It settles on Ruth Winik, the girls' P.E. teacher who previously had been so attracted to her husband that she had given up a period of lesbianism to be with him. It even comes over Leanne Bannerjee who pulls away from not one but three lovers and Willa Lang who has only recently fallen in love for the first time and begun discovering sex. The more the women pull away, the more frustrated and distant the men become.

I went into this book completely unaware of what it was about; I knew Wolitzer's name and that the book was about relationships. I wasn't sure where the book was going for a while, if it was just going to be a book about Robby and Dory or something more. But as the spell spread and Wolitzer explored how such a thing might effect society, the story definitely picked up for me. I didn't really connect with any of the characters, perhaps because there were so many of them, although there were things about many of the couples that struck home. The idea of magical realism in a story doesn't always well for me and this book was no exception; I might have enjoyed the book more if Wolitzer had found a different way to make her point. Despite the fact that the major theme of the book is intimacy, there is nothing particularly graphic in the novel and this one might make an interesting book club selection.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me in this tour. For more reviews, check out these blogs. To learn more about Wolitzer and her books, check out her website. To read an excerpt of the book, follow this link.

* "Lysistrata": a play by Aristophanes in which Lysistrata persuades the women of Greece to withhold sexual favors from their husbands to force them to negotiate peace after the Pelopponisian War has dragged on for over twenty years. The women's actions start a new war...the battle between the sexes. The play, a comedy, helped usher in a new era for the comedic theater and includes explicit obscenities and double entendre.

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