The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer: Impressions

Once again, I very much enjoyed Wolitzer’s style of writing. It’s wry and warm at the same time. I did not enjoy The Uncoupling nearly as much as The Wife, though, as the plot seemed to be less tightly woven, more meandering in style.

The story is set in a New Jersey suburb called Stellar Plains (think Edward Scissorhands or Weeds or just look at the cover for a visual) where everything is orderly and quaint and comfortable, and nothing much every happens. Life is very safe and routine. That is, until the local high school decides to hire a new drama teacher who wants to stage Lysistrata – the Greek comedy in which the women refuse sex to get the men to stop their warfare. Then, slowly, a “spell” takes hold of the town, one that causes the women inexplicably to lose any desire for physical pleasure – in fact, causing them to be repulsed at the thought of it. Everyone reacts in strange and different ways, depending on the individual relationship.

It also seems to pose a not-so-subtle commentary on the accelerated change our culture experiences with each new wave of technology and connectedness:

You weren’t supposed to think life was worse now; it was “different,” everyone said. But Dory privately thought that mostly it was worse. The intimacy of reading had been traded in for the rapid absorption of information. And the intimacy of love, well, that had often been traded in for something far more public and open. 

The novel teases out all the details people tend to keep secret, rising to a crescendo of revelation and forgiveness near the end, a commentary on how little we really know even our closest friends and confidants:

All over town, the spell did its work. No one knew, of course; how could they possibly have known? Even in the absence of a spell, no one ever really knew what went on in anyone elese’s bed. No one ever really knew what went on in anyone else’s kitchen, or bathroom, or upstairs hallway. What actually happened there, and what got said. Couples might put on clown wigs and prance around. Entire families might kneel and chant and eat root soup. Who really knew anything about how other people lived? You might tell a friend some details, but of course you would always carefully choose which ones to reveal, and you would tweak them in some vain or self-protective way.

The magical realism bit of the novel seemed a little forced to me, although without it, there’d be no story to tell, no relationship quirks to shed light on in a new way. It falls only just short of working for me. Still, I’d say this book is definitely worth reading. It’s light and delightful, even if not a riveting page-turner.