Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon has been compared to Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones Diary and it's easy to see why. Of my own small reading repertoire, I'd say it's a cross between Bridget Jones and Domestic Violets, a story about a middle-aged copywriter wannabe writer going through an early mid-life crisis.
Wife 22 is a modern-day story of middle-age, fraught with family and marital tensions, told in humorous and insightful anecdotes varying in structure from traditional prose and dialogue to mini-plays to google searches to email correspondence to facebook status updates and chats. Alice is 44 with a cranky, self-righteous teenage daughter and near-teen son she suspects is gay, married for 20 years to distant William. She teaches drama part-time at a local elementary school; William is a creative director at an ad agency. There worlds no longer seem to overlap much at all, and unhappy Alice signs up for a study of 21st century marriage that she finds in her spam folder, which assigns her the code name wife22. Researcher 101 is her contact, and he feeds her a few questions a week from the survey.
Alice finds that the anonymity of the survey lends itself to greater honesty, and she relates intimate details of her life with a humor, frankness, and attention to detail that has been missing in her present. She feels guilty for keeping her marriage survey participation from her husband, and, after her communications with Researcher 101 start to go beyond harmless flirtation, eventually confesses to 2 of her closest friends, who both tell her to cut if off before she does something rash.
The novel is full of exchanges like:
"Can we tell people?" asks Peter."What people?" I say."Zoe.""Zoe's not people. She's family," I say."No, she's people. We lost her to the people some time ago," says William.
as well as witty advice such as:
"Humiliation is a choice. Don't choose it."
Though I found the format a little trying and gimmicky at first, it ultimately worked for me as Alice grew on me. Is Alice imperfect? Of course. Selfish? Definitely – but aren't we all? Trying to figure out how to navigate life with all the gadgetry and online-connectedness we're supposed to be experiencing? Absolutely. But Alice is a very relatable character, even if she makes much different choices than I might make (or think I might make – she has higher meanness tolerance levels than I do). She's goofy and funny and frazzled but not to the point of ridiculousness (like the Bridget Jones in the movie version). She survives her crisis and manages to circle back to herself – the end is satisfying in it's slightly unpredictable obviousness (even if one could see it coming halfway through the book… it's the how that's fun).
One thing to note, as I was reading the ebook version: The questions to the survey are in the appendix at the end. While reading, it just seemed that the reader was supposed to guess the question, which often was possible, but sometimes annoying. I'm not sure if knowing about the questions would have enhanced or detracted from my reading experience, but there is.
Either way, reading Wife 22 was a pure delight and I'd recommend it to anyone looking for a light summer read with a little bit of depth to it.