The moment Joan Castleman decides to leave her husband, they are thirty-five thousand feet above the ocean on a flight to Helsinki. Joan’s husband, Joseph, is one of America’s preeminent novelists, about to receive a prestigious international award, and Joan, who has spent forty years subjugating her own literary talents to fan the flames of his career, has finally decided to stop. From this gripping opening, Meg Wolitzer flashes back to 1950s Smith College and Greenwich Village and follows the course of the marriage that has brought the couple to this breaking point—one that results in a shocking revelation.
With her skillful storytelling and pitch-perfect observations, Wolitzer has crafted a wise and candid look at the choices all men and women make—in marriage, work, and life.
Read an Excerpt
The moment I decided to leave him, the moment I thought, enough, we were thirty-five thousand feet above the ocean, hurtling forward but giving the illusion of stillness and tranquility. Just like our marriage, I could have said, but why ruin everything right now? Here we were in first-class splendor, tentatively separated from anxiety; there was no turbulence and the sky was bright, and somewhere among us, possibly, sat an air marshal in dull traveler's disguise, perhaps picking at a little dish of oily nuts or captivated by the zombie prose of the in-flight magazine. Drinks had already been served before... see more
Reading Group Guide
1. After attempting her first short story in the library stacks at Smith College, Joan, the protagonist of The Wife, imagines "what it was like to be a writer: Even with the eyes closed, you could see" (p.46). Explain how this observation could also be made of wives. What does Joan see even when other people think her eyes are closed?
2. In Chapter Two, Joan meets the writer Elaine Mozell who warns Joan against trying to get the attention of the literary men's club. How might Joan's life have been different without Elaine's discouraging advice haunting her?
3. On a trip to Vietnam with Joe, Joan finds herself on an airstrip, in a segregated clump, with the wives. But Lee, the famous female journalist, chats with the men. Joan laments to herself "I shouldn't be here! I wanted to cry. I'm not like the rest of them!" (p.134) How is Joan different from the rest of the wives who appear throughout the novel? In what ways is she similar?
4. Joe's friend, Harry Jacklin, praises Joe's work, telling him, "You've got that extra gene, that sensitivity toward women" s (p. 25). Indeed, we discover that Joe's "sensitivity" is primarily thanks to his wife. How do you think Joan would have been received in the literary world if her name had been attached to the same material? Do you think she would have been as successful?
5. After Joe receives the call confirming he has won the Helsinki Priz see more