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A Novel Way To Think About Some Longstanding Myths

In The Wife, Meg Wolitzer slyly dissects the myth of the woman behind the supposedly great man. Joan Castleman is married to the famous writer Joseph Castleman. From the outside looking in, theirs is an ideal marriage, with Joan as the ever-supportive, long-suffering wife. And yet. There are always several sides to any good story.

On the eve of her husband’s greatest moment, when he is about to win a prize similar to the Nobel, the Helskinki Prize, Joan resolves to leave her husband. At the pinnacle of his career, she has reached her limit. This is a novel that starts at the end and then, carefully and coyly, Wolitzer reveals how we have arrived at such a place.

“It kills me to say it, but I was his student when we met,” Joan confesses, early in the novel. That confession is one of the novel’s many clever, engaging narrative choices. Wolitzer knows the clichés and uses them to great advantage. She takes a well worn premise and finds a way to tell the unexpected story nonetheless—a story of a life of writing, a marriage, and how there are bonds that even too much intimacy cannot break.

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