Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Morning Reading: Meg Wolitzer

Jincy Willett reviews the new Meg Wolitzer novel, The Uncoupling.


...In Meg Wolitzer’s latest novel, “The Uncoupling,” as in Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata,” every woman, from those on the threshold of sexual awakening to those for whom sex is just a pleasurable memory, closes up shop. The ancient drama is set in Athens; the novel takes place in Stellar Plains, N.J., and the women and young girls work or matriculate at Eleanor Roosevelt High.

There are significant differences. In the play, the women are persuaded to strike in order to accomplish an excellent goal: bringing an end to the Peloponnesian War. In the novel, the women aren’t compelled by rhetoric; they’re enchanted by a mysterious cold wind that blows through their houses, up their skirts, all the way into their hearts. And Aristophanes’ women haven’t stopped yearning for sex, so theirs is a genuine sacrifice, comic in its intensity. In contrast, the women of Stellar Plains suffer only the occasional twinge, “generic moments of longing.” They’re not on strike; they’re just done...

...The adult cast includes a sad, sweet adulterer; a self-righteous hedge fund manager; a promiscuous psychologist; and a blowtorch artist whose wife, her head flung back and sideways in hasty pursuit of orgasm, achieves what he calls the “Guernica” look. Among the students are an endearingly timid sophomore and a pair of benighted dropouts who name their baby Trivet. (“They apparently thought they were naming it Trevor, or Travis, but they got confused.”)

Wolitzer expertly draws her readers into the world of Eleanor Roosevelt High, where students can’t understand why it’s plagiarism when you’ve gone to all the trouble (actually staying home on a weeknight!) of finding Web site material and pasting it neatly together; where teachers grieve over children “prodded by pixels and clicks,” burdened with “information, but no context. Butter, but no bread. Craving, but no longing.” The students themselves are complex and unpredictable. They’re forming their adult selves, and Wolitzer illuminates this erratic process with great skill. In one lovely moment, a teacher, gazing at a group of kids, humbly recognizes them as her fellows. “People! teachers called out in the classroom to get their attention, and that word described them best.”

To read the review in its entirety, click here.

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