Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer

Greek playwright Aristophanes wrote a clever and humorous play in 411 BC about a one-woman mission to end the seemingly endless Peloponnesian War by convincing all the women to withhold sex from their husbands and boyfriends until the war ended. Lysistrata was the woman, the name of the play, and a defining character in my life.

In 1966 I was a just a little country bumpkin raised in a male-dominated west Texas culture. I enrolled in Drama 101 at Dallas County Junior College and after reading Lysistrata for class I felt I’d seen the burning bush. Women had power! But I didn’t see it as sexual power. I saw it as intellectual power, and that made me feel breathlessly powerful.

When I read that The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer was about a community of women in small-town New Jersey who lose their sexual desire, simultaneously to a high school drama class staging of Lysistrata, I snapped it up wondering where in the world Wolitzer would take that theme! Click on Read More Below...

(Meg Wolitzer’s previous books include The Ten-Year Nap, The Position, and The Wife.)

Wolitzer’s characters traipsed through the tricky issues of teen sex, extramarital sex, bisexuality, and lack-o-sex in a strangely titillating, yet non-sexual context - no moisture, no pornography, no bulging throbbing members. But she somehow seemed to keep it all interesting, and her writing was so fun (sometimes) that I had to look at her photo in the back of the book to see what someone who writes that well looks like (you know, the way we have to look at crazy drivers).  Here are a few of my favorite lines from the book:
  •  “But the one who loved less – or acted as if they did – was always in charge, and that was the way the world went.”
  •  “Some wives became ‘Manchurian Candidates’ of midlife married abstinence.”
  • “Dory lay back on her pillow, Bobby above her, both of them smiling as if they’d just won something.”

As you would imagine, the book was full of puzzled wives and girlfriends, irritable husbands and boyfriends, and the drama that typically surrounds relationships, sex and the lack thereof, magnified by the mysterious spell of Lysistrata that came over them.  However, I have to say that the characters and some of the plot lines were a little shallow and that was somewhat disappointing. There were plenty of fertile fields that could have been deeply plowed. But the tradeoff was that the story moved along at a pretty good clip, which was a good thing, because I was beside myself wondering how in the hell Wolitzer could possibly end this particular story without disappointing.

So how did Wolitzer end this touchy tale? I’ll just say that if it had ended at page 237, abruptly, unresolved, a drop into the abyss of speculation, I’d have liked it better. But I recommend that you be the judge. Read at least the first 237 pages. 

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