The Uncoupling

Light relationship-oriented contemporary fiction is not really a staple of my reading diet, but I do enjoy it now and then, and Meg Wolitzer has been on my radar for a while as a possible good choice for this kind of book. So when I spotted an advance copy of her new book, The Uncoupling, at a galley giveaway at One More Page Books, the new indie bookstore in my area, I decided to pick it up and give it a try.

The premise is certainly intriguing: A high school drama troupe in the idyllic suburb Stellar Plains, New Jersey, puts on a production of Lysistrata, Aristophanes’ comedy about women who withhold sex to protest a war. As the play goes into rehearsal, the women of the community start to mysteriously lose interest in sex. Their reasons vary, and some have no clear reason at all. The sexual ennui just comes on a cold wind. Lack of desire proves to be just as inexplicable as desire so often is.

This book certainly does have its amusing moments, but I feel a little like the women of Stellar Plains—I just can’t bring myself to feel much passion about it. It was pleasantly entertaining for the first 100 pages or so. Wolitzer doesn’t just comment on sexual angst; she also makes some amusing observations about teens and technology, about high school faculty room gossip, the perils of potluck dinners, and the teenage craze for novels about effeminate “oaken-eyed” zombies. Heh.

I also liked how, particularly at the beginning, the women’s lack of interest in sex came so suddenly and inexplicably. Each scenario felt authentic and demonstrated just how impossible it can be to explain, even to ourselves, how feelings come and go. Sometimes even when we can explain our feelings, we wonder why these things are bothering us now when they never did before. Desire, or lack thereof, can be a mystery.

After a while, however, the book fell into a predictable pattern. Yet another woman caught the “spell,” and yet another man was left bewildered by the sudden rejection. Although each scenario was a little bit different from the others, the arc of the story for each couple remained essentially the same. It got kind of boring. The only stories that provided any significant variety were those of the two teenage girls who were affected.

What’s more, the humor itself, never really got beyond the obvious. It’s not hard to make jokes about all the time kids spend texting or the prospect of becoming a couple that spends evenings watching TV under a “Cumfy” (basically a Snuggie for two). It is funny, but it’s not new.

But maybe it’s too much to expect something new and thrilling in every book. Perhaps sometimes it’s enough to be diverted for a few hours and to get a few chuckles out of an easy read. That’s what I got out of this. Mild entertainment and a pleasant, but ultimately forgettable, afternoon of reading.

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14 Responses to The Uncoupling

  1. Mary Ellen Walsh says:

    Thanks for a great review. I might skip this one from Meg, who is an interesting witty writer.

    • Teresa says:

      After looking at some other reviews, I see that even her fans aren’t as enthusiastic about this one as some of her others. I did enjoy her wit, though!

  2. Deb says:

    I read Wolitzer’s THE POSITION, about what happens in the lives of four children who grow up knowing that their parents wrote (and posed for the drawings in) a JOY OF SEX-type book–and I soon felt that she was possibly not a writer for me. My “reader’s OCD” (I freely confess to having it) was set off by the number of times she started a comparison phrase with “it was as if” or “it was as though.” I started looking for appearances of those phrases, rather than focusing on the actions of the characters. Like Sophie Hannah (another writer I don’t really get), Wolitzer seems to take a fabulous premise but then have a hard time figuring out what to do with it.

    • Teresa says:

      Oh, I hate when that happens! I try not to pay attention to stuff like that because it can become a distraction, but once you notice repetitive phrases like that, it’s hard to stop noticing them.

  3. christina says:

    I am about 100 pages into this book and am already rather wishy-washy with it. I’m disappointed to hear from this review that it probably won’t get better.

    • Teresa says:

      I’m sorry you’re not enjoying it. Things do take a turn in the last 50 pages or so; it doesn’t improve the story much, but it does liven up the tedium.

  4. litlove says:

    I read The Ten Year Nap by Wolitzer and quite enjoyed it. It was very well written, but something about the underlying premise didn’t quite hold up. I think now, having read your review, it was the sense of patterning that troubled me. The book was all about women trying to decide whether or not to return to work now their children were less demanding, and although there was ostensibly variety in their situations, it was superficial. No one was actually advocating the benefits of a mother being with a child because it was pleasurable, and beneficial, for instance. There may be a tendency in her works toward being schematic that prevents a good writer from really writing something remarkable.

    • Teresa says:

      Yes, there’s something artificial, constructed about the way she builds the story. Each character is there to demonstrate a point, but not really to dig into that point. With this book, the large cast is part of the problem.

      Your post today about commercial fiction actually brought this book to mind because it seems like a good example of another type of popular commercial book that’s different from “ripped from the headlines” sort of book that you were talking about but suffers from some of the same problems. It’s competent, but not remarkable.

  5. Mary Ellen Walsh says:

    I agree. Meg seems to want to tap into the “issues” of the day without really having any belief in her plot. Then she goes about showing the reader how witty she is observing us all and lands flat in ever convincing us of A. the story and B. the characters. I think I’m about finished with investing any time reading these. Her perversion with “sex” annoys me, too.

    • Teresa says:

      Since this was the first of her books that I’ve read, I’m not quite ready to give up on her yet, but I’m not going to run out to get another!

  6. Steph says:

    I have an ARC of this one and I’m sure I’ll read it when I’m in the mood for something fluffy and fun, but I guess I had already gotten the sense that as cool as the premise seems, this one has a hard time delivering all the goods. I haven’t read any Wolitzer so I hope this is an ok place to start off!

    • Teresa says:

      I’ve gotten the impression from other reviews that this may not be one of her better books. I’ll be interested to hear what you think.

  7. Pingback: The Uncoupling: A Novel, by Meg Wolitzer – Book Review | Linus's Blanket

  8. Pingback: Book Review: The Uncoupling « ReviewsbyLola's Blog

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