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.