Wednesday, June 01, 2011


The Uncoupling, Meg Wolitzer, Riverhead Books, 2011, 271 pp

I am so over Meg Wolitzer. My three novel study, read in under two weeks, rendered me in turn unable to stay awake during the day, unable to sleep at night, unable to digest my food, and generally irritable all over. She is simply a bad writer and I cannot fathom how she gets even one good review, though she gets many.

What she does do well is capture and relate the thoughts women have privately as well as the commonplace emotions of women. It is true that we only share those thoughts and feelings privately, even with other women. Possibly despite feminism, consciousness raising and even the age of confessional memoir, we are most of us somewhat ashamed to think or feel as we do. So to read our thoughts and feelings in a novel is startling and comforting at the same time.

In The Uncoupling, a new drama teacher arrives at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Stellar Plains, New Jersey. Fran Heller is unconventional in dress, attitude and lifestyle. Supposedly she has a husband living in Michigan with whom she is still very much in love. They talk everyday and visit each other several times a year. Their teenage son lives with Fran during the school year and with his father in the summer.

Fran chooses for the school play a Greek comedy by Aristophanes. In "Lysistrata" the women agree to stop having sex with men until the endless Peloponnesian War is over. On the day that auditions open, an enchantment, accompanied by cold winds, comes over several women, rendering them suddenly undesireous of sex. As the weeks of rehearsal pass more and more females, including sexually active teens, give up sex. The denied men become variously confused, heart broken, frustrated, or openly angry.

It takes her about 100 pages to set all this in place and despite the ineptly contrived back stories, some improbable characters and tone deaf dialogue, I was intrigued. The next 100 pages were a punishing description of how all the women and men interacted, felt, and made unsuccessful attempts to communicate about what was happening.

I will concede that the teen characters were accurately, even humorously, almost sympathetically portrayed. I can appreciate that Meg Wolitzer has a keen eye for people of all ages and both sexes as well as an accurate finger on the pulse of modern society. She just can't write well about most of it.

Reading Wolitzer is like taking a ride with a bad driver. Her prose is uneven. She will write a stunning metaphor and then fall into the oddest, nausea producing imagery. After pages of plodding paragraphs, she will finally get a bit of drama going, only to let it fall flat. I am always aware that any given character is an example of a type, until I utterly fail to care about what happens to any of them.

After tantalizing references to the war in Afghanistan, to teenage sexual awareness and dependence on social networking plus texting, or to the loss of sexual interest amongst married middle-aged couples, she winds up her story of dubious enchantment with platitudes. Give me a break!

(The Uncoupling is available in hardcover by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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