Wife 22
by Melanie Gideon
(Ballantine, PG, $26) ISBN 978-0345527950
****
This novel’s book jacket promises a cross between Bridget Jones’ Diary and I Don’t Know How She Does It. While Wife 22 isn’t as well written as either of those pillars of Chick Lit and Mommy Lit, it does employ an interesting gimmick that sets it above much of the pack. It kept me turning the pages, even though there were several times when I wanted to slap the heroine silly.

At age 44, Alice Buckle is experiencing an acute midlife crisis. Her eyelids are drooping, her husband William is increasingly distant, her two teenaged kids don’t need her, and her part-time job as an elementary school drama teacher is a far cry from the playwright she once dreamed of becoming. To make matters worse, she is almost the age her mother was when she passed away, and as she approaches that milestone Alice feels that she should be happier and more successful.

So when Alice receives an email from the Netherfield Center for the Study of Marriage asking her to participate in a survey on marriage in the 21st century, she readily accepts. The questions arrive in batches, asking Alice (known only as “Wife 22 to protect her anonymity) to reflect on the history of her relationship with William, the things she loves and hates about him, the activities they used to do together but no longer indulge in, and their communication style. As Alice gets deeper into the survey, she starts to doubt the health of her marriage. It doesn’t help that her contact person from the Netherfield Center, whom she knows as “Researcher 101,” seems to listen to her more than William does. In fact, he’s pretty charming and interesting. Before long, Wife 22 and Researcher 101 have their own regular correspondence going, which subsequently moves to Facebook chat and leads to the question – can you be unfaithful to your husband with a man you have never met?

Gideon uses emails, Facebook updates, and transcripts from Google searches to show how social media brings us closer to each other but also makes it easy to keep our distance as well. Her dialogue is lively (one suspects Alice’s playwright aspirations are close to the author’s heart) and the situations Alice encounters are humorous and poignant. At times Alice’s behavior borders on pathological, especially her complete lack of borders where her children are concerned, and I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if Alice had just turned to William early on and voiced her unhappiness directly.

The book’s dénouement, which resolves the William/Researcher 101 dilemma in a truly satisfactory way, seems made for Hollywood, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jennifer Aniston or Sarah Jessica Parker starring in Wife 22: The Movie within another year or so. Before that happens, pick up the book and enjoy. It’s not groundbreaking by any means but it certainly is entertaining, and an impressive effort for a novice novelist.

--Susan Scribner


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