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The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer
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's review
Jan 27, 12

bookshelves: fiction
Read in January, 2012

The storyline of this book can be summarized in a few sentences : when the new drama teacher at the local high school starts rehearsing "Lysistrata", the old greek comedy about how the Trojan women withheld sex from their warrior husbands in order to gain peace, a cold wind of sexlessness starts floating through the New Jersey suburb. WOmen and girls simply don't want to have sex, or intimacy, with their men any more. This applies to everyone, from old ladies to teenagers just discovering desire. The tension in the town mounts... until the night of the performance, when the curse is reversed, and everyone falls into their partner's arms again, begging forgiveness. Sexual attitudes are adjusted, and the drama teacher leaves town, her mission accomplished.

This book has a touch of magic-realism in it that I associate more with Latin American novels. The description of the curse moving through town, touching one couple after another, was well done, and was a move away from the realism of Meg Wolitzer's other novels. It was actually a bit of a disappointment that in the final chapter, it is revealed that the drama teacher knew all along that this was going to happen, yet is not a witch or a sorceress or a bruja.

The best parts of the book, for me, were the descriptions of the relationships between the couples. Some of it was too sloppy - it sounded like every middle-aged couple had been deliriously happy with their sex lives in the early days of their relationships. But especially the teenage couples were well described : the sudden discovery of desire, the supreme absorption in each other, the heartbreak. I was struck by the way the author knows how teenagers express themselves, whether it's by spraypainting graffiti on an overpass or choosing a new avatar for a SecondLife-type website. Some of the other couples did not ring quite so true. Overweight guidance counselor Bev and her hedge fund manager husband are a strange match - it didn't ring true to me. The lovesick school principal was a little over the top. The main characters, a couple of middle-aged English teachers, could have done with more drawing out - at some point it seemed that all Dory did was bemoan her former happiness. On the other hand, I totally "got" Ruth, the gym teacher who loves to come home to a household full of testosterone (one husband, three young sons) - until one day she can't bear to be touched any more, feeling like a "computer screen with a thousand fingerprints".

The overall theme of the book is hardly original : routine is the enemy of romance. Meg Wolitzer has managed to bring a fresh take on this old theme, in a book that, despite a few weaknesses, is overall very enjoyable and well written.
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