Don's Reviews > The Stepford Wives

The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
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's review
Nov 28, 2011

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The Stepford Wives is a hard book to review. Just as it's nigh-impossible for someone to see Citizen Kane for the first time without having already learned its famous twist, so too does every reader go into this book with the knowledge of what's to come. Similarly, it's hard to fully grasp the impact that this book must have made, coming into existence at the exact time it did - but we do, in fact, know that impact, by virtue of the Wives having so fully entered into the enduring cultural lexicon.

But as a book, apart from its sociological relevance, how does it hold up? Well ... it's pretty good. The author does seem to spend an inordinate amount of time describing the daily minutiae of suburban life, to a level of detail not always deserved. (The ultimate nadir was most of a paragraph spent on the process of making coffee: "Smiling, she ran water into the coffee-maker, plugged it in, and put in the basket and spooned in coffee. She put the top on, pressed the plastic down onto the coffee can, and turned around." Why should I care about all those steps?) And yet the section in which Levin conveys the passage of time was a wonder of economy: "The dishwasher broke down, and the pump; and Pete's eighth birthday came, calling for presents, a party, favors, a cake. Kim got a sore throat and was home for three days." Etc.

Surprisingly, the story actually picks up the pace and becomes both frightening and suspenseful as it races towards the conclusion - which is quite impressive, given that we've all heard what the conclusion will be! And extra kudos for Levin realizing that the story works quite well as a novella - really, you'll finish it in just a few hours, even if you're a slow reader like myself - and didn't need to be padded out any further than that. I suspect I may like the book's intentions much more than the actual execution - but minor quibbles aside, it's nevertheless a worthwhile read, both on its own and for its deeper (and deserved) cultural significance, commenting not just on the feminist movement of the time but on the already-forming responses to the same.

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