Michael's Reviews > The Stepford Wives

The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
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really liked it
bookshelves: feminism, literature, satire, science-fiction
Recommended to Michael by: Bryan Forbes
Recommended for: Horror Fans, Feminists, Satire Fans

As Peter Straub points out in the introduction to this book, a lot of people miss the point. It is not "the easy satire on the banality of suburban housewives that it is commonly taken to be - a misconception that has installed its title in our language as shorthand for those homemakers who affect an uncanny perfection." This resulted in the fact that, after Ann Romney's recent speech at the RNC, I was asked whether I thought she was "like a Stepford Wife." No, she's not. For one thing, her vocabulary is too large. But, more than that, referring to politically-active conservative women as Stepford wives undermines the feminist argument of this novella.

The critical point here is that this novella is not a parody of the WOMEN of Stepford, it is a parody of their HUSBANDS. As with Rosemary's Baby, which is actually about Guy Wodehouse, not Rosemary or her baby, the title here is a deliberate distraction. This book is a humorous critique of the anti-feminist backlash that takes the anti-feminist slogan "War of the Sexes" at its word and suggests that men are so frightened by women's liberation that they will start executing them to prevent it. The fact that our narrator’s husband is “a good guy,” who – at first – treats his wife as an almost-equal only heightens the irony that, when offered a pleasure-android with bigger breasts who will keep the house meticulously clean, he is just as willing as all of the others to kill his own wife to get it.

It was interesting to me to see how the book differs from the movie. Unlike most film-adaptations, several scenes have been added to the novella, and fairly little was cut, resulting in a rather long movie (for 1975 sci fi, anyway). There is even the addition of a surprising new character with the unlikely name of Raymond Chandler who isn't in the book. It also seems to me that the truth of the “Men’s Association” is lost in the film: that it isn’t a long-standing organization with an archaic membership policy, but it was a recent innovation founded to combat a growing feminist presence in Stepford after Betty Friedan gave a well-received speech. Also unusual for a film-adaptation, the movie has more explicit sexual references than the book does, and plays up that side of what the men are “up to” while the book leaves this largely to the reader’s imagination.

At any rate, the premise of this book is disturbing, and it is intended to be. The prose is efficient and the pacing effective. At its short length, it is a quick read and may actually comment more deeply on American society than it is generally given credit for doing.
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Reading Progress

September 9, 2012 – Started Reading
September 9, 2012 – Shelved
September 13, 2012 –
page 42
29.17% "Kit stood at the refrigerator, her back to Joanna. "The Women's Club?" she said. "Oh my, that was years ago. It disbanded.""
September 16, 2012 –
page 66
September 20, 2012 –
page 103
71.53% "Unless the fall-off in membership is reversed, the Stepford League of Women Voters may be forced to close its doors. So warns the League's new president, Mrs. Theodore Van Sant of Fairview Lane..."
September 22, 2012 – Shelved as: feminism
September 22, 2012 – Shelved as: literature
September 22, 2012 – Shelved as: satire
September 22, 2012 – Shelved as: science-fiction
September 22, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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Sharon Great points! I hadn't thought about that at all, but you're right! The book is even better when I think about it this way. Thanks for your review!

Michael Sharon wrote: "Great points! I hadn't thought about that at all, but you're right! The book is even better when I think about it this way. Thanks for your review!"

You know, as someone who writes a lot of reviews, I rarely get the complement of hearing that someone had their perspective changed by my writing, so thank you. I appreciate it.

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