Shellie (Layers of Thought)'s Reviews > Playing House

Playing House by Fredrica Wagman
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Aug 26, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: genre-general-fiction-literature, element-dark-disfunctional, blog-reviews, genre-women-gender-feminism, read-in-2009
Recommended to Shellie (Layers of Thought) by: FSB Media
Recommended for: those enjoy "heavy and taboo" subject matter
Read in September, 2009

This is a narration of a woman’s movement in and out of various stages of madness, linked to both choice and circumstance. The key factor in her descent is her incestuous relationship with her older brother. There is also a history of familial mental illness, and instability. It is a complex and multilayered tale where the main character tells of the many convoluted and morally questionable reasons why she has “lost her grip with reality”.
The story is told in the first person where the narrator never really names herself and is not sequential and moves back and forth through time. As the narrator clearly loses her contact with what is real, the writing becomes a free association of emotions, metaphors, and actions.
Originally published in 1973, this issue is the 35th anniversary of its primary printing. The book was an international best seller at the time, and has a forward by the award winning American author Phillip Roth as well as a reader’s guide at the end of the book for groups and discussions.
My Thoughts:
Critically looking at Playing House, you can see why in the early 70s it was a best seller. On the “tail end” of the sexual revolution it was just addressing another sexually taboo subject, but beyond what was and still is considered socially unacceptable. Today with a swing to a more conservative view this subject becomes even more difficult for many modern readers to digest.
In a purely intellectual and academic sense this novel includes many literary, metaphorical, and psychological elements which can be of interest to those who desire to discuss them. Some of these themes/issues include:
monogamy and the image and involvement of the swan
marriage partners chosen for security rather than passion
the nature of dominance and submission and their role in sexuality
religious stereotypes and metaphors and a link with madness
morality seen as grey vs. black and white
the shadow of ill-made choices
madness and memory
apathy/depression as a indicator to the beginnings of madness
women and madness – hysteria
art and writing as catharsis
mythology and fables i.e.. the golden archer and the turtle
Stockholm Syndrome where the abused over time empathizes with/loves the abuser

All in all this novel is not one that most readers will “like” or even enjoy. It is a difficult, intense, and emotional read, dealing with subjects we would mostly likely choose to ignore, but one where the reader will be affected. There is no doubt that Ms. Wagman captures madness well, and within the main character’s ramblings little nuggets of insight are revealed.
The Turtle couldn’t stand lies, he didn’t understand them, not a bit. To him a lie was just that, something untrue, evil, or wrong. But lies aren’t always, you know. Sometimes lies are art too, sometimes lies are creating, sometimes lies are wonderful, they can lift and soar and take you all away.

Highly recommended for book group discussions whose interest are of an intense level. As stated above there is a lot to discuss. I did not “like” this book but give it 4 stars because of it’s metaphorical connections, its intense emotional content, and its ability to make the reader feel some very difficult emotions.

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09/21/2009 page 15
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