Joe Valdez's Reviews > The Stepford Wives

The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
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it was ok
bookshelves: sci-fi-general
Recommended for: The Six Million Dollar Man, the Bionic Woman, the Fembots

** spoiler alert ** "Satire" may be one of those words everyone has their own definition of. In terms of film, by two favorite satires are Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb and Network. In addition to being hysterically funny, I liked how credible they were, using a Life Magazine approach to document the world as it was at that time and then pushing it one step further.

Ira Levin's The Stepford Wives is neither hysterically funny or plausible. Billed as a "satirical thriller", it was published in 1972 and has been adapted to feature film twice, by William Goldman in 1975 and Paul Rudnick in 2004. The plot involves Joanna Eberhardt, a semi-professional photographer who relocates to the hamlet of Stepford with her husband Walter and two children. Joanna balances married life with independence and social equality, as women's liberation sweeps the nation. She observes that almost all of the women of Stepford seem stuck in a TV commercial, cleaning floors, cooking meals, looking sexy, and putting their husbands first.

Joanna sees red over the Men's Association, a male only club in Stepford that meet each evening at a clubhouse off limits to women. She finds it strange that Stepford doesn't have a female equivalent and agrees to let Walter join when he promises he'll change things from the inside. Meanwhile, she befriends the only women of Stepford who seem to have a brain; a spitfire named Bobbie Markowe and a tennis bunny named Charmaine Wimperis. Katharine Ross, Paula Prentiss and Tina Louise (Ginger from Gilligan's Island) took these roles in the film.

If ever there was a novella that could've been scribbled on cocktail napkins, The Stepford Wives is it. There are airplane novels, but this is the first taxi cab novel I've read. The book could be finished on the way to the airport in time to discuss it with your fellow passengers. It's a conversation starter, with no two readers likely to agree on what was going on in Stepford, what happened to the characters or whether the women's movement might provoke some sort of retaliation from men.

To grab me by the throat, a good thriller needs credibility on a basic level. Comic thrillers I've read or seen take their plots deadly seriously and spike the punchbowl with wit as needed to sort of have it both ways. Satire, a far more difficult brew, absolutely requires credibility to work, otherwise, it turns to farce or science fiction at best, cartoon at worst.

Whatever The Stepford Wives is, Levin never grabbed me by the throat. There's no atmosphere, no dread or tension (so much for the book being a "thriller"). It isn't funny (that eliminates "satire"). The characters aren't endowed with the basic quirks or intelligences to make them interesting or real. What dialogue there is sort of lies there flatly, while Levin skips through a lot of dialogue or plot with quick summaries.

I really can't stand joke based books. Here is something I might dislike even more, a one-joke based book. Here is Levin's joke: "What if men were so threatened by the women's movement that they murdered their wives and replaced them with, wait for it, robots! You know, like the audio-animatronic figures at Disneyland?"

Levin devotes some copy to Joanna & Walter's sex life that offered a peek at who these characters were and where they were going to end up, and he raised my pulse a bit in the climax, which is creepy for a few sentences. I can honestly say that I was rooting for the robots at that point. As opposed to satire, I found the novel to be more in the category of "so bad it's good", except, it wasn't very good. It's superficial, lazy and boring.

There are some amusing questions in the scenario Levin concocted, but the author doesn't have the imagination to explore any of them. Were husbands put in charge of murdering their own wives, or did Stepford hire a professional? Would the cops or family members or pets suspect something was amiss? How do the robots assimilate into society? What happens when one of them requires maintenance? Do HOA dues cover that, or is it extra? These questions and any possible answer is more amusing than anything offered in the book, which I found over-rated and under-developed.
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Reading Progress

January 16, 2014 – Shelved
January 16, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
March 10, 2014 – Started Reading
March 10, 2014 –
page 32
22.22% "Bobbie found a live one. "At least she is compared to the rest of these clunks," her voice rasped from the phone. "Her name is Charmaine Wimperis, and if you squint a little she turns into Raquel Welch. They're up on Burgess Ridge in a two-hundred thousand dollar contemporary, and she's got a maid and a gardener and--now hear this--a tennis court.""
March 11, 2014 –
page 94
65.28% ""It sounds," Dr. Fancher said, "like the idea of a woman who, like many women today, and with good reason, feels a deep resentment and suspicion of men. One who's pulled two ways by conflicting demands, perhaps more strongly than she's aware, the old conventions on one hand, and the new conventions of the liberated woman on the other.""
March 11, 2014 – Finished Reading
March 12, 2014 – Shelved as: sci-fi-general

Comments Showing 1-7 of 7 (7 new)

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message 1: by Carmen (new) - added it

Carmen Insightful review, Joseph. I agree with you - I've never found Levin's writing to be that engaging. I read both STEPFORD WIVES and ROSEMARY'S BABY eons ago and remember not being impressed. I think he has great concepts - it's the execution that's shaky.


message 2: by Joe (new) - rated it 2 stars

Joe Valdez Carmen wrote: "I agree with you - I've never found Levin's writing to be that engaging. I read both STEPFORD WIVES and ROSEMARY'S BABY eons ago and remember not being impressed. I think he has great concepts - it's the execution that's shaky. " Muchas gracias, Carmen. You've echoed my sentiments exactly. It's not necessarily shaky execution perhaps, but lack thereof. I'll probably give Rosemary's Baby a read because I'm such a big fan of Roman Polanski's film adaptation. I'm curious what was added and changed for the movie, but my hopes for thrilling literature aren't high.


message 3: by Leah (new)

Leah Polcar "What happens when one of them requires maintenance? Do HOA dues cover that, or is it extra?"

HAHAHAHA! Awesome. Thanks for the review. I am not sure I would ever have gotten around to this book, but it was on my sort-of-to-read list. Given that there is a finite amount of books I can read, I am glad for your review so I didn't waste my time on a stinker.


message 4: by Armin (new)

Armin Ira Levin is the writer with the most the movie was better than the book-Ratings in my reading experience.


P-eggy I enjoyed reading your review but disagree on every point. Different strokes as they say.


Graeme Sutherland Humour is not an essential component of satire.


Robin A great analysis, Joe. I totally agree with many of your points, especially the lame dialogue, and lack of tension (in what is meant to be a "thriller"). I love all your questions at the end too. There is so much left undeveloped by the author, it indeed feels "lazy".

I can buy unrealistic premises (see: The Metamorphosis, for example) if the writing is up there. This book could have been so much more, IMO.


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