Joe Castleman might be the typical male academic, but Joan Castleman isn’t the typical wife and this is what makes Meg Wolitzer’s novel both fun and compelling. Joan has a wicked sense of humour, great ear for detail and lots of stories to tell. She has a deliciously cynical view of the male writer because, after all, she has lived with one for years.
The aggrieved wife has been a familiar trope for years. Joan has been particularly chastened because she is the wife of a late 20th century academic. For those of you who don’t remember, this was probably the high tide of professor/student “intercourse,” during which time the wife stayed home (for the most part) and took care of breakfast, lunch, dinner and everything in between. To top it all off, the academic in this case is also one of the world’s most famous writers.
As a wife of the times, Joan has accompanied her husband to a myriad of literary events where the male cohort would mingle and drink to their heart’s content and where she comes to understand the notion that “men who own the world don’t do that by being magnanimous.” Look at some of the recent video of Judge Kavanaugh and his tribe and you’ll get a good sense (if you don’t already have it) of what she is talking about.
The first paragraph begins with the married couple, flying high in the sky on their way to Finland so that he can receive the 2nd most prestigious prize in the world, the Helsinki Prize. It is there and then, without all of her usual life landmarks, that Joan decides she is going to leave him. But can she make it through to the ceremony before she lights a bomb to everything that has been their life?
Well she does make it and there are even some surprise twists on the way. I’m looking forward to seeing Glenn Close in the upcoming movie, opening October 5 at The Bookshelf cinema. She’s perfectly suited to Joan and I hear she’s a favourite for an Oscar nomination. Much of the book consists of flashbacks so I’ll be interested in how seamlessly the young Joan and Joe transition into the older couple. As well, a lot of the story takes place in Joan’s head…not always that easy to translate on the screen! Hopefully Meg Wolitzer had some control of the final product because she’s a very impressive storyteller.