Book Review: Wife 22

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What would chick lit look like if it went online?  What seems like ages ago now in 1998, the chick flick went online with You’ve Got Mail.  Isn’t it quaint and funny now to think about AOL and that horrible noise your computer used to make when it dialed up the modem?  And how incredibly slow it was to search the Internet?  Even slower than when you have a bad connection on your iPhone.  The horror!

A few weeks ago I wrote about the connection between Facebook and loneliness.  This is not exactly what Wife 22, the first novel by Melanie Gideon, is about.  But Facebook, e-mail and the constant accessibility of our lives do have a part to play in the story being told in this book.  Gideon seems to be playing a bit with the idea of the epistolary novel in the digital age.  What would a story look like if it were told through Facebook?  Probably pretty boring, but thankfully Gideon supplements with old-fahioned novel-style prose.

Wife 22 is the story of Alice Bumble, forty-something mother of 2 and wife to William, who has recently been laid off from his job in advertising.  Alice’s marriage is in that bad place that some marriages go to, when you can’t remember the last time you had a meaningful conversation with your spouse.  Alice is an obsessive Facebook-checker, and receives an e-mail invitation to participate in an online study of marriage where she becomes Wife 22.  Because this is chick lit, becoming Wife 22 ends up as a life- transforming experience for Alice.

I quite enjoyed Gideon’s attempt to tell a story that is firmly based in the reality of modern life, where folks sometimes quite obsessively carry on a whole life online…on Facebook and Twitter and through e-mail.  Alice seems to be mildly obsessive about her phone, and though there are some suggestions in the novel that this isn’t the healthiest thing, the novel is in no way a cautionary tale about the dangers of living online.  In fact, in the end (not to give too much away) we discover that her online relationship with one of the researchers involved in the marriage study ends up being a good thing in some ways.

I found Alice’s character to be quite likable, and most of all, I quite enjoy reading about people whose marriages have gone awry.  I’m not going to analyze exactly what this is about, except to say that it’s probably very similar to whatever motivates people to watch bad reality tv.  The kind of reality tv where you can comfortingly say to yourself, “Oh, thank god that’s not me.”  I’m quite lucky in that I don’t understand on a personal level exactly how marriages get to that place, but it seems to me that the more you know, the less likely you are to make the same mistakes yourself.

Wife 22 is another ARC I received from the good folks at Village Lights and it’s due out at the end of May.

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