12 April 2012

Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon

Flap Copy from ARC: "Maybe it was my droopy eyelids. Maybe it was because I was about to turn the same age my mother was when I lost her. Maybe it was because after almost twenty years of marriage my husband and I seemed to be running out of things to say to each other. But when the anonymous online study called "Marriage in the 21st Century" showed up in my inbox, I had no idea how profoundly it would change my life. It wasn't long before I was assigned both a pseudonym (Wife 22) and a caseworker (Researcher 101). And, just like that, I found myself answering questions ....

7. Sometimes I tell him he's snoring when he's not snoring so he'll sleep in the guest room and I can have the bed all to myself.

61. He was cutting peppers for the salad. I looked at those hands and thought, I am going to have this man's children.

32. That if we weren't careful, it was possible to forget one another.

Before the study, my life was an endless blur of school lunches and doctor's appointments, family dinners and budgets. I was Alice Buckle: spouse of William and mother to Zoe and Peter, drama teacher and Facebook chatter, downloader of memories and Googler of solutions. But these days, I'm also Wife 22. And somehow, my anonymous correspondence with Researcher 101 has taken an unexpected turn. Soon, I'll have to make a decision - one that will affect my family, my marriage, my whole life. But at the moment, I'm too busy answering questions. As it turns out, confession can be a very powerful aphrodisiac."


I really enjoyed this take on a modern marriage in the throes of middle-aged angst. Alice Buckle is a loving wife, mom and elementary school drama teacher whose insecurities and minor internet obsessions make her a very believable character. Her role in the novel is bolstered by a great supporting cast, including her maybe-gay adolescent son Peter, whose assistance and judgement Alice seeks for all fashion-related decisions; Zoe, her teenage daughter/mini-me who may or may not suffer from an eating disorder; and Nedra, Alice's gay lawyer best friend whose happy and sex-filled relationship torments Alice in this time of midlife crisis.

When Alice is approached to participate in an anonymous online survey about love and marriage, she jumps at the chance. She is soon connected to 'Researcher 101' and, in her role as 'Wife 22', shares intimate details, fears and stories with ease. Her responses to the seemingly random array of questions paint a vivid picture of Alice's early love and romance, and subsequently what she feels is lacking in her current relationship with her husband of 20 years. Alice soon comes to rely heavily on her internet relationship with Researcher 101, craving his communication to the point that she begins to feel the relationship has taken an illicit turn, and even considers relinquishing her anonymity to meet him in person.

How do we keep love and romance alive over time? How do we reconnect with loved ones from whom we've grown distant? How do we balance our kids, our jobs and our sex lives? These are Alice's personal dilemmas, ones with which I imagine many readers can relate. Melanie Gideon's prose is witty, her sense of humor self-deprecating but never cruel - I highly recommend this book as a fun and engaging summer read. I give it 4 1/2 stars, and look forward to reading more from this author.

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