Okay readers, remove the snow chains from the car trunk and replace them with your beach umbrella because, weather-gods willing, summer is just around the corner and we all know what that means: beach reads are here!
Just in time for sun screen, tanning lotion and good weather is Melanie Gideon’s newest novel, Wife 22. How did she know that Wife 22 would be the perfect novel, not only for Botox-loving Twitter chicks, but also retirement mavens who know better? Gideon introduces us to the Buckle family: Alice and William, their two children, Peter and Zoe, and a dog that should never have been allowed inside the house, as well as a solid cast of close friends.
What separates Alice and William from other chick-lit modern families, is that they have been a modern family for twenty years and find the economic downturn in which they live affecting more than their pocketbooks. A little background if you please: Alice, once an aspiring playwright, is currently a part-time drama teacher at a local grammar school, and William, an award-winning advertising wiz, is soon to be unemployed. Living in the SF Bay Area means they are happily a part of a liberal community of grownups in which they take great pride. But there’s a crack in their happiness and the strength of their commitment to each other and their marriage will be sorely tested.
Things can change a lot in twenty years; Gideon handles the changes, which become hurdles in the Buckle household, with a wry sense of humor just barely covering their seriousness. Where does the modern wife turn to deal with her frustrations, her fears? The same place we all go today, of course – to her computer, to the great Google search engine. Alice checks her email and then looks at her spam. She’s received an email from a “Netherfield Center for the Study of Marriage” (Nice nod to Pride and Prejudice). She’s been selected to be a participant. After checking out the validity of the organization, she agrees to participate.
For the next 300+ pages the reader almost holds her breath as Alice becomes more and more involved in the study. She is Wife 22 and her questioner is Researcher 101. The study allows Alice the freedom and safety to delve more deeply into her feelings than she has in years. Paralleling her involvement in the study and the growing mutual attraction between her and Researcher 101, is the slow coming apart of her job and her family. Gideon keeps a lot of balls in the air without ever losing sight of what Alice is risking. And although her characters are so broad and vivid they stop just short of caricature, we care for them all, family and friends.
Wife 22 is a subtle reminder of the power and seduction of the Internet. It is also a reminder that many of life’s answers can be found closer to our own hearts than the Internet. Summer’s almost here and Wife 22 isn’t a bad way to start your tan.