The title gives the impression that it’s going to be an intense and emotionally taxing story of a woman who shares a husband with 21 others. But, you are pleasantly surprised with a humorous story that scores on the universal issue of midlife crisis in married couples, mainly women, with rib-tickling ease.
Despite her husband William Buckle, two teenaged children and straight-talking best friend (lesbian) Nedra, Alice feels lost in her theatrical self talk most of the time. Her chief worry, one of them next only to her children’s growing independence, is the fact that the couple had run out of things to say to each other.
Alice ends up with the malady of the century: Unburdening to a complete stranger online. Freed by the anonymity of an online survey ‘Marriage in the 21st Century’, where she is Wife 22, Alice recalls all the reasons she fell in love with her husband 20 years ago. In the course of baring all, she also comes to face her reality.
She starts revealing her innermost feelings with ridiculous ease to a complete stranger, Researcher 101 and continues to remain enamored, in spite of two of her best friends’ efforts to dissuade her, one even threatening to abandon her for good.
The story unfolds a witty narrative, and deals with parenting and layoffs, and everything in between.
Before the study, the life of the protagonist “was an endless blur of school lunches and doctor’s appointments, family dinners, budgets, and trying to discern the fastest-moving line at the grocery store. Alice Buckle: spouse of William and mother to Zoe and Peter, drama teacher and Facebook chatter, downloader of memories and Googler of solutions,” according to the author.
Acidic Humour and hilarious rendition of serious situations make it a joyful reading experience. All the fears and paranoia of a mother of adolescent children are so realistically and humorously portrayed, nothing profound though.
Particularly interesting were dialogues such as:
“I like your sagging eyelid. It makes you look like a dog,” where the 12-year old son makes an innocent attempt to ease his mother’s worry about her signs of ageing.
Alice is also worried about Zoe’s (her daughter) uneasy relationship with her boyfriend, who also happens to be Nedra’s son.
Among the many worries she has, Alice also conveniently suspects her son Peter (who constantly changes his name to escape peer ridicule) is a gay, so as to avoid accepting the prospect of losing his undivided attention to a girlfriend. And when she finds he indeed has a girlfriend, she would rather believe she is only his “beard”, not the real one.
An amusing episode is the Bikini-line grooming, when Alice braves herself to get a Brazilian waxing done, sponsored by her friend. One cannot help chuckle while reading:
She lifts the paper thong and tsks. “Someone hasn’t been keeping up with their waxing.”
“It’s been a while,” I say.
“Wow, a waxing virgin.”
The best line however is the one describing Alice’s mind as she walks back from a solo swim during a family camping feeling: “good exhausted, the kind that comes from submersing yourself in a glacial river on a July afternoon. I walk slowly, not wanting to break the spell. Occasionally I have this sort of out-of-body experience where I feel all my previous incarnations simultaneously: the ten-year-olds, the twenty-year-old, thirty-year-old, and the forty-something-year-old, they’re all breathing and looking out of my eyes simultaneously.”
Briefly, Wife 22 is a funny story that proves how an online fling can be aphrodisiac.
With this novel Melanie Gideon has taken another step forward but sticking to her favorite topic: The exigencies of domesticity explored in her first book, a nonfiction titled ‘The Slippery Year’.
Overall, a good pick for light reading, as in while travelling or for mothers to fall asleep with on the sofa, while waiting for youngsters to get back home safely after a meet up with friends on a weekend.
Reviewed for ‘The Financial World’