Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon

4 Star

Maybe it was those extra five pounds I’d gained. 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. Chet Baker on the tape player. He was cutting peppers for the salad. I looked at those hands and thought, I am going to have this man’s children.
67. To not want what you don’t have. What you
can’t have. What you shouldn’t have.
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, budgets, and trying to discern the fastest-moving line at the grocery store. 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 unexpectedly personal 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. 

Lydia - 4 Star

Wife 22 is like a grown up Bridget Jones’s Diary but the difference is that it isn't quite all giggles. A novel about love, marriage, and family and how modern communication affects it all, Wife 22 is cute, fun, funny and easy read. With just as many insecure antics as Bridget, Alice is about to mark the anniversary of her mother's death. But this year is different, this year Alice is surpassing the age her mother had lived to which deeply unsettles her.

We meet Alice as she is struggling to understand her increasingly distant husband, worries that her daughter has developed an eating disorder and fears that her son might be gay but won't tell them. When an email appears in her inbox inviting her to take part in a survey about marriage, Alice accepts, but doesn't tell her husband and as she begins to answer the questions, she begins to further question her marriage. Eventually the emails between her and 'Researcher 101' become an anonymous Facebook friendship assumed under fake profiles and takes on a life of its own.

You can't help but relate to Alice.  Even though I couldn't justify her behaviour myself, she's just too real with her confusion and worries not to relate or be sympathetic to her character. Alice is troubled, confused and worried about everyone around her - except herself, which she should be the most worried about!  Her answers to the survey questions draw a humourous portrayal of the current state of her marriage as well as such a romantic history of when she met her husband. Her answers were romantic at times, funny at others, and sometimes really sad. My heart broke for this woman who wondered where her life - and her love - had gone.

Wife 22 skips from prose, to Google searches, to Alice's answers to the questionnaire, to Facebook chats, to Tweets, back to Facebook status updates, and scenes. But it wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be to read. I actually found it different and refreshing to read something out of the typical literary box and thought it realistic of how we now communicate. 

Even though it was amusing to try and figure out the survey questions Alice was posed the one thing I do wish was that I had the questions and answers together instead of just the answers throughout the novel and the questions as an appendix. At the end they didn’t have as much impact as I feel they would have throughout the novel because some of her answers I couldn’t even figure out what the question was.  I was also disappointed that Alice didn’t focus more on her daughter, especially with the worry about her having an eating disorder.

Even though I usually loathe predictability, I wasn’t even disappointed when I guessed what was going on about half way through, which speaks volumes for this novel.  Full of quirky and loveable characters and a modern portrayal of a family and marriage, Wife 22 is a fun, funny and thought provoking read. I'm looking to more from Melanie Gideon!

Thank you to Ballantine Books for our review copy

Connect with Melanie Gideon here:

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