Tuesday, April 19, 2011

book review: The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer

The UncouplingThe backstory: Meg Wolitzer's last novel, The Ten-Year Nap was a five-star read for me, and I was eager to read The Uncoupling since the moment I heard about it.

The basics: At a seemingly normal high school in New Jersey, the new drama teacher picks Lysistrata as the high school play. In the play, the women of ancient Greece stop having sex to protest the ongoing civil war. In Stellar Plains, women mysteriously lose the desire to have sex with the men in their lives.

My thoughts: I was laughing out loud from the very first pages of this novel. Wolitzer manages to make the reader laugh without actually making fun of her characters. In her description of the Langs, the happily married couple who both teach at Stellar Plains, she says "even their pop quizzes were humane." The Langs continued to delight, as Wolitzer revealed the two chose the last name Lang:
"They were casting off their old families, their old lives; why not cast off their names, too? 'Lang' was decided upon in the middle of the night. It was a neutral, appealing name: the single syllable seemed easygoing, much the way they imagine themselves. They free-associated to various good-sounding 'lang' words: 'lan-guid,' 'language,' even 'langoustines,' those tiny lobsters they both loved and had eaten by the bucket that summer.
The satirical wisdom is utterly engaging. As magical realism enters the story, it works quite well with the satire. I sometimes struggle with magical realism (Swamplandia! comes to mind)

I read this novel quickly, but it wasn't because of my eagerness to see what would happen. I was so engaged with Wolitzer's satire, I simply wanted to read more of her observations on modern love and language:
"'Going the distance' seemed a good way to think of what it would be like. It--sex, actual sex--created a distance between you and everyone except the other person." 
"But the one who loved less--or acted as if they did--was always in charge, and that was the way the world went." 
I was loving every word and scene of this novel. It's smart, funny, wise and compelling. It was on its way to being a five-star read (the second in a row for me!) In the end, it stopped short of 5-stars because the novel itself failed to stop short. I am not a reader who needs my novels tied up in neat little packages. I enjoy ambiguity in an ending (granted, I also enjoy a shocking ending leaving no room for interpretation.) The Uncoupling was a brilliant satire, and I don't think the ending Wolitzer gave it suits the novel.

The Uncoupling is a very different novel than The Ten-Year Nap, and I loved both for quite different reasons. On an incredibly personal level, I enjoyed The Ten-Year Nap more. After seeing the diversity in her characters, ideas and setting, I'm even more intrigued to read more of her novels.

Favorite passage: "There was no way to know, thought Dory. You bumped stupidly ahead through life, and you couldn't know if starring in a play, or sleeping with someone, or marrying someone, or picking a particular college, or even taking a walk down the street, was going to lead to happiness or sorrow."

The verdict: The Uncoupling is 95% awesome, but the ending derailed my enjoyment just a bit. Overall, I still loved it and would recommend it to almost anyone.

Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Length: a delightful and fast 288 pages
Publication date: April 5, 2011
Source: I received a copy from the publisher for review via TLC Book Tours

Want more opinions? Check out the full tour schedule!

Convinced you'll love it? Treat yourself! Buy The Uncoupling from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon in hardback (it's also available for the Kindle)

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12 comments:

  1. I have been reading good things about this book all over the place, but yours is the first review I have read that goes into the problems with the ending. I also like my endings kind of ambiguous, because they give me more to think about. I still want to read this one though, and have already added it to my list. Thanks for the honesty in your review.

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  2. I am reading this one now, so I take comfort in the fact that you enjoyed it so much. I am literally just a few pages in, so I don't have an opinion yet. Hoping for the best.

    Lately, my brain has been craving some heavier reads but I've got a stack of review books to get througth, this being one of them, so it would be great if it was stimulating in some way.

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  3. I received this book as a giveaway at Goodreads and I definitely want to read it next.

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  4. I think I've told you before I absolutely trust your opinion on books completely because I think I have similar taste and thoughts about the things you've commented on. I can't wait to read this now!! I have it on my pile... just have so much else on the pile too, LOL. But will definitely read this AND The Ten Year Nap which I know at one point I was really interested in.

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  5. I've been wanting to read this book and saw that you were in the process. Decided to wait and see if you liked it. Glad you did! Now I will go grab a copy for myself. :)

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  6. Loved what you had to say about this one. I am waiting for the audio from the library.

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  7. Sooo want to read it. I feel that way about most of Wolitzer's work since I haven't read any of it. I have several on my shelves, and I'm sure this one will end up there, too. :)

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  8. Oh yay! I bought this this weekend and am really looking forward to reading it.

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  9. Hey, thanks! I am the author, and I really appreciate your close reading of the novel--

    M

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  10. I really enjoyed this novel too! It was so hilarious, plus the author's writing is so beautiful that I just got lost inside it!

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  11. I didn't engage with The Uncoupling as deeply as you did, but I still enjoyed it. I'm glad you loved it!

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  12. I just finished it. It took a while to get it from the library.
    I liked it, and noted a few of the quotes you did as well!
    Also I am not the hugest fan of magical realism; this book did it ok, and I didn't hate it, but it is never my favorite.

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!