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The Wife by Meg Wolitzer January 31, 2007

Posted by pvccbookclub in Current Discussion.

Joe and Joan Castleman are on their way to Helsinki. Joe is about to receive a prestigious literary prize and Joan is plotting how to leave him. Joan has played the part of adoring wife for forty years and has decided that the presentation of Joe’s award in Helsinki will be her last appearance. She is tired of living in her husband’s shadow, of supporting his achievements, while subjugating her own talents.

The Wife gives us a glimpse into the disparity between the public and private faces of marriage. Often, unions that seem to be “good” marriages, turn out to be hiding ugly truths. The author, Meg Wolitzer, tells this tale with warmth and humor. Her comic timing, lightens this otherwise, dark tale.

Questions to consider for discussion:

1) Consider the themes of gender and identity in the novel. How do you think Joan would have been received in the literary world if the books had been published under her name?

2) The reader sees Joe Castleman through Joan’s eyes, discuss the author’s portrayal of his character, do you think he is presented fairly? Does he have any redeeming features?

3) Examine the other wives who appear throughout the novel, how is Joan different from them? In what ways is she similar?

4) Does the truth behind Joe Castleman’s success make you feel disappointed in Joan’s character or do you consider her in some ways to be a feminist hero?

5) The Wife raises some interesting questions about the nature of partnership, discuss the relationship between this husband and wife, are there times in the book when you see them as a happy couple? Why do you think Joan waits so long before she decides to leave her husband?

6) Discuss the twist at the end of the novel; does Joan’s revelation come as a surprise to you? Or do you think there are points in the book where the author hints at the truth?



1. Paula - February 14, 2007

Ok, I just finished reading “The Wife” and I have to admit I was surprised at the ending. Part of me knew it was coming, but I hated to think it could actually occur.

I found myself wanting to hate Joe Castleman, but in fact, I think he was generally portrayed quite sympathetically by Joan. Especially, considering the degree to which he betrayed her. I mostly feel sorry for him that he was so dependent on Joan for his success; his insecurity and feelings of self-loathing must have been overwhelming.

2. Dixie - February 28, 2007

I dislike both Joan and Joe by the end of the book. Can one have joint authors on a novel? Joan has the good writing style but Joe has the courage to bare his life experiences to the world. At the end of the story, I fine myself questioning Joe’s actions. He is so desperate to get published, is that the only reason he dumps his wife for Joan. Did he set up Joan to go to the female author’s reading so she would be convinced that she could never get published on her own.

Once the first novel is published their crime is solidified. Writing style is like fingerprints. Joan has given Joe’s name to her writing style and can never take it back without showing the world that Joe plagiarised his first novel, The Walnut. There are a number of hints along the way of their crime. The potential biographer hints at the poor quality of Joe’s first short story No Milk on Sunday. I think the biographer know s there’s a bigger story here and Joe knows that he knows and that is why he will never allow him to write the biography. Joe is too much of an egotist to miss the fame of the biography other wise. The kids are also aware of the crime and this has caused much of their son’s male adjustment. I am suprised Joe and Joan don’t feel more guilty for their crime than they do. The book was a good read; the characters just made me angry.

3. Kathryn - March 8, 2007

I was surprised by the ending. I must admit that the thought of Joan being the actual writer never occurred to me. I knew there was more to Joe’s writing but it being Joan blew me away.

I just can’t understand women staying in marriages with infidelity, etc. I kept wondering why Joan didn’t pack up the kids and leave. The children were obviously affected by their parents marriage, especially the son.

In the end, I felt Joan had finally come into her own person. Better late than never, I guess. I knew she wasn’t going to write anything because that would have shown Joe as a fraud.

On the whole, I enjoyed the book. Good choice!

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