Our February pick for the PBS NewsHour-New York Times book club, “Now Read This,” is “The Wife” by Meg Wolitzer. Become a member of the book club by joining our Facebook group, or by signing up to our newsletter. Learn more about the book club here.
When “The Wife” opens, Joan Castleman is accompanying her husband Joe to Helsinki receive a major literary prize — and also plotting how to leave him. In the pages that follow, we learn of a major secret in their marriage. “The Wife” is a darkly funny novel about what happens in a marriage behind closed doors. Glenn Close, who starred as Joan in the 2018 film adaptation, is up for an Academy Award for her performance.
In the annotated page from the book below, author Meg Wolitzer explains where she gets her settings and stories, why she set the book in the first person (from Joan’s perspective), and how she creates humor on the page.
Page 10 from “The Wife”
We were on our way to the end of the marriage, heading toward the moment when I would finally get to yank the two-pronged plug from its holes, to turn away from the husband I’d lived with year after year. We were on our way to Helsinki, Finland, a place no one ever thinks about unless they’re listening to Sibelius, or lying on the hot, wet slats of a sauna, or eating a bowl of reindeer. Cookies had been distributed, drinks decanted, and all around me, video screens had been arched and tilted. No one on this plane was fixated on death right now, the way we’d all been earlier, when, wrapped in the trauma of the roar and the fuel-stink and the distant, braying chorus of Furies trapped inside the engines, an entire planeload of minds—Economy, Business Class, and The Chosen Few—came together as one and urged this plane into the air like an audience willing a psychic’s spoon to bend.
Of course, that spoon bent every single time, its tip drooping down like some top-heavy tulip. And though airplanes didn’t lift every single time, tonight this one did. Mothers handed out activity books and little plastic bags of Cheerios with dusty sediment at the bottom; businessmen opened laptops and waited for the stuttering screens to settle. If he was on board, the phantom air marshal ate and stretched and adjusted his gun beneath a staticky little square of Dynel blanket, and our plane rose in the sky until it hung suspended at the desired altitude, and finally I decided for certain that I would leave my husband. Definitely. For sure. One hundred percent. Our three children were gone, gone, gone, and there would be no changing my mind, no chickening out.
He looked over at me suddenly, watched my face, and said, “What’s the matter? You look a little… something.”
He was Joseph Castleman, one of those men who own the world. You know the type I mean: those advertisements for…