|While waiting for Desperate Housewives to resume its regular airing
and for The Tuesday Night Bookclub to catch you in its grips, how on earth are you going to satisfy your sinful cravings for the secret lives of bored suburban housewives? Wife Living Dangerously may be one solution. But be warned: it is nowhere near as titillating or salacious as the televised accounts.
In direct contrast with and perhaps even in rebellion against, her
debt-ridden, fun-loving single mother Julia Flanagan has always been
a good girl. Married with three children, she lives in a small
Midwestern college town, where neighbors exchange cookies and car
pools and long-term marriages are tested with short-lived affairs.
Unlike others of her ilk, Julia balances her family commitments with
paid hours at the Bentley Institute, a museum which houses the
world's largest collection of erotica, sex toys and sexual
paraphernalia. This is not enough to add joie de vivre to her
monotonous existence. In fact, when playing true confessions with her
suburban friends, Julia rarely comes up with a peccadillo, nothing
worse than, say, a vague interest in the UPS man. The novel charts
how she goes from good and boring to bad and, well, boring.
With her husband Michael spending more time at work and with his
newly formed rock band, Julia is beginning to feel ignored.
Determined to hold their marriage together, she learns to sing only
to learn that he prefers a twenty-something nymphet join his band.
Frustrated, she finds an outlet in a gorgeous, unattached English
professor. In the tradition of courtly love and the medieval knights
he writes about, Evan Delaney gives Julia the compliments and
attention her husband neglects. She tries to distract her wayward
thoughts by collecting cookie jars. Pretty soon, however, she's
contemplating a full-blown affair.
Some might find adultery an immediate put-off, but morality wasn't
the biggest problem for me. I take issue with the incomplete
character arc and the unconvincing denouement. Julia is self-aware
enough to know that her current problems stem partly from her
childhood. But the question of her absent and unknown father isn't a
major preoccupation until the final scenes of the novel.
Consequently, her resolution on this particular matter springs from
nowhere. Nor were her endless ruminations about her marriage and her
constant hesitations about adultery enough to capture my attention.
Which is perhaps why I was so annoyed when, after sleepless nights
over Evan, Julia finally comes to a decision. Although she is smugly
satisfied that her adventures bring her new self-insights, I would
beg to differ.
I didn't exactly warm to the other characters, either. There is such
a contrast between what Michael says and what he does that I decided
Julia just couldn't trust him. Evan, on the other hand, is too much
of a fantasy man, a mirror reflection of Julia's desires with no
challenges and demands of his own.
Evan aside, this slow-moving but well-wrought depiction of a marriage
at risk offers a realistic slice of life, a convincing and lyrical
portrait of a wavering conscience and a generous dose of wry,
understated humor. Readers whose tastes run that way could find worse
than Wife Living Dangerously. But I prefer to give a more substantial recommendation to something more satisfying.