My advance copy of Wife 22 opens with an introduction from the publisher. In it, the woman writing compares her experience with Wife 22 to that of two other books she similarly loved: Bridget Jones’s Diary and I Don’t Know How She Does It. This left me with mixed expectations – I love the first and have read it multiple times; it’s one of those books I own both in hard copy and e-book form for the sheer ease of picking it up at any time, wherever I might be. It makes me laugh out loud every single time. The latter, however, I only have a vague recollection of. I know I read it, and I’m sure I enjoyed it, but it just didn’t stick with me. So I was interested to see where in that spectrum Wife 22 might end up.
For better or worse, I get the sense that it’s going to be the latter. Wife 22, by Melanie Gideon, gives us the story of a women who is searching for something, though she doesn’t seem to quite know what. Nearing her twentieth wedding anniversary, she worries about her marriage, her children, her friends, her job, feeling as though the sands are shifting beneath her and she’s not quite sure how to stay upright. One day, she receives an offer to participate in an anonymous research study (as Wife 22) and finds herself providing lengthy and sometimes intimate answers to questions asked by a complete stranger – and raising a number of questions for herself in the process.
I get the reference to Bridget Jones. The structure of it – first person narrative interspersed with email exchanges and lists of answers to the research questions and text conversations – certainly prompt a comparison. But the brilliance of Bridget Jones is the over-the top, laugh-out-loud absurdity. The ridiculous sweaters and the blue soup and the bunny costume and the hundred other details that work their way into a cringe-inducing yet delightfully comedic romp.
That’s not to say that Wife 22 doesn’t have it’s moments of comedy, cringe-worthiness, or even absurdity. It does. But that’s not the overall tone. Ultimately, this is a book about relationships, and figuring out how to find your place in them, whether that be as a wife, mother, friend, or daughter. And that search is a serious one, even if it’s built into a funny book. Alice, our protagonist, is engaging and relatable, certainly. Gideon establishes her voice well, and it’s easy to see Alice as a fully dimensional, dynamic character with real struggles and questions. And most of her relationships feel authentic as well. But there are mis-steps also, pieces (like her husband’s struggles at work) that are never well explained. And some elements of the playful structure – the IMs, the Facebook statuses – feel forced at times.
In the end, Wife 22 a quick, engaging, enjoyable read. It’s easy to get caught up in Alice’s anxieties, to sympathize with her struggles, to laugh at her son’s antics, to get swept away in her memories. You want to know what happens next, and you want things to end well for her and her family. But – and here’s the difference between a book I like and a book I love – once it does end, am I going to dwell on her story, or even revisit it? In this case, probably not.
*This book was provided to me for review at no cost by the publisher.