In The Uncoupling, by Meg Wolitzer, a spell slowly works its cold magic on the women of Stellar Heights, New Jersey, causing them to withhold sex and withdraw from their relationships shortly after a new drama teacher arrives and begins to stage a high school production of Lysistrata (the Aristophanes play detailing a sex strike to end war). The spell indiscriminately bewitches women in varying stages of life, encroaching on the boundaries of stable relationships as well as those that have been teetering on the brink for months or even years.
The Uncoupling is a curious read that evoked quite a few varying sentiments within me as I read it. I loved Robbie and Dory Lang, the main couple whose love for each other is so complete that they jointly adopt a new last name for themselves when they marry. It was particularly hard to see their formerly solid partnership inexplicably wither away. Wolitzer touches on the demise of the relationships of other parties within their social circle, including a high school counselor, their daughter and one of her friends, the lead in the school play. The weight of the mysterious spell combined with the stories of myriad characters in whom I had differing levels of interest, slowed the pacing of the novel for me toward the middle.
Keeping me on my toes through alternating uncertainty and speculation, was the nature of the spell, which struck at random. It can, as a matter of course, be taken figuratively and literally, and had a lot to say about women’s relationships with men and their ambivalence about those relationships, but the spell greatly influenced the way I ultimately read and reacted to the novel. Wolitzer’s writing is fresh and engaging, filled with carefully observed moments, humor and wit. There are always thought-provoking elements to ponder in her work. I did find the end of The Uncoupling to be satisfying, though not so neatly wrapped up that I didn’t continue to explore my own mixed feelings at the novel’s conclusion. Recommended.