When the elliptical new drama teacher at Stellar Plains High School chooses for the school play “Lysistrata”— the comedy by Aristophanes in which women stop having sex with men in order to end a war — a strange spell seems to be cast over the school. Or, at least, over the women. One by one throughout the high school community, perfectly healthy, normal women and teenage girls turn away from their husbands and boyfriends in the bedroom for reasons they don’t really understand. As the women worry over their loss of passion, and the men become by turns, unhappy, offended, and, above all, confused, both sides are forced to look at their partners, their shared history, and their sexual selves in a new light.
~4 stars out of 5~
After a string of non-fiction junk books, I am relieved to be back in the fiction saddle, reviewing a story that took me to another place for a while and told me a good story. The Uncoupling, by Meg Wolitzer, is that book. Its characters and setting seduced me, embraced me, and gently released me at the end. Sounds a little dirty, doesn’t it? That is how this book was. Compelling, enjoyable, and a little bit naughty.
The book begins in the way many other novels begin. It is set in an unremarkable town, with unremarkable people, doing unremarkable things. Every day life is mundane and pleasant with the occasional drama thrown in here and there. Dory and Robby Lang are likable, easy-going folks who teach at the same high school and love their life and each other with passion and wonder. Their daughter Willa was an average student with the average amount of friends, neither sticking out as a student, nor falling through the cracks.
Everyone in the town of Stellar Plains, New Jersey had a pretty average life. People lived, died, loved, ate dinner, had sex; until suddenly, they didn’t.
At the beginning of the school year, a new drama teacher blew into everyone’s life with passion and force. Fran Heller was an odd sort of woman, who painted her normal suburban house a crazy coral and turquoise combination that had the neighbors staring. Her abrupt, forthright nature, made her a bit of a spectacle in Eleanor Roosevelt high school, Elro for short. But what really shocked people in the neighborhood and school was the play the new drama teacher chose for the year. Fran Heller had chosen to have the children perform Lysistrata, and Aristophanes comedy about a woman who leads the women of Greece in a sex strike, intended to end the Peloponnesian War. The play was sexy, funny, and poignant and she felt it was right for the school. More importantly, she felt it was important for the town.
While Fran was settling into her role as drama teacher and ‘cool adult’ to the children in the play, her son Eli was busy in his own way. After having shared dinner and an evening hanging out in Willa Lang’s bedroom, listening to teenaged, angsty music, Eli was falling for the quiet girl. Willa fell for him too, and before long, the two were an item at Elro, much to Dory’s surprise.
While Eli and Willa discovered the wonder of sex, quiet the opposite was happening in Dory and Robby’s bedroom. Things had, in fact, become quite chilly. One night, shortly after the school year began, Dory felt a chill come over her. One not climatic in nature, but more climactic. Quite suddenly, Dory was no longer interested in sex with her husband. Robby, the man she had loved and lusted after during their entire marriage, was no longer an object of Dory’s desire. At first she thought it was temporary, and so did Robby. So they both went on with life as anyone would do. Then the spell fell over the entire town.
Over the next several months, women fell away from their spouses and lovers. They drew away, into their own worlds, and away from the embrace of their loved ones. Teenaged boys were left frustrated and heartbroken when their young objects of affection and lust took off on their own.
Meg Wolitzer drew me into this world, and made me need to know what would happen next. I was drawn to the characters, caring about them and their well-being, as if they were my own loved ones. At the same time I was horrified. The idea of a complete sex drought left me feeling slightly uneasy and tense. Considering the possibility of a long, sexless future is scary. And it’s easy to imagine yourself as part of the story, as The Uncoupling draws you further in.
The closer we get to the performance of the high school play, the more things reach a frustrating peak. Couples argued, men reacted, ranging from anger to sadness to bewilderment.
I won’t spoil the specifics, but I don’t think it’s a huge spoiler to say the spell did eventually end. People and lives were irrevocably changed, but it ended and things got better in Stellar Plains.
In the end, The Uncoupling reminds you to shake things up once in a while. Don’t take things for granted, and don’t stagnate.
This is a great book to read before Valentine’s Day, in my opinion. It’s sort of the anti-Valentine. Not bitter, but a departure from the norm. It isn’t a romance novel, but there is romance and fire and love.
This book is a solid 4 out of 5.