“The moment I decided to leave him, the moment I thought enough, we were thirty-five thousand feet above the ocean hurtling forward but giving the illusion of stillness and tranquility.”
Joan Castleman is on an airplane accompanying her husband, writer Joseph Castleman, to Helsinki, Finland where he is being honored with the Helsinki Prize in Literature, one step down from the Nobel Prize for Literature, which he knows that he will not get. Over the next four days, Joan revisits their courtship and the details of her marriage while waiting for the moment when she will end it all with her husband.
I can not even put into words how much I loved this book. The characters were complex and well-drawn, the story was interesting and well-plotted, and the pacing was amazing. And there is a secret, and though that secret (I think) is easily guessed, the unfolding of that secret is a beautiful thing indeed, and is the crux of the novel; how Wolitzer carefully folds, twists and gradually enlarges what we already suspect but are reluctant to say for certain. It was so stunningly well done.
Joan Castleman is so thoughtfully observant and funny in a wry way that I laughed out loud at her commentary, and I felt such an empathy with her ash she looked back on her life and struggled to find and step into herself not that she is well into her middle age and has raised three grown children. Joan’s reflections on herself and on her husband, who is one of those men “who had no idea of how to take care of himself or anyone else, and derived much of his style from The Dylan Thomas Handbook of Personal Hygiene and Etiquette.”, are so funny, and doubly so because they are accurate reflections on life and the types of people we have either heard of or met ourselves. I have marked so many passages in the book that it’s not even funny, but I will restrain myself and just share a few parts here. Take a look.
“Joe told me he felt a little sorry for women, who only got husbands. Husbands tried to help by giving answers, being logical, stubbornly applying force as though it were a glue gun. Or else they didn’t try to help at all, for they were somewhere else entirely, out walking in the world by themselves. But wives, oh wives, when they weren’t being bitter or melancholy or counting the beads on their abacus of disappointment, they could take care of you with delicate and effortless ease.”
“I hadn’t asked him the question out of actual concern; it was more of a marital reflex. All over the world, husbands and wives routinely and somewhat pointlessly ask one another: Are you okay? It’s part of the contract; it’s the thing to do, because it implies that you care, that you’re paying attention, when in fact you might be deeply and relentlessly bored.”
I loved this book as a character study of a wife finally looking to take back the power that she has been afraid to possess, as a character study marriage and how it grew and changes from the ‘60’s to the present day, as an inside , and because it was a thought provoking and humorous read. I highly recommend it.