Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon
Published by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House
Twenty years into their marriage, Alice and William Buckle are more like roommates than lovers. With all the energy that she isn’t putting into her marriage, Alice has a tendency to over-analyze her children’s lives: the son she is sure is gay and in the closet, the daughter she is positive has an eating disorder after being dumped by her boyfriend. It is only this involvement in her children’s lives and throwing herself into her part-time job teaching drama that keep Alice from realizing just how dissatisfied she is. Then in her spam folder, Alice finds an invitation to participate in an anonymous online marriage survey where she is assigned the pseudonym Wife 22, and paired with Researcher 101. As Researcher 101 begins to ask Alice questions about her life, marriage, and courtship, she simultaneously remembers how wonderful her relationship with William was once, and realizes how lacking it is now.
Told through emails, Facebook status updates, Google search results, the marriage study questionnaire, and more traditional prose, Wife 22 is a completely and utterly absorbing book. Gideon has a gift for drawing readers into her characters’ lives and eliciting empathy, regardless of how closely – or not – personal circumstances align with those of the characters. Alice is at times frustrating and is certainly not without her own faults, but she is incredibly sympathetic and understandable.
In addition to the characters who are so realistic and easy to relate to, the format of Wife 22 kept the pages turning. The emails, Facebook status updates, and Google search results are very wisely and judiciously used, so that they add to, rather than detract from the story Gideon is telling. Even more impressive, though, is the use of marriage survey questions. We see only Alice’s responses, and not the questions that Researcher 101 has asked. This is initially disconcerting, but quickly becomes almost addictive, as the reader interprets what she is answering. The questions are included as an appendix at the end of the book and it is hugely instructive to go back after you have finished reading to see exactly what she was answering with every question, but keeping them out of the flow of the story ends up adding a lot to the development of Alice’s character.
Wife 22 is smart, witty, and engaging. I became so lost in Alice’s story that I finished the entire 400 page book in only 24 hours. This story of love and relationship is not to be missed. Very highly recommended.
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