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The Wife

WARNING: BOOK SPOILERS IN THIS POST

A few days ago, I finished a really awful book titled ‘The Wife’. The book was about a woman whose husband is a huge literary success. He has published a large body of work, received accolades and awards, and ends up winning one huge literary award in particular, immediately after which he dies. Of course, it is apparent to the reader very early on (though it is not explicitly revealed to the reader until later in the book) that his wife was the one writing all his books. The book is written in first person, from the wife’s point of view, and though the plot is thin, the characters are flat and the story is ultimately not well developed (at least in the opinion of this lay critic), there were a few keys lines in the book which caught my attention.

Everyone knows how women soldier on, how women dream up blue prints, recipes, ideas for a better world, and then sometimes lose them on the way to the crib in the middle of the night, on the way to the Stop & Shop, or the bath. They lose them on the way to greasing the path on which their husband and children will ride serenely through life.

Everyone needs a wife; even wives need wives. Wives tend, they hover. Their ears are twin sensitive instruments, satellites picking up the slightest scrape of disatisfaction. Wives bring broth, we bring paper clips, we bring ourselves and our pliant, warm bodies. We know just what to say to the men who for some reason have a great deal of trouble taking consistent care of themselves, or anyone else.

“Listen,” we say. “Everything will be okay.”

And then, as if our lives depend on it, we make sure it is.

I read the above and wondered how many women would read it and, like me, think “I could have written that myself”.

I was a wife. I may be one again one day. Some days I feel like one now, though I am acutely aware of the distinction in my own brain which is brought by signing my name on a dotted line. But the author very clearly captured what I have heard from women every day, what I have seen women around me do – what I did myself to a certain extent.

When we are girls, we have goals and dreams and sometimes a certain whimsy about our lives – what they mean and where they may go. We imagine who we will become. But even those of us who imagine becoming wives (and mothers – an angle which I speak of with a certainty born not of experience as a mother but of experience as someone who has been mothered, and who is highly aware of the sacrifice which often comes with the title) – do we ever imagine what we will give up to do so? How our lives – big decisions and small – will be shaped so sharply by the dreams, desires and even comforts of another person? Do we all step off our own paths to pave the way for someone else?

Maybe a successful relationship is when each does that for the other. Or perhaps it is one foot on your path, one foot paving theirs. I never imagined that I would so easily make the sacrifices I did when I held the title of Wife. And they weren’t all bad. But I made them quickly and easily and without much thought to what I may be giving up to ensure the comfort, success and desires fulfilled of another.

Ultimately, the problem for me was paving someone else’s way without neither him or I paying attention to my own. Let’s try to avoid that again.


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