What if a strange spell were cast over an entire city, in which the sexual desire of women vanished, whether they be longtime, happily married wives, young teenagers starting to act on their sexual feelings, or women who choose intimacy with more than one man?
That’s the premise 'The Uncoupling' by Meg Wolitzer, who is known for her witty depictions of contemporary American life. The setting is suburban New Jersey, with the focus on teachers and students in a local high school. The spell begins to eerily take effect with a window-shaking cold wind seeping into bedrooms. At the same time, a new drama teacher has just selected for the senior class play Lysistrata, the ancient Greek comedy whose title character convinces women to withhold sex to force an end to the seemingly endless Peloponnesian war. There are frequent references in Wolitzer’s novel to the Afghanistan war and parallels with antiwar feeling today and in 411 B.C. when Lysistrata was written.
We meet the Langs, Robby and Dory, teachers who are well-liked by all, and are so much alike that they almost seem two halves of the same personality. Their only child is shy and withdrawn daughter Willa. Fran, the drama teacher, has an unusual marital arrangement in that her husband lives in Michigan. They seldom see each other but as Fran says, “It works for us.” They have a son, Eli, who is a classmate of Willa. These two soon become a couple.
Wolitzer introduces more couples and singles who fall under the spell. I wanted to care more about the characters, but their lives within the confines of high school did not take on enough depth to generate much interest.
The strength of the story lies in the spell affecting the women, and the men in their lives, who are puzzled, angry, patient,or hurt, depending on the relationship. One unconventional faculty member who does not believe in commitment to one man, has to drum three different men out of her sex life, one of them the high school principal.
I regard this novel as an interesting fable with plenty of witty and humorous touches, but not as likable as I hoped it would be.
The ending seemed predictable and unsatisfying.