Book Report: The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin (1972)

Book coverI’ll be honest: this book appealed to me for a specific reason. As you remember, I only bought the book because I saw it and Rosemary’s Baby together at a book fair.

I wanted it to read it now, of all times, because my children have both gone off to school full time, and as I work at building up some contract work, I’m cleaning the house pretty regularly and meticulously. As a matter of fact, I’m cleaning things and places people don’t see, and I’m sort of taking a weird pride in it. On one occasion, I’ve wondered if I’ve turned into a Stepford wife. Since I have the book, I could investigate.

Spoiler alerts follow for those of you who haven’t read the book or seen either of the two (!) film adaptations or who have not missed the dwindling pop-culture references to the book.

So you’re familiar with the basic story: A woman moves with her family to a suburb outside New York City, and she finds the other women there cold and family-focused. No, scratch that: The first thing she notices is that there’s a Men’s Association that doesn’t let women in, and she’s going to immediately, maybe even before unpacking, agitate, strike, and foment about it not allowing women in. Her husband joins and promises to help try to change it from the inside. So immediately, she’s a women’s libber (from the actual era of the women’s libbers) rocking the boat and going on before we even get to know too much about her.

Then she learns the women there are cold. She meets a couple of women like her, new to the suburbs and with interests other than housecleaning. She hangs out with them and they start to think something’s wrong. Her husband acts a little strange. Then her friends turn into Stepford Wives after about three months. She thinks that the men are building animatronic replacements for their wives, and she tries to escape….

But the next time one of the newercomer women sees her, she’s a Stepford wife.

The book is only 145 pages; a screenplay in prose, practically, but with less dialogue. It moves along all right, and I did get to feeling a little sympathy for her as the book went on, but overall, I think this book really punched above its weight thematically. I mean, it’s written by an urban writer who spent a little time in the suburbs, and it’s a parable about how suburban people are all sub-urban and a bit sub-realpeoplish to smart New Yorkers. Right. I mean, if you want to look down your snoot at people who are unlike you and can’t do it based on race or creed, you can do it based on lifestyle and type of housing one chooses. To prove one is sophisticated.

At any rate, it’s not a bad read, but I don’t like the theme. If you don’t like the themes, you start really poking at the story. They’re building robots, hey, in three months there at the Men’s Association, and that’s okay, because in ten years, these robots will look like the same mannequins while the men are older. And they’re killing the wives and disposing of them. And the children don’t even notice a real change. Everyone is in on it? Parents of the Stepforded women don’t know or raise a fuss? It’s left to the n00bs in town? Really?

But, on the other hand, I feel better knowing I’m not a Stepford wife. I do other things than keeping the house clean and the children wiped down. For instance, I read books and put up little bits about them on the Internet for people to read, and six or seven might. Also, since I’ve read this book, my energy level has declined, and I’ve only vacuumed the house once this week and haven’t mopped anything in over a week. It must be the influence of the football or something.

Books mentioned in this review: