Spare Wife [NOOK Book]


Alex Witchel’s first novel, Me Times Three, was praised by Joan Didion as “an irresistible dissection of love in the city.” Now Witchel returns with a sophisticated, witty, sexy story that exposes the world of upper-class New Yorkers and the media that perpetuate their myth.

Ponce Morris is a beautiful, rich widow who’s been dubbed “the spare wife” because she’s the perfect companion to the wealthy, powerful couples she socializes with. She’ll...
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Spare Wife

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Alex Witchel’s first novel, Me Times Three, was praised by Joan Didion as “an irresistible dissection of love in the city.” Now Witchel returns with a sophisticated, witty, sexy story that exposes the world of upper-class New Yorkers and the media that perpetuate their myth.

Ponce Morris is a beautiful, rich widow who’s been dubbed “the spare wife” because she’s the perfect companion to the wealthy, powerful couples she socializes with. She’ll go to sports events with the husbands and throw elegant dinner parties and shop with the wives. She’s cool and nonthreatening because the two things everyone knows for sure are that Ponce doesn’t like sex and doesn’t have a romantic bone in her body. Over the years, she has managed other people’s lives—and her own—perfectly. Ponce has everything under control, exactly the way she likes it.

Until . . . Babette Steele, an ambitious aspiring journalist, finds out that Ponce is having an affair with a socially prominent and very married man and decides to break the scandal in a juicy magazine piece. For Ponce’s circle, day-to-day existence quickly becomes a complicated game of social and professional chicken—whoever outsmarts and outmanipulates the other will win. And there is a lot at stake, not only for Ponce but for her friends, all of whom are in the midst of crises of their own: a philandering novelist who hasn’t been able to write since his breakout Wall Street best seller, an aging billionaire who can’t seem to resist young women (the younger the better), a legendary news show producer on the decline, a big-name political journalist looking to rebound from his wife’s death, and an editor at a glitzy magazine that covers the worlds of politics, fashion, and Hollywood. As Ponce’s life threatens to come apart at the seams, the author takes us into a world she knows intimately: a dynamic Manhattan filled with opinion makers and social fakers.

This is a vibrant, trenchant novel about ambition, love, friendship, and the intoxicating allure of getting ahead . . . and trying to stay there.

From the Hardcover edition.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Witchel (Me Times Three) returns to the romances of Manhattan's upper echelons in this Gawkeriffic potboiler. Ponce Porter passed up college and left Harding, S.C., to try New York as an aspiring young model and quickly ended up married to Lee Morris, a very wealthy TV producer almost 40 years her senior. Childless by choice and bored, Ponce enrolled in NYU and then law school, eventually settling at a prestigious firm. Cut to the now-widowed Ponce-now 42 and dubbed "The Spare Wife" for her ability to gracefully attend social functions with any and all of upper New York-locking lips in a Chicago hotel with the happily married celebrity fertility doctor Neil Grossman, where she's spotted by Babette Steele, an aspiring 25-year-old assistant at the prestigious Boothby's Review. Babette knows she has the breakout story of her career, but Ponce and her delightfully crafted cast of friends aim to spoil Babette's feast. Witchel's drama-filled portrait of 40-something socialites in the Paris Hilton era has scandalous affairs and social to-dos to spare. It's extravagant and shallow, closely observed and entertaining. (Feb.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Former model, widow, and sometime lawyer Ponce Morris (named for Ponce de León and his fountain of youth) has made it perfectly clear that she isn't interested in sex and romance anymore. So her girlfriends don't mind when she acts as a "spare wife" and attends events and such with their husbands. The wives benefit from Ponce's friendship, too, in the form of girl talk and shopping expositions. But when Babette, a young aspiring writer and editorial assistant, discovers that Ponce is having an affair with one of the husbands, she finds herself with a scoop that could kick her writing career into high gear. Although it's hard to sympathize with the numerous dishonest and philandering characters in Witchel's second novel (after Me Times Three ), once you get a grasp of who they are and the intertwined roles they play, this is a deliciously fun read with plenty of entertaining high-society shenanigans. For larger popular fiction collections.-Samantha Gust, Niagara Univ. Lib., NY

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The Devil Wears Prada meets the Social Register in Witchel's second foray into fiction (Me Times Three, 2002). Divorcee and widow Ponce Morris knows the New York social scene. The former model and lawyer is connected to everyone worth knowing-iconic TV news anchors, celebrity fertility specialists, multimillionaires and old-money editors of wittily trenchant magazines. Her specialty nowadays is serving as "spare wife," a trusted friend to spouses. Ponce does it all: girl talk and party planning with wives, golf and hot dogs with husbands. Life is perfect until Babette Steele, an ambitious editorial assistant at a venerable yet trendy magazine, discovers Ponce's affair with a fertility specialist and plans an expose. To squelch its publication, Ponce enlists the help of her friends-Babette's former employer Shawsie, an editor trying to get pregnant; Shawsie's philandering husband Robin, who is having an affair with Babette; and writer Rachel Lerner, who shares Babette's and Ponce's personal trainer. Where Plan A (involving a compromising tape of Babette) fails, Plan B (exposing Babette's ghostwriter) succeeds, and Babette pulls the story. But Babette has a plan of her own: She marries well and is soon hobnobbing in the same tony circles as Ponce, her misdeeds obscured by money and New Yorkers' insatiable thirst for gossip. Witchel's eye for detail is delicious, and the novel is engaging in its way, if you don't mind stereotypes and a total lack of moral fiber-even the good deeds are calculated. First printing of 50,000
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307268792
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/5/2008
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 390,306
  • File size: 311 KB

Meet the Author

Alex Witchel is a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine and also writes “Feed Me,” a monthly column for the Times’s Dining section. She is the author of Girls Only: Sleepovers, Squabbles, Tuna Fish and Other Facts of Family Life and the novel Me Times Three. She lives in New York City with her husband, Frank Rich.

From the Hardcover edition.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Jacqueline Posner stood at the edge of her dining room and aimed a blow-dryer at the center of a pale peach rose. It just refused to open the way it should, and she was running so late she hadn't even checked the place cards Ponce had set out that afternoon.

"Are you still fooling with those flowers?" Ponce asked impatiently as she made her way from round table to round table, seating charts in hand, checking the last-minute changes. "Honestly, Jacqueline, I've told you a hundred times, you don't need them. You've got poinsettias everywhere and mistletoe and that enormous tree in the living room. No one is going to focus on the centerpieces. I hope you've paid as much attention to stocking the bar."

Well, that comment made Jacqueline even more flustered, if such a thing was possible, and she thought for maybe the thousandth time that she should never have asked Ponce Morris to throw this party with her. Jacqueline opened her mouth to speak, but before she could say a word Ponce headed into the library to check on the bar. Jacqueline watched her go, relieved. She had known from the start that Ponce was no coddler. She had never been the sort to coo over shoes or diamonds or even men, and she had little tolerance for the dithering that so often passed for girl talk. She was a straight shooter, an option that had simply never occurred to most women in Manhattan—at least not the women Jacqueline knew.

She unplugged the dryer and sighed. Then again, there was absolutely no one better at throwing a party than Ponce, everyone knew that—like they knew the best plastic surgeon for the upper eyelids, as opposed to the best plastic surgeon for the lower eyelids—so Jacqueline really hadn't had a choice. After a twelve-year marriage to one of the richest men in the country, as the tabloids all noted when trumpeting news of their impending divorce, Jacqueline was giving this dinner in her last weeks at her Park Avenue home to show a brave face to the world, the world she had worked so hard to make for herself. And had.

There. The last stubborn petal fell into just the right pose of ripeness—maybe it was too much, would they even last the night, these silly roses?—when Jacqueline glanced at her watch and saw that she had only twenty minutes before the guests would arrive at eight. She stowed the dryer hurriedly in a drawer full of antique Wedgwood—which would have been the perfect breakfast china for the Cotswolds cottage, but never mind—and headed toward the first table.

She nervously studied the cheat sheet Ponce had made for her so she could remember who some of these guests were. Why couldn't she just have the people she knew, she'd implored Ponce at the very beginning, but Ponce wouldn't hear of it.

"The entire point of this exercise is to make a statement that you're strong, your design business is strong, you're still social, and you're not disappearing," Ponce had instructed. "Moving to a maisonette on Gracie Square is not exactly going into exile." She spoke in her courtroom voice, strong and centered and sweetened not at all by her Southern accent. "When this is done, your good friends can eat off trays with you in front of the television and watch you cry your eyes out, but this event is official. It's meant to be written about in the gossip columns and talked about the next day and the day after that, and when you go to Sir's to have lunch, everyone will look at you and say, 'Honestly, that Jacqueline was a damn good wife to Mike Posner. Whatever was he thinking?'"

Well, Jacqueline had liked the sound of that, so she went along with Ponce's list, even though a good third of them were people she had never had in her home before. Wishing now that she had not let herself be bullied, she looked pleadingly at Ponce as she swept back in.

"That is an exceptionally well stocked bar, though there's no ice in sight," Ponce said, stopping her flight to the kitchen only when she caught sight of the paper fluttering in Jacqueline's unsteady hand.

"Need some help?" Ponce strained to keep her tone light and forced herself to ease up on the triage and remember how difficult this was for Jacqueline. For a dozen years Jacqueline had been at the top of social New York—a fluid mishmash of the rich, famous, and notorious—and had been envied her sumptuous lifestyle. The Posners owned twelve homes around the world—one for each year of their marriage. Every February, on their wedding anniversary, Mike would give his wife an envelope with a key inside and, once aboard their private jet, hand her a "destination folder," and off they would fly to see their latest plot of paradise—the mansion in Lyford Cay, the flat in Paris, the killer condo in Aspen. The problem with each of the properties, Jacqueline had told Ponce, was that Mike only liked buying them. Living in them didn't seem to interest him. Or at least living in them with her.

"No, I'm just fine," Jacqueline said bravely. She knew that no matter what happened—fainting dead away in the front hallway as she greeted her guests, or succumbing to a paralyzing sick headache midappetizer—with Ponce in charge the party would still go off without a hitch. She just didn't want her friend to know what distinct possibilities those scenarios were.

Ponce smiled encouragingly and pushed through the doors into the kitchen, hitting the overhead light switch and leaving Jacqueline to tilt her list toward the candles on the nearest table.

Squinting, she read the name Mary Elizabeth Shaw and sighed. Shawsie, as she was known, was Ponce's best friend, had been for twenty years. To Jacqueline's way of thinking, Shawsie was a dreary-looking girl with her rust-colored hair and wardrobe of khakis and kilts. That Shawsie managed to still look like a member of the field hockey team from Greenwich High, despite years of exposure to Ponce's style and flair, was a mystery to her. But that sexless quality seemed to make people trust Shawsie and like her. In her capacity as the celebrity wrangler for Boothby's Review, that appeal worked magic, because who could be threatened by Shawsie? If she promised a movie star or a rock star that she would stay in the room every minute once a photographer showed up, Shawsie was always right on time, stalwart and true, like the house mother in a girl's dormitory. No matter what tantrums or crises arose—hair extensions the wrong shade of red!—she could always fix them.

Jacqueline scanned the list for Robin's name. Yes, of course he was there. Shawsie had married Robin Brody a few years ago. They had eloped to the Bahamas, to Shawsie's grandmother's home, where the rich old woman pulled some strings and the happy couple stood barefoot on the beach whispering their vows. Shawsie's mother stayed holed up in Greenwich and, in a moment as rare for its insight as it was for her sobriety, assured her friends at the club that the entire endeavor could end only in heartbreak. Robin had written a novel in the late eighties about greed and power on Wall Street that had become a huge bestseller. He hadn't written a word since, though he continued to frequent the hot spots of the greedy and powerful and, his marriage aside, maintained a reputation as quite the ladies' man.

Gus Fisher. Jacqueline was glad to see that Ponce had seated herself next to him and far away from her. It wasn't that Jacqueline had anything against Gus Fisher, really. It's just that he was such a wunderkind news producer, creating that television magazine show Real Time that everyone thought was the greatest thing since, what, Current Events. Well, that was the problem, wasn't it? Current Events, a television classic since the late 1960s, had been created by Walter Gluckman, and Walter's wife, Annabelle, was an old friend of Jacqueline's. Walter was eighty now; he had been a pioneer in broadcast news, and the show, incredibly, was still a hit now, in 2003. He ran it with the same iron hand he'd always wielded, in blatant disregard of whichever "kid" at the network challenged him, and it was an open secret that the top brass were collectively sick of him. Although they had been slow to push him out—the publicity would be atrocious—they would one day, soon, probably, and everyone wrote that it was Gus Fisher who would no doubt succeed him.

Jacqueline sighed. She knew that Annabelle would not be happy at this turn of events, but Jacqueline had been powerless to stop it. She also was none too cheered by the prospect of seeing Rachel Lerner, Gus's new second wife, a contributor to Boothby's Review who had written a first novel about the magazine world that had become a marginal bestseller. (The boys at the Literati bookstore assured Jacqueline that the phrase "national bestseller," which ran in the ads for Rachel's book, resembled "New York Times bestseller" not at all.) Rachel was one tough customer, with her black clothes and flip remarks and trained eye for even the tiniest misstep—whether someone didn't remember a fact or tried faking that she actually knew where something like the weapons of mass destruction were hidden. You could practically see Rachel's pupils dilate as she filed that mistaken moment away in the cold metal cabinet of her heart. Or at least that's how Jacqueline felt the one time she had, oh so foolishly, gotten involved with Gus in a silly discussion about politics. Well, she would not make that same blunder tonight.

She peered again at her list. Red Evans's name was crossed out. That was a shame. She'd always liked Red, named for the same rusty head of hair that his niece Shawsie had. He had run Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign and for years had written a popular political column at The Washington Post. After Shawsie's father was killed in a boating accident when she was only thirteen, Red managed to be there in times of crisis for her and her brother, a long-distance daddy who always made time to fly up to New York on a weekend and sit for hours at the Yale Club listening to tearful—or angry—renditions of "Mother doesn't understand" as he drank an afternoon's worth of gin martinis, straight up, three olives. As "Mother" was his older sister, he knew exactly what his niece and nephew meant.

"Jacqueline, I think you need to put that away now."

Ponce stood before her in the candlelight, and as Jacqueline crumpled the paper in her hand she couldn't help but be stunned at how magnificent Ponce looked. Her friend's blond hair fell lush around her shoulders, her wide blue eyes dominated her perfectly heart-shaped face, and her skin was the poreless movie-star variety that doesn't exist in nature except when it does, marking its owner for eternal damnation by the bitter acne-scarred multitudes. Ponce wore a silver charmeuse top with skinny rhinestone pants, and the effect was simple and formal and absolutely devastating. How old was Ponce, forty-two? Certainly, as fabulous as she was now, it was nothing compared to how she'd looked twenty-four years earlier when she was new to New York, one of the last Aryans signed up by Eileen Ford before popular taste went ethnic. No wonder Lee Morris had lost his mind over her. In those days you could see Ponce's face on billboards all across the city.

"Oh," Jacqueline began worshipfully, but Ponce waved her off. "Never mind that. Let me take a look at you."

Jacqueline stepped tentatively away from the table and stood uneasily at attention, hands by her sides—a familiar posture from childhood, when her mother would measure her against the kitchen door. Ponce nodded slowly, examining Jacqueline from head to toe. Truth be told, she couldn't find a thing wrong. Jacqueline's puffy black hair framed her long pale face and made it seem less like a schoolteacher's. Her peach-colored dress was divine—Oscar, probably—and her long, thin arms were as perfectly toned as anyone's over thirty, not to mention forty, could be. She looked something like a preacher's wife on a hot date, her prim face and tense manner softened by swirls of chiffon and years of assiduous applications of body cream. Ponce considered her own somewhat crusty elbows and nodded approvingly.

"You are fabulous," she proclaimed, and Jacqueline nearly melted with gratitude. But Ponce had already moved on.

"Okay," she said, leaning over one table to relight a candle. "This all looks wonderful. I'll go into the bar and double-check the ice. And you might stop into the kitchen and tell the very cute waiter who is on his cell phone with his girlfriend that he needs to put on his jacket, comb his hair, and pick up a tray."

As Jacqueline turned dutifully toward the kitchen, Ponce leaned over the nearest table and slipped a rose petal into her bag. Jacqueline had overdone it, as Ponce knew she would, and already they were falling.

The bar had been set up on the far side of the library between a Picasso and a Rothko, and as Jacqueline dallied in the kitchen Ponce sent the bartender back for still more ice. She put coasters on some of the tables—she didn't know much about antiques, that had been Lee's expertise—but a water ring on any of them could be a disaster worth thousands. And who knew if Jacqueline was even keeping these things? Granted, with twelve homes, there was an awful lot of plunder to plunder, but in Ponce's years as a lawyer she had handled her share of divorces and understood that a couple was never uglier than when they fought to the death over a lamp they each detested, just so the other couldn't have it.

"The kitchen is under control," Jacqueline announced as she came back in, stopping at a mirror to wipe a dot only she could see from her face.

"Well, I think we're ready." Ponce smiled and wished she still smoked.

The waiters went into the hallway, armed with their silver trays, and Jacqueline joined them, flushing self-consciously, before giving them their instructions. The bartender returned and Ponce said, "I'll have a white wine, please."

As he opened a bottle of Puligny-Montrachet she said, "Oh, for heaven's sakes, that is just wasted on me. Don't you have anything else?"

He shook his head, gesturing to a case of it stowed in a small glass-fronted refrigerator behind him, and Ponce realized that Jacqueline was doing a little housecleaning of the wine cellar for good measure on her way out the door.

Ponce instructed the bartender to fill her glass with ice first to dilute the strong taste—her usual was a bargain-bin Pinot Grigio she liked just fine—and started to sip.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer


    Following her well received first novel 'Me Times Three,' New York Times Magazine writer Alex Witchel serves a delicious witty diss of Manhattan's upper echelon - the very, very rich and the famous (both now and then). In other words, it is a strata where 'The rich always mattered most, and the well known - an ever-changing group of the hot then the not, who were the evening's equivalent of the entertainment - always mattered less.' Witchel's dialogue sparkles and descriptions are deft as she opens her tale with a posh Park Avenue dinner party where guests were 'murmuring over the string of Tissots that reached from the dining room entrance to the duplex's main stairway. It looked like an opening night at the Met.' Observing this scene while very much a part of it is Ponce Morris, a former model still knockout gorgeous at 42. A widow, Ponce has found a place for herself as a friend, one who shops or lunches with women and talks sports with the men. She's known for her agreeable nature and total disinterest in sex. (Not quite true). She has helped the recently divorced Jacqueline Posner put this evening together in order to show their small world that Jacqueline is fine, her design business is steady, and she has no mind to fade into obscurity (after all, a move to Gracie Square isn't exactly nowhere). The guests are an interesting group - most noteworthy is BabetteSteele a bosomy young assistant at a trendy magazine who has been invited to amuse Montrose Merriweather who likes his women younger as he grows older. Although Babette's writing ability seems to be a moot question she has made herself helpful at the office and wants very much to be a full-time staff member - wants it so much that when she discover Ponce and Dr. Neil Grossman are having torrid togetherness she decides to sell this juicy tidbit in order to prove her editorial mettle. Will she or won't she? Ponce, quite obviously, is an able adversary while additional alliances throw rocks on Babette's path to success. Alex Witchel wields a barbed pen with the best of them while she invites us to smile at the absurdity of the existences described. - Gail Cooke

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    powerful character study

    After graduating high school in Harding, South Carolina Ponce Porter heeded Sinatra¿s advice by coming to Manhattan to make it as a model. Instead the teen married wealthy TV producer Lee Morris, who was older than her parents. Finding marriage to a man four decades older than her boring, Ponce went to NYU and law school. --- Over two decades later, the fortyish Ponce is a wealthy widow known by her socialite friends as 'THE SPARE WIFE' as she is a companion to husbands at sports galas and to their wives at charity events. Everyone trusts the popular Ponce. However, in Chicago Boothby's Review wannabe reporter Babette Steele catches Ponce kissing happily married fertility Dr. Neil Grossman. Whereas Babette feels she has the ticket into journalism. Ponce and her friends begin a discrediting campaign to spin the story by destroying the aspirant and the other jealous media sharks trying to devour their affluent superiors. --- Ponce and her social set prove that President Bush is right that the economy must have a strong base affirmed by the excess hedonistic extravagance in which one would expect this crowd to answer health care issues with ¿Let them eat cake¿. Alex Witchel goes deep into the soul of the title character, ironically a shallow person socializing with her superficial friends. Readers will enjoy this powerful character study of the ultra elite whose earmarked connections would be the envy of lofty politicians. --- Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 11, 2011

    Decent read

    I was impressed, probably because I wasn't expecting much out of this book. It was entertaining and an easy read.

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  • Posted June 9, 2009

    Could have been better

    Life for the wealthy in New York makes for good reading and has since the days of Edith Wharton. The problem is that few writers past and present, especially present are as good as Wharton. Sadly people like Candace Bushnell are often compared to Wharton merely because they write (or try to) about wealthy people in New York.

    For well written escapism about New York's wealthy inhabitants the only modern day writer to really pull it off is Dominick Dunne.

    There are a few who manage to come up with some reasonably well written escapism (Olivia Goldsmith and Jane Stanton Hitchcock are favorites of mine) but generally the bookshelves are packed with bad attempts and this is one of them.

    While many of NY's social elite do have some comical names (Dunne was a master at capturing this) the character names in this book were just stupid and grating much like the characters themselves.

    None of the characters were likeable or interesting and while I hung on to the end to see what happened there were no surprises and no one to root for or against.

    Editors and publishers need to stop publishing drivel like this based only on the tried and true formula of wealthy NY residents and start digging for some well written work that tackles this very fun and addictive subject matter.

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    Posted July 27, 2009

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