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A Q&A with Melanie Gideon, author of WIFE 22
Your previous work was your critically acclaimed memoir. What inspired you to turn to fiction, and where did the idea for WIFE 22 originate?
I was sitting in a bar with a friend. We were well into our second glass of wine, when, in researcher mode, I started asking her questions about her marriage. After she invoked a zone of confidentiality I was amazed at how forthright she was willing to be about everything: love, sex, aging, security, happiness and parenting. That's when I knew I was on to something. What if an ordinary wife and mother had the opportunity (and most importantly, the anonymity) to admit what she really thought, felt, wished for and dreamed, regretted and longed for in her life and marriage? Thus WIFE 22 was born.
Who do you think will connect with this novel, and why? Who is Wife 22?
I believe there's a little bit of Wife 22 in all of us, no matter what age, no matter what stage of a relationship you're in: married, single or, "it's complicated!" It's so easy to get stuck in a routine and so hard to get yourself out of it. I think we all yearn to be woken up.
Do you see any similarities between yourself and your heroine, Alice Buckle? Any differences?
Well, like Alice, I am about to celebrate my 20th wedding anniversary with my husband. Unlike Alice, however, I did not receive an email soliciting me to participate in an anonymous online survey on marital satisfaction. And if I did, I would immediately dump it into my trash folder, because I know, after writing this book, how seductive and dangerous the act of confession can be. There are little bits of me in Alice, sure, but Alice is definitely her own person. Also she's nicer than me. And much more fluent with social media.
You pay homage to Joseph Heller and Catch 22 with the title and with a few circumstances Alice faces during the course of your novel. Can you shed a little light on how that came to be and what it signifies?
I think marriage is a sort of Catch 22. It's strange how some of the little quirks and eccentricities of your mate that you found so charming in the beginning—that may have even contributed to you falling in love with them—twenty years later are the things that drive you absolutely crazy.
Many of the novel's characters, especially Alice, engage in social media like Facebook and Twitter. How do you think these methods of communication have changed our lives and the relationships we have with others? How have they changed yours?
I resisted Facebook and Twitter for a long time, and I confess I still find it challenging to post, Tweet or blog. I get incredible stage fright trying to think of something clever to say. People will see it—or worse—ignore it. What if nobody "likes" it? What if nobody comments? It's like middle school every day! Part of what I wanted to explore in WIFE 22 was whether social media brought us closer together or pushed us farther apart. I think it does both. I long for the old days when my husband and son and I would watch a TV show together. I mean really watch it, without our attention constantly flickering to the device on our laps. Watching TV in my household is not a passive act. We're always talking back to the TV, commenting, laughing: that's ridiculous, who told her she could sing? On the other hand I learn things about my husband every day through Facebook. New things. What he's thinking, what he's reading, what he's doing. Facebook allows us to be strangers to one another, to be voyeurs, but in a safe way. There's something about that distance that's titillating.
You've said that "Confession is a powerful aphrodisiac." Can you elaborate?
Anonymous confession? The chance to tell the absolute truth to a stranger? A stranger who doesn't judge, who listens intently, who asks all the right questions? That's very sexy.
1. Consider the epigraph by E. M. Forster: “Only connect.” How did this inform your interpretation of the novel before and after reading? What is the significance of this quote in a book that so often satirizes our reliance on technology in achieving immediate and constant connectivity?
2. What do you make of the structure of the novel unraveling in part through Alice’s narrative and elsewhere through Google searches, Facebook status updates, and email and text messages? Did you find this made for an organic reading experience, considering how much social media is enmeshed in our daily lives? What did this mode of storytelling reveal about the characters that you might not have otherwise learned? How about the effect of seeing the answers to the marriage survey without first having read the questions? When you arrived at the appendix, did you then match any of the inquiries to their respective responses? Did you find anything surprising?
3. Of her marriage, Alice says that she and William are “floating around on the surface of our lives like kids in a pool propped up on those Styrofoam noodles.” She longs for a deeper connection to her husband, yet struggles to move beyond the monotonies apparent in everyday life. Why, then, does she find it so natural to be candid with Researcher 101? Do you think it’s that much easier to confess truths about ourselves under a veil of anonymity?
4. Researcher 101 writes, “Waiting is a dying art. The world moves at a split-second speed now and I happen to think that’s a great shame, as we seem to have lost the deeper pleasures of leaving and returning.” Do you agree that our access to people and information comes at the expense of developing meaningful connections over time, through patience and dedication? Is it possible to cultivate this kind of slow-budding relationship in a digital age, or are we too hardwired for instant gratification?
5. Alice’s answer to the question of what she used to do—“run, dive, pitch a tent, bake bread, build bonfires”—is much at odds with what she does now—“make lunches, suggest to family they are capable of making better choices; alert children to BO.” Why is it that Alice, in William’s words, insists on keeping herself from the things she loves? How does she go about reclaiming these pieces of her former self throughout the novel, and in what ways do you think she’s transformed by the end?
6. Alice struggles with crossing the threshold into her tipping point year, when she will turn the same age her mother was when she died. She sees this as having to say goodbye; as facing the fact that her mother will never age, never meet William, never watch Zoe and Peter grow. When, if ever, does she begin to perceive this milestone as not so much leaving something behind, but moving into a new future?
7. At one point, Alice recognizes that she “can be overbearing and intense” when it comes to parenting. In what ways do you think her relationships with Zoe and Peter have been affected by her mother’s untimely death? How does Alice’s realization that she has more than just her children enable her to take responsibility for her own life?
8. Much of the novel deals with Alice’s feelings of displacement, of wandering off the trail and trying to find the lamppost. But whenever she strays, William is always the one to remain on course and bring her back home. Why do you think that in an attempt to save their marriage, he finds it necessary to search for Alice behind a guise and not “in real life?”
9. A principal theme of the novel deals with relationships between mothers and daughters, particularly between Alice and her mother, Zoe, Bunny and the Mumble Bumbles. What do the Mumble Bumbles teach Alice about what being a parent means and how does this uniquely constituted group function in her life in general? Did you detect any instances in which Alice was invited to assume the role of a daughter, and how does she apply the lessons learned therein to her relationship with Zoe?
10. How does Gideon use humor to address the challenges inherent in love, marriage, parenthood, friendship and life?
11. Alice admits that she hopes for a richer life with William—“rich in the ability to feel things as they’re happening, to not constantly be thinking of the next thing.” Do you think she’s achieved this after all?
Posted May 29, 2012
Oh, I absolutely adored Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon! It's clever, warm, witty, charming, funny, quirky, thoughtful, entertaining - did I say clever? And just - well - just a really good read!
Alice Buckle has been happily married for over twenty years, but lately finds herself wondering about many things - her children, her health, her job and more, but most notably her relationship with her husband. They seem to be drifting apart. Or is it just settling into mid life together?
"I know roommate is a taboo word, but here's a thought: what if being roommates is the natural stage of the middle part of marriage? What if that's the way it supposed to be? The only way we can be while getting through the long, hard slog of raising kids and trying to save money for retirement and coming to terms with the fact that there is no such thing as retirement anymore and we'll be working until the day we die?"
When the opportunity to make $1000 participating in an online relationship survey appears in her inbox, Alice decides to participate. For anonymity's sake, she is labeled as Wife 22 and paired with Researcher 101.
Gideon utilizes many different methods to tell Alice's story. Google search results, Twitter and Facebook postings, emails and the answers to the survey - without the questions. (Now they are listed in the back of the book. I thought about flipping back and forth but found it more fun to discern from the answer what the question might have been.) As Alice continues the survey, the professional lines between herself and Researcher 101 become blurred and Alice has to make a choice about the direction she wants her life to go....
Ahh, where to start? I loved Alice Buckle - the way her mind worked, her actions, her insecurities, her failures, her successes and more. She just seemed to be such a 'real' person. Gideon's cast of supporting characters is no less captivating. They're all equally well drawn, but Peter, her twelve year old son, was a stand out for me.
Employing the online excerpts was a clever way to expand on Alice's story. Gideon is a very funny woman - I found myself laughing out loud many times. And stopping to think many times as well - Wife 22 explores married life with a keen eye.
Highly recommended - I predict this one showing up on lots of summer reading lists.
38 out of 39 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 29, 2012
I read this book looking for a fun read. And that is what I got! You won't be disappointed.
It is a story of a family, specifically the wife, Alice. After being married for so long she and her husband are seemingly drifting apart. And she is questioning all her choices.
There is a little mystery woven into the story that only adds to Alice's dilemma.
Looking for a relaxing read that will keep you engaged? This is it!
22 out of 24 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 4, 2012
I found this book in the USA Today as a must read for summer. I was looking for something different for a quick read. What a great surprise this book was. The characters were real life people, I could relate to. The plot was something most of us experience after several years of marrige. It made me think back on my life, how I met my husband, how I want my kids to grow up and how I love my life through good and bad. It was super and I will recommend it to my friends looking for a beach read.
8 out of 10 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 3, 2012
I was lucky to receive an early copy of Wife 22 from Random House and I really enjoyed it! Alice has a lot going on as she nears the age of her mother when she passed away. Her husband is having a little bit of a mid-life crisis at work, she is not feeling like her marriage is so great anymore, her daughter and son are getting older and both have their own issues (or are they issues that Alice just thinks they have), and then she decides to join a research survey about marriage. This is when things get a little more complicated. There is so much humor in this book, but there also a lot of truth and so much that women can relate to, both younger and older than Alice's character. Honestly Alice annoyed me a little bit now and then because she was being so negative and not looking at all the wonderful things about her life, but she redeems herself in the end I guess you could say. This is a quick read and one that many can identify with!
6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 16, 2012
Wife 22 is a fun and unique story about a wife, Alice Buckle, and her family and their life in the 21st century. Although I didn’t love this book, I didn’t completely dislike it either. My biggest issue was the fact that the answers to the survey questions were given in the chapters, but the actual questions were in the back of the book. It was very frustrating to have to keep flipping to the end to see what question she was answering. If this were an e-book, I would’ve probably given up. Why not just put the questions with the answers together? Another issue I had was that I just couldn’t connect with the main character, Alice. Although I’m around the same age, married and have teenage kids, I just couldn’t relate to or accept her character. There were several times I just wanted to jump in and give her shake and say ‘What are you doing?’ I found Alice to be a weak and dull character. The story revolves around an online marriage survey that Alice agrees to participate in. The questions relate to her personal life, married life and family. Alice was a writer, and most of her answers read like a script, very descriptive. I enjoyed the questions; they even had me thinking about my own life, and caused several conversations with my husband. That’s partly why I didn’t understand how they had the reverse effect on Alice and her husband. I wanted her to be more assertive and wanting to rekindle her marriage, especially after reading some of her answers to the questions. Instead of focusing on her marriage, she started up a flirty, yet friendly, anonymous relationship with the survey researcher. I just can’t help it, it drove me crazy. I guess I just have a strong opinion of marriage. As for her children – well, Alice was convinced that her son is gay, but he just doesn’t know it yet. She wants to be supportive of him, so she’s convinced herself of it, and discusses it with everyone. She also thinks her daughter has an eating disorder, so she just sits back and watches her and waits for any symptoms. Having kids of my own, I know how the drama and problems with kids change daily, but I felt that she (Alice) was just creating them on her own. Again, I just couldn’t relate to the issues she was bringing on. What I did like was the writing and format. I enjoyed the facebook posts and google searches. I thought this was unique and relevant to today’s way of life. The ending was okay, but lacking. It didn’t ‘WOW!’ me, like I was hoping. Overall, it was a fun and quick read, but because of my own personal values and way of life, I found it rather disappointing. I would NOT recommend this to be read as an e-book. If you like chick-lit and your open-minded when it comes to family and marriage, you would probably enjoy this. It's a quick and easy 'beach read'
3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 9, 2012
Posted June 3, 2012
I really enjoyed this book. I did have it figured out before I got to the end, but that was ok. Sometimes getting there is half the fun. It was an easy read that almost all 40+ women can relate to.
2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 8, 2012
Posted June 20, 2012
Loved it! Got the flu and was too sick to get to the library so I purchased it for the ipad. It was such a lovely way of recuperating, although now that I finished it I feel bereft. I enjoyed getting to know Alice so much I feel as if we are chums and she had to go away :)
Also loved the writing style and the way Gideon used techonolgy text to represent the situation.
1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 11, 2012
This novel is written in an interesting manner. It is quirky and fun. I was totally unprepared for the ending. It blew me away.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 2, 2012
Not a fan of this book. It will keep your interest. I finished it in one night. I found the whole FB, cell phone communications annoying. The marriage questions were good ones. I just felt let down and sad after reading the book.
1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 17, 2014
Posted July 15, 2014
Posted August 27, 2014
Posted July 2, 2014
Picked this book up at the grocery store for 2.50 and it was worth that. 11? Probably not. Fast read, yet odd formatting inn
Some parts. May be hard for some readers to understand. Overall fairly original yet completely predictable.
Posted August 15, 2014
Posted May 6, 2014
I really enjoyed this book. It was fast paced and immediately captured my attention. the book centers around a middle-aged woman who 'accidentally' participates in an online survey. Every few days, more questions arrive via email, forcing her to evaluate her life, her relationships and the direction she is headed. It's a great tool to evaluate one's own life! this would be a great summer read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 30, 2013
Posted August 22, 2013
I got to page 150 and gave up. To me it didn't go anywhere. I got sick of reading emails and felt I knew where it was all going. I love to read and hate to waste my time on book that cannot hod my interest.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 26, 2013
I loved this book; funny, witty , romantic, very clever and modern. A good story line , one close what I have been through. A good read!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.