The Not Wives

The Not Wives

by Carley Moore


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Set in Occupy-era New York City, this novel follows sex-positive awakening and burgeoning political resistance in the lives of three women: "A provocative and well-told story about chosen community, friendship, and human frailty” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review).

The Not Wives traces the lives of three women as they navigate the Occupy Wall Street movement and each other. Stevie is a nontenured professor and recently divorced single mom; her best friend Mel is a bartender, torn between her long-term girlfriend and her desire to explore polyamory; and Johanna is a homeless teenager trying to find her way in the world, who bears shared witness to a tragedy that interlaces her life with Stevie’s.

In the midst of economic collapse and class conflict, late-night hookups and long-suffering exes, the three characters piece together a new American identity founded on resistance—against the looming shadow of financial precarity, the gentrification of New York, and the traditional role of wife.

“Audacious and exhilarating in its candor, The Not Wives captures the heady mix of pleasures and agonies necessary to turn one’s life in a new, truer direction. Carley Moore attends to the complexities of urban living and activism with riveting clarity.” —Idra Novey, author of Those Who Knew

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781936932689
Publisher: Feminist Press at CUNY, The
Publication date: 09/10/2019
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 1,033,938
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Carley Moore is an essayist, novelist, and poet. She is the author of two books, the essay collection 16 Pills (Tinderbox Editions 2018) and the young adult novel The Stalker Chronicles (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux 2012). Her work has appeared in The American Poetry Review, Brainchild, The Brooklyn Rail, The Establishment, GUTS, The Journal of Popular Culture, The Nervous Breakdown, Public Books, and VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. She is a Clinical Professor of Writing and Contemporary Culture and Creative Production in the Global Liberal Studies Program at New York University and a Senior Associate at Bard College’s Institute for Writing and Thinking.

Read an Excerpt

The Bride

In my nightmare, Sasha is in the sliding car in front of me on the Wonder Wheel. I watch her scream and squeal, until the metal girder snaps off and she falls, cage and all.

In my nightmare, I lose her on the subway. I have her hand and then suddenly I don’t. The A train doors slide shut and I shuttle away from her.

In my nightmare, we are homeless and living in a dumpster.

In my nightmare, I have two children, and we live in an apocalyptic high rise on the edge of a teeming sea. They fall into an empty elevator shaft. Down into nothing I can see. Down into dust. Down into the end of the dream.

In my nightmare, all of the men are turning away from me, toward other women and other rooms.

In my nightmare, I am not gay enough and the lesbians kick me out of the Dyke March.

In my nightmare, I am naked in a pool. I am thirteen and everyone is pointing at my few pubic hairs and budding breasts. I can’t remember how I forgot my bathing suit. You stupid, stupid girl.

In my nightmare, my father pounds on tables and grabs my brother by the neck.

In my nightmare, I do nothing.

In my nightmare, I am underwater. I can breathe. I have gills like a fish.

In my nightmare, my gills stop working. I am too deep to make it back up to the top.

In my nightmare, there are guns lying around on tables and in the streets. They pick them up. They shoot them.

In my nightmare, there are crowds that smother us. Protests gone wrong. Police on horses that trample small bodies. Stampeding populations. Streams of refugees begging to get in and out.

In my nightmare, there is a border guard. We never have the right papers.

In my nightmare, I am my junkie uncle. I die on a bench in Golden Gate park.

In my nightmare, my brother drives his SUV into a wall. His blood alcohol level is .225.

In my nightmare, I fall and fall and fall and fall. There is no bottom to it, no floor to catch me, no dirt to break me in half or rattle my bones awake.

My clock radio, set to NPR, turned on. Clipped British voice of the BBC News Hour. We’ve seen global protests this year unlike anything since 1968—Mohamed Bouazizi sets himself aflame, Tahrir Square topples Mubarak, austerity protests in Greece and Italy, Chilean students march against privatized universities, Los Indignados clashing with riot police in Puerta del Sol, and most recently, looting in London after the police shooting of Mark Duggan.

I turned off the radio and looked out the window. Across the park, gleaming cubes of glass stacked on top of one another, a crane, and a make-shift elevator. Construction workers standing on red metals beams, suspended above the park, their sure steps across a bright blue sky. More condos I could never live in.

I left the apartment to meet Mel in the fountain. We didn’t speak. Not yet. It was too hot. My phone said 98 degrees. I felt like a hungover lizard on a hot rock. I could barely flick my tongue. She nodded and I nodded back. We stepped into the icy cold water and sat on the steps.

“Rough night?” she asked, squinting at my face. Cool enough now to talk.

“Maybe I fucked him because he’d been shot six times,” I confessed. She knew I’d been on a date.

“Jesus, was it any good?” She had on a long loose black tank dress, with the straps of a red bra peeking out. I admired how casually sexy she always looked.

“Mediocre. He couldn’t stay hard. I was kinda checked out.”

“Awww, boner problems.”

“He had a limp too, I guess from the shooting and it made me want to take care of him.”

“With your pussy?”


“You’ve always had a soft spot for losers.”

“I identify with them, and I don’t have to try very hard.”

There were ten-year-old boys running around the circular steps shooting each other with water guns, five-year-old girls in tutu bathing suits on their bellies in the shallow water, two homeless punk teenagers with a pit bull on a rope sprawled out on the fountain steps, and the steady camera work of tourists from all over the world.

“How’s your chef?”

“He’s so hot, I want to lick him,” Mel said. “It’s dangerous.”

I wiped the sweat from my upper lip and splashed water from the fountain onto my hair. The dog from the punk teenagers wandered over to us and licked the back of Mel’s calf. We both pet her. She was white with black spots on her back and around her eye.

“You’re like a little cow dog,” I cooed.

“Do you want to come live with me?” Mel scratched behind her ears.

“He’s the sweetest dog.” The girl of the couple walked over to us. She had on cut-off Carhart pants and a grubby neon pink tank top. Her hair was dirty blonde, matted, and clumped in parts and braided in others. She smelled like Dead Heads and wet hay.

“What’s her name?” Mel asked.

“Tipsy,” the girl said. “You can’t see it unless she walks, but one of her legs is shorter than the rest and it makes her look a little drunk.”

The dog kept at the salty palm of my hand.

“Are you guys a couple?” The girl looked back and forth between us. We got that a lot. We’d had one night together in college, a drunken but fun accident that we processed for a couple of weeks, and decided not to repeat.

“Best friends,” we sing-songed. We’d been saying it for years.

“You live around here?” the girl asked, shielding her eyes from the sun. There was no getting rid of her.

“Yeah, I teach at Manhattan University,” I said, waving in the direction of the buildings that lined the park. I didn’t tell her that I lived in a dorm. It was always hard to explain. People sometimes thought I had a room like a student or that I was a dorm mother.

“I live in Brooklyn.” Mel gave me that look, like, do we know this person?

“I’m gonna go there some day. To study social work.”

“It’s a good school, but too expensive,” I offered. I thought of my students who’d left school in the last year, because they couldn’t afford the $50,000 a year tuition. There were the ones who stayed too, and got deeper into debt. I had graduate school friends who had defaulted on their student loans and were now mired in bad credit and harassing phone calls. I dreamed of defaulting, of channeling my monthly $557 payment toward Sasha’s nonexistent college fund. Instead, I dutifully paid those evil twin bitch aunts, Sallie and Fannie Mae, on the second of every month.

“But everyone wants to go there,” the girl countered.

“Hype. Branding.” I shrugged. I couldn’t get into my own ambivalence about teaching there. I was lucky to have my contract-faculty position and to have avoided the fate of so many of my adjuncting friends, but I still lived paycheck to paycheck. I had believed so fervently in higher education in my twenties and thirties. Lately, I wasn’t so sure.

“You got a dollar?” the girl redirected.

I shook my head. “I didn’t bring my wallet.” It was true.

Mel reached into her tote bag and gave her a crumpled dollar. Tip money.

“Now you can keep petting my dog.”

Her boyfriend, in grubby black jeans and a Dead Kennedys T-shirt, walked over to us, pulled out a flyer out of his back pocket, and handed it to us. I scanned it quickly, The People’s General Assembly! It’s time for the people to meet and to take the bull by the horns! September 17th, Occupy Wall Street.

“It’s time for a revolution,” he said and lay back down on the steps of the fountain.

“The working class is notoriously resistant to revolution,” Mel said, just to be a pain in the ass, I knew.

“This is going to be different,” he said.

“Look!” The girl nudged my knee with the back of her hand and pointed at the horizon of the fountain. Tipsy and Mel looked up too. “A bride!”

“People still get married,” Mel said as if it were a marvel.

The girl rolled on top of her boyfriend. He lifted one of his hands up and slid it into the back pocket of her shorts. She giggled and kissed him and then sprung back up like she was in chaturanga and he was her yoga mat. He growled at her and nipped at her neck. Tipsy barked too, excited or protective? I couldn’t tell. He wrapped his big hand around the back of her neck and kept it there like a collar. She tried to shrug him off, but his hand stayed, locked in place. He looked older than her maybe by ten years. Still handsome, but tired around the eyes.

The bride was a glittery thing on a sunny day, and the tourists trained their phones on her. The new sliver of condos gleamed behind her—the perfect backdrop, like an old print magazine photo shoot. The condos were wedged between the new campus center and an old church. The juxtaposition of old and new was temporary. Soon, I guessed that church would be gone too.

She wore a cream-colored satin flapper dress, vintage or made to look vintage, with a pillbox veiled hat and a matching Mary Jane pump with a big buckle. The groom held her by the waist and beamed. He looked like a hedge fund guy—white, with perfect teeth, a full head of slicked back hair, and a chin cocked permanently up. He always got what he wanted and his latest acquisition was an artsy wife. Should I slip her a note or whisper in her ear, “This, him, it, cannot be the only thing you do.” Maybe this bride already knew that.

I imagined them fucking in front of one of the giant new windows of their condo. They just bought it. They paid in cash. It was all theirs. There was no furniture yet. No curtains. The décor would be her first real job as wife, but that would come later. I stared up at the window and toward a construction worker who was shouting at another worker in Spanish. I squinted until the workers got blurry and the couple became my real-estate porn. I saw her naked, except for her silly pill-box hat, and squatting above his face. Her nipples pink and upturned. His mouth, a perfect O of pleasure, while he ate her out. She reached back and pulled hard on his dick. He gasped with delight.

“September 17. Occupy!” the guy in the Dead Kennedys T-shirt broke my bridal reverie. I looked up. They were leaving the fountain with their dog and backpacks. The girl squinted in the sun at me and I waved goodbye back.

“We’ll be there!” I shouted. I was pissed off about Wall Street, the housing crisis, and student loan debt and I knew that Sasha was with her dad that weekend. Why the hell wouldn’t I go? I thought.

“We will?” asked Mel.

The Wives

The wives were at work. They had jobs in publishing and marketing. One wife was a doctor. Another was a lawyer. The wives were stay-at-home moms. The wives were tired. The wives were so busy and so bored and all at the same time. They worked their co-op shifts and they started co-op nursery schools. The wives were curious about the lives of other wives. The wives did not care about other wives. The wives wanted a different apartment or they wanted new tile in the bathroom. They definitely wanted laundry in the building if they couldn’t have it in the apartment. Some wives wanted to move to Maplewood. The wives complained on the playground—mostly by the sandbox and at the kiddie swings. There was something about the repetitive motion that lulled them into revealing things. The wives had picnics in the park with their children on blankets with cut up fruit. They put sunscreen on everything. They loved an outdoor concert and a glass of rosé! They demanded brunch! The wives were surprisingly fit, although most of them felt fat. Some wives were fifteen to twenty pounds overweight. The wives had their dreams. The wives were writing it all down—in notebooks or on the backs of receipts. A lot of the wives were writers who didn’t make any money or teachers who made a little bit of money. Some of the wives were rich—they had trust funds or inheritances or parents who gave them down payments and cars and tuition for private elementary schools. The wives had their dreams. The wives loved their husbands, but they had crushes on their therapists or the barista or one of the stay-at-home dads or the artisanal cheese vendor from upstate who they saw at the farmer’s market on Saturdays. Some of the wives were queer and missed their girlfriends. The wives were shy. The wives just couldn’t shut up. The wives were on Buzzfeed or Facebook or Snapchat or whatever. The wives had their own stash of porn; some of it was still on DVDs. It was private. Some wives were worried all of the time—about vaccines and benchmarks and climate change. The wives did yoga and Pilates. It was never enough. The wives wanted another baby. The wives were infertile. The wives did not have babies, but they thought they should. The wives were at home. Some were at bars. They had their suspicions, but they kept them quiet.

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