Archive for the ‘Ira Levin’ Category

The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin ~ 1972. This edition: Fawcett Crest, 1973. Paperback. 191 pages.

Score a great big point for cultural saturation for this one.

Even those of us who haven’t read Ira Levin’s original novel or watched the 1975 (horror) and 2004 (dramatic comedy) movie versions have a darned good idea of what calling someone a “Stepford Wife” is all about: a scornful put-down right up there with “Little-Suzy-Homemaker” and “June Cleaver”, referring to the unemancipated females who are letting down The Sisterhood by really caring if their floors are glossy and their toilets really clean.

The Stepford Wives is a slight novel, despite its broad fame and its description on the back cover of my edition as a “chiller [with a] clincher of such hard-edged horror as to make his Rosemary’s Baby seem a drawing room comedy” – at least according to Mary Ellin Barrett of Cosmopolitan.

I do vaguely remember reading Rosemary’s Baby way back in the 1970s – I had a school friend who was into “horror” novels and she pressed it upon me – but I must say that the experience was underwhelming. And despite the promise of hard-edged horror from that long-ago Cosmo reviewer, I must say that this one is, on a superficial level, much the same.

After my reading of The Stepford Wives, as I shuddered gently at its implications, I mused that perhaps a tandem reading of the book might be a revealing conversation starter with your nearest and dearest.

Your partner’s response might well be worth noting, particularly if you are the wife in the equation. Will your spouse secretly envy the husbands of Stepford their sudden acquisition of sexually compliant, traditionally shapely, sweet-smelling underlings who don’t mess around with time-wasting outside interests? Who, incidentally, make the very best coffee?

Okay, backing up a bit to run ever-so-briefly over the plot, just in case any of my fellow readers have missed the gist of  this tale.

Joanna Eberhart, her husband Walter, and their two young children have just moved to the pleasant suburb of Stepford, and all are glad to be out of the ever-more-dirty-and-dangerous big city.

Joanna, self-proclaimed Women’s Liberationist and semi-professional photographer, admittedly hasn’t been too impressed by her first experiences with her polite but dull hausfrau neighbour ladies, but she hopes to find some like-minded, “liberated” friends in the area. And so she does, a couple of new arrivals like herself. They shake their heads over the boring house-proudness of their Stepford peers, and speculate on why all of the other women are so unambitious, so boringly polite, so compliant to their husbands’ smallest whims. Could it be something in the water? How about in that wonderful coffee? Are the ladies of Stepford being quietly drugged?

Turns out the truth is a mite more sinister.

Disclosure:

There isn’t a happy ending.

I think The Stepford Wives truly deserves its status as a classic of pop culture. It’s certainly representative of its time, and, for all its slightness, it’s a fantastic sleeper of a pro-feminist piece of literature. Even the most loving of the novel’s “enlightened” husbands eventually show their baser natures, much to my dismay. (I had highish hopes for at least a few of them. Nope. Ira Levin doesn’t pull any punches: all the Stepford men are evil.)

Final thoughts:

If you bump into it in your travels, you should read it, if only to clarify the basis for the pop culture “Stepford Wife” references all around us.

On the plus side, it’s a lightning fast read, a couple of hours at the most.

It’s also quite funny. Levin strikes an amusingly satirical note here, alongside his darker imaginings.

This one gets a shiny gold-plated star. Or, quantified in numbers, a rating of 7/10 from me.

Oh! One last thing. You, dear reader, if you make it through this novel, will never feel quite comfortable with a certain Disneyland attraction again…

 

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