London: Superbly written, wry yet compassionate, Meg Wolitzer`s ‘The Uncoupling’ is uncommonly good.
In a pleasant if unexciting New Jersey suburb, the unconventional new drama teacher at Eleanor Roosevelt High School announces that the school play will be ‘Lysistrata.’ Aristophanes` comedy about one woman`s campaign to end the Peloponnesian War by commanding all the women of Greece to withhold sex until the men stop fighting is a singularly amusing choice. Though it is bawdy and thus arguably inappropriate for a young adult crowd, its strong female cast makes it ideal for a typical drama program in which the girls far outnumber the boys.
But something takes hold of the Stellar Plains community as rehearsals start.
All the women — or at least all the heterosexual women — completely lose interest in sex. It`s a supernatural spell, wafting into their lives on a cold wind, and none of them can account for their sudden, disturbing indifference.
Though ‘The Uncoupling’ follows a number of women affected, it is Dory Lang, a 40-something English teacher whose marriage had a vibrant sex life until now, who forms the novel`s emotional core. Witnessing Dory move from confusion to frustration and then resignation while her husband attempts every infomercial-endorsed method to regain their sexual vitality — even as she comes to terms with her teenage daughter`s sexual awakening — is touching and achingly resonant. That`s not to say the experiences of other female characters aren`t equally profound, especially in Wolitzer`s descriptions of the reactions of two different teenage girls to their first sexual experiences.
Though the veracity of the story becomes slightly shaky halfway through, as if it cannot withstand the paranormal activity at play, the real pull of ‘The Uncoupling’ is the breadth and depth of female emotion and sexual expression, dazzlingly rendered in Wolitzer`s crisp prose.