Recently, a friend half-jokingly accused me of being a Stepford Wife. Through my merry gales of laughter, I assured her that if she thinks that about me, she has not read Ira Levin’s chilling 1972 novel. My husband was equally amused, as I bear no resemblance, either in physical proportions or housekeeping zeal, to the women of that eerily quiet, creepily clean little town.
The Stepford Wives is a short, one-sitting novel, so if your book group likes creepy stuff, sci-fi, dystopian fiction, or is just plain lazy, this slim volume might be a smart choice. Then again, if your group is ambitious, this short work could be read in conjunction with another title, or as an excuse to view the entertaining 1975 film with Katherine Ross. Ross is a marginal actress, but easy on the eyes (please contemplate that casting choice as you eat your popcorn). And since you may be wondering: the 2004 Nicole Kidman rendition is best shunned.
Peter Straub argues, in the introduction to the 2002 Perennial edition of the book, that Levin – who also penned Rosemary’s Baby – was slyly poking fun at the excesses of the thriller genre. I read it purely for recreational man-bashing, so I admit I was not aware of that nuance. But I did marvel at how Levin was able to subtly build tension with such spare, low-key prose. Bit by bit, the inexplicably quiet suburban paradise starts to scream, but Joanna Eberhart, the bewildered newcomer to town, is the only one attuned to the pitch.
I think this book is worth picking up because of how firmly the term “Stepford Wife” is lodged in our consciousness. And why not make a day of it and watch Citizen Kane so you will understand why you shriek, “Rosebud!” when you are sick in bed and feeling sorry for yourself? Wait, everyone does that, right?
The friend who leveled the aforementioned accusation said that what got to her about the story (she had seen the film so she knew the gist) was the eerie, sickening feeling you have when you sense something is wrong, but no one else seems troubled. And when you try to articulate what is amiss, people think you are loco. I then implored her to look deep, deep into the shallows of my empty doll-eyes and I sweetly said, “Oh, you are just being paranoid.”