I picked up this little gem, on my first trip to a library that I’ve recently joined. Given that I have a TBR list a mile long I thought this would be the perfect book to dip into and I could also join in on Bibliofreak’s November Novella Challenge.
I don’t often read books that I’ve already seen as movies but I was intrigued to see what The Stepford Wives would be like in writing, because in film is so notorious now as to be clichéd. Reading Ira Levin’s book I felt that at the time it must have been quite a curious read – original and with strong opinions about what (some) men really want in a woman (whether they admit it or not).
At the beginning of the book, lead character Joanna Eberhart a liberal-minded photographer moves to Stepford with her husband and two children. Joanna is struck by how odd the behaviour of the women in Stepford is from the outset. She finds it hard to talk to them, and initially believes they are giving her the cold-shoulder, and it seems that they have no time for friendship because they have an obsession for cleaning and keeping home. She finds a close friend in another recent arrival – the gutsy Bobbie, but when she turns into just another ‘hausfrau’, her suspicions that something unsavoury is going on in Stepford are confirmed.
The first thing that I noticed about this novel was that it felt very modern. Levin’s writing sets the scene while being simple and to the point, and his lead character Joanna is a very believable female with a strong attitude. I immediately liked her and felt genuine concern about whether she would become a zombie-wife as well as the others. I think this is quite an achievement for a man writing in 1975. I suppose women’s lib was a hot topic at this time so this would undoubtably have influenced Levin but I still find it to be a strikingly deft commentary on women’s roles. According to the director’s note in the front of the book, there was feminist backlash against the book. I find this bizarre to say the least given that it is essentially a critique of the shampoo-ad American plastic-housewife role. It’s also worth noting that Levin opens the novel with a Simone de Beauvoir quotation.
After reading on the jacket that Levin wrote Rosemary’s Baby (of which I have only seen the film), I kept seeing similarities in the female characters, trapped by rather disturbing circumstances, and in the clever way in which Levin builds suspense with a dark-creeping certainly that something very bad is happening under the surface. Even if you’ve seen either of the Stepford Wives films, the book is definitely worth a read. It’s an engrossing story with brilliantly written characters which also has the added benefit of having a bit of a camp storyline.