Monday, January 11, 2016

The Town the MRA Dreams of: Stepford Wives review

As a reminder, in this series I'm reviewing The Stepford Wives, in 20-30 pages chunks.

This second installment is later than I meant it to be (first installment is here, from back in November 2015).  But better late than never!

PP 23-25

After a white space, we join Joanna and Walter Eberhadt, our protagonists, as they set out with their two adorable children to explore the town of Stepford -- which, you'll remember from the review of pages 1-22, they have just moved into.

They drive, of course.  This is MURICA.  And they drive in a station wagon, because this is MURICA in the 1970s. (The station wagon has power windows, apparently a big deal.) They visit the town itself, which has Colonial architecture, and then leave the town to shop at the mall out on the highway.  And they eat at McDonalds. Yep, this is MURICA.

There's also a mention of the schools, and that a "community pool" is being built.

Everyone sings as they drive -- no tiny TVs in the car, or even a radio, apparently.

On the way home, they pass by the Men's Association house; for a description, we just get that it's "big." And then the station wagon overtakes a truck, hauling "crates," which turns into the Men's Association driveway.

We're also told that the man running the Men's Association is very rich. Apparently when you get rich enough, you can build your own women.

It occurs to me that The Stepford Wives is an MRA wet-dream.

It also occurs to me, in this scene, that Walter Ebrhadt is not being portrayed as a villain -- what with singing silly songs with his kids in the car -- and yet (spoilers) later in the book we're meant to assume he knew what Stepford was all along; that he moved here explicitly to Stepford-wife his wife.

Nor is Joanne being portrayed as an evil shrew.  I mean, except for the fact that she's a feminist and she has her own (tiny, part-time) career, and she expects Walter to help with the dishes from time to time.

I guess if you're a proto-MRA in the 1970s, that sort of behavior merits death and replacement with a sexy robot?

As the Eberhardts pass by the Men's Association house, we get some foreshadowing, from little Pete:

“Boy, they’ve got a great big fence!” Pete said. “Like in Hogan’s Heroes!” “To keep women out,” Joanna said, looking ahead, a hand to the rim of her sunglasses. Walter smiled. “Really?” Pete asked. “Is that what it’s for?” 

No one answers little Pete. What is the fence for? Walter's smile says Wouldn't you like to know?

PP 25-29

Another white space, and now Joanne is home alone, while Walter makes (at least so far as Joanne knows) his first visit to the Men's Association. As a point of principle, Joanne refuses to do housework while he's gone.  Instead, she works on her photography. (Did you forget that she's a photographer?  Don't worry, Levin will forget this as well in not too many pages.)

She spends a page or two messing with her contact sheets, while Levin establishes that he knows a little something about how photographers work; then she drinks a vodka and tonic (bleh) and then she checks on the kids -- a nice detail here, about Joanna making sure little Pete is still breathing. Levin knows his mom behavior.

Then she goes to bed, fretting a little about Walter -- will he get drunk at this meeting? What if he kills himself, driving home drunk? Again, a nice touch where Joanna wonders if the crates in the truck were full of liquor, and then observes that they were too big for that.

Then she falls asleep -- only to be awakened by the bed shaking.  Walter!  Really!  Do that it the shower like a normal man!

I think this scene is supposed to show that Walter doesn't like having sex with Joanna. Though Walter says he's got a different reason.

“You could have,” she said. “Woke me. I wouldn’t have minded.” He didn’t say anything. “Gee whiz, you don’t have to do that,” she said. “I just didn’t want to wake you,” he said. “You were sound asleep.” 

Then Joanne offers to have sex with him, and it's "their best time ever."

This fails to rouse Joanna's suspicions, though. Also, as a side note, I love Joanne's little "Gee whiz" there. What a shrew.

Not very adroitly, Joanna quizzes him about what went on at the Men's Association meeting.  He says poker.  She asks who else was there, and makes another comment about how women should be allowed in. (Feminist shrew!) Walter says he doesn't want to be an "activist," at least not this soon.

Joanna accepts this.  Isn't that sweet?  She trusts him.

pp 30-36

Another white space, and then we open on Joanna doing -- well, finally! -- housework.

Laundry, to be specific.  But she's interrupted by a phone call, which turns out to be the woman who will be her first friend in Stepford, Bobbie, who has a "happy, raspy voice," and is also a feminist. SHe's also, as Joanna finds out when Bobbie comes over for coffee, short and heavy-bottomed, and Jewish. She wears jeans and sweatshirts, and is no more interested in doing housework than Joanna is.

They dish on the other women in town, who spend all their time cleaning their houses. "Scrub, scrub, scrub, wax, wax, wax," Bobbie says. (Waxing floors, obviously.  Get your mind outta the gutter.)

It is revealed that both women belong to NOW.  Alors!

They discuss ways to enlighten and activate the town's women.  As Bobbie puts it:

“We ought to try at least. Let’s talk to these hausfraus; there must be some of them who resent the situation a little. What do you say? Wouldn’t it be great if we could get a group together— maybe even a NOW chapter eventually—and give that Men’s Association a good shaking-up? Dave and Walter are kidding themselves; it’s not going to change unless it’s forced to change; fat-cat organizations never do. What do you say, Joanna?"

Then we seque into Joanna trying to persuade her neighbor, Carol (she of the big purple breasts), into attending a feminist discussion group.  Carol, during this conversation, is cleaning busily, not to say obsessively -- she's washing walls, at one point.  (WTF? Who washes walls?)

And she's not interested. She's much too busy, and anyway, talking about politics is really something her husband is more equipped to do.

Over the next several pages, we see Joanna talking to about 20 women, all of whom -- like Carol -- are busy doing housework, and all of whom give her the same answer. Nope, not interested, far too busy.

Bobbie reports the same experience, but insists they keep trying.

No luck. No woman in Stepford is interested in feminism.

Bobbie declares that this is the "town that time forgot," and adds that something "fishy" is going on.

Anviliscious foreshadowing.

We're only 36 pages into the book, but we've already established quite a lot, and we've got the plot moving.  The montage of Wives doing their housework and refusing to be enlightened is well done. So far, nice work, Levin.

No comments: