The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin: Review

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase Stepford Wife, usually referring to a subservient woman with little else than domestic interests. A perfect doll of a wife. Have you given any thought to where that came from? Yes, there was that terribly campy Nicole Kidman movie and before that the original 1975 version, but first came the novella by Ira Levin. I picked the book up on a whim from the library and although I knew ‘the secret’ of the book, I had no idea what I was in for. Holy whoa! It gave me the heebie-jeebies. That Kidman movie in no way did the book justice. The tone is all wrong.

I need to talk about this book in detail. Right now! So, if you haven’t read the book and want to, don’t peek under the break. I will tell you that you should read it. Today. Come back and talk to me about it. It’s short, 123 pages, don’t worry.

In The Stepford Wives, Joanna, Walter and their kids move to Stepford, a perfect little town, or so it seems. When Joanna tries to befriend some of her neighbours, the ladies in particular, she gets the cold shoulder. They’re all too busy cleaning their houses and taking care of their husbands to even go out for a cup of coffee. So much for her plan to start a NOW chapter. The Men’s Club on the other hand is a going concern. The men of the town spend all their free time in their mysterious clubhouse. Joanna seems doomed to loneliness until she meets Bobbie, another recent addition to Stepford. Bobbie is funny and intelligent and just as flummoxed by the Stepford women as Joanna. Together they try to shake Stepford out of its dusty ways, but they have no idea what they’re dealing with.

If you have read the book or know what happens at the end of The Stepford Wives then please continue on…

Let’s discuss.

You know the secret, right? The Stepford wives have been replaced by robots created by their douchebag husbands. I knew that before I even picked up the book, but getting to the ending is an experience. Ira Levin amazed me with his ability to create tension through ordinary experiences. Imagine doing everyday things like making coffee or checking your mail while the whole time your partner, who you trust 100%, is plotting to murder you and replace you with an exact replica and you are totally unaware. That’s what was creepy about the story. Although it’s fantastical, there is a sense of normalcy, like this could be happening. As Joanna starts putting things together, there’s a sense of urgency. Will she be able to get away? She doubts herself. This isn’t the kind of thing that could happen, she thinks. Her doubt is coupled with Walter’s insistence that she is must be losing her mind.

When I finished the book, I read the introduction by Peter Straub and while I agreed with him about many things, I didn’t find the story as funny as he did. Sure, there are funny parts but I was too freaked out by it. It might be that I’m a woman and didn’t see the humour in some of the things he did. This edition is from 2002 and maybe the world is just too different now. I’m sure there are politicians who wouldn’t mind a Stepford wife! You would think that things for women would have changed to such a degree that this book written in 1972 would seem quaint now, but there is still a power struggle. Maybe things are worse because, if you believe Hollywood, women not only need to be beautiful, but not age, have perfect homes and children, and have incredibly successful careers. You must have it all!

I do agree with Straub about the term Stepford wife being misused. The Stepford wives were victims, all were brilliant women with their own dreams. A woman with a desire to be subservient, while not my jam, is a choice (though we could get philosophical here, I won’t for brevity); these women had no choice. The men are being satirized here. What kind of man would want a mindless, housecleaning, s*x-robot in place of their very real flesh and blood wives? These geniuses (creating a hot robot-lady requires genius) spend all their time together at the clubhouse creating these dream machines instead of using their abilities to better the world. At one point, Joanna asks Bobbie’s son what he thinks of his mom now that she’s so changed (Joanna knows there’s something wrong with Bobbie) and he says, “It’s great!” So, these husbands have the mentality of a ten year old basically, only with a desire for big boobs.

I kept wondering about the men. We never see them at the clubhouse. How were they all talked into this scheme? Dale Coba I can understand, he’s a dick, but the others? Walter? He seems to love and support Joanna. I kept wanting him to have been threatened or something, but no. He’s as bad as the rest. Was Joanna’s photography really that big of a deal? What is Levin trying to say? That all men, no matter how seemingly tolerant, really just want a s*x-robot? I hope not!

I want to thank Mr Levin for giving me so much to think about while giving me the creeps. It’s an amazing little book.

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  1. I read this years ago after watching the original movie. I thought it was terrific too!

  2. I liked the original movie but not the remake. Never read the book though. In fact, I'm not sure I even knew it was a book first.

  3. BTW.. I have been called a Stepford Wife numerous times but the other moms I know. Can you say, overachiever??

  4. Think I should add this to the wishlist

  5. I also reread this a couple of years ago . It is freaky. What really got me is that if Walter could be convinced, then just about anyone could. (Couldn't he?)

    It's rightly a cult classic.

  6. Ooops, I peaked at the secret. It does sound creepy, though!

  7. I scrolled FAST so I didn't see any spoilers ;) I haven't read this but I want to now! It's a short one, sounds good for the upcoming read-a-thon!

  8. I'm glad you mentioned this one. I may try to snatch it up for the Readathon.


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