At Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Stellar Plains, New Jersey, not much seems out of the ordinary one long winter. Rob and Dory Lang—married English teachers—manage to keep the spark alive in and out of the bedroom after 20 years of marriage. Their 16-year-old daughter Willa spends most of her time as an avatar online, as most teens in their community tend to do. The principal is having a quiet affair with the beautiful—yet hardly monogamous—guidance counselor. Everything remains relatively routine—until the arrival of the new drama teacher. And it is with her decision to put on the classic Aristophanes play Lysistrata (in which the women of Greece go on a sex strike in order to stop a war) that everything in Stellar Plains changes.

In Meg Wolitzer’s The Uncoupling, the introduction of a classical text where women deny men sexual pleasure sets in motion a “spell” erasing all desire from the local townswomen (including the teens). In this fascinating scenario, Wolitzer displays what happens to couples and their sex lives as this mystic force takes hold of the once relatively happy town. We watch as the Langs’ marriage turns from one of affection into bitterness, where sex is replaced by food and The Cumfy (a take on the Snuggie). We watch as Willa—who previously had her first sexual experience with the theater teacher’s son—is gripped with fear that a long-distance relationship in college will never survive. We watch the principal’s wife enter the picture, shaming the guidance counselor. All across town, the spell weaves its way into the bedrooms and hearts of women.

Wolitzer—perhaps best known for her novel The Ten Year Nap—masterfully charts the peaks and falls of desire that naturally come with age. Brutally honest, and incredibly surreal, Wolitzer is able to perfectly tap into the female psyche by displaying to male and female readers alike what actually happens when the lights go off and the covers are turned down.

 

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