A wonderfully entertaining look at society’s ambivalent attitudes about wives.
Canadian journalist Kingston points out that wife, not hooker, is the oldest profession, but the idea of what constitutes a wife is full of contradictions and ambiguities, at least in Western society. Drawing on a wealth of material garnered from movies, television, books, newspapers, and magazines, she looks at the many facets of wifedom: wife-to-be, working wife, abused wife, trophy wife, power wife, ex-wife. The perpetuation by the “wedding industrial complex” of the myth of the modern bride as fairy-tale heroine, the romanticizing of domesticity by the media in the 1990s (think Martha Stewart), the justifications for spousal-abuse retaliation, the economic value of a wife, the financial repercussions of divorce—all are explored with a host of examples, mostly from pop culture, but also from interviews with wives, ex-wives, and other experts. A chapter on ex-wives shows us the calculated and joyous revenge of the jilted wives in Olivia Goldsmith’s The First Wives Club, the wrath of Medea, and the real-life rage of Betty Broderick, a middle-aged American woman who, in 1989, shot her ex-husband and his new young wife as they lay sleeping. This mix is typical of Kingston’s approach. “Unwives,” as she dubs unattached women, also get her attention, with Sex and the City providing a fantasy view and interviews with real women showing another side. Well-padded with stories about famous and infamous wives, including Princess Diana, Hillary Clinton, Lorena Bobbit, Nicole Brown Simpson, and a slew of heroines from novels and TV sitcoms, the book is pleasantly amusing, wonderfully readable, and sometimes thought-provoking. Not surprisingly, Kingston concludes that there is no singular meaning of wife, but the trip she takes getting to that conclusion is definitely a diverting one.
Ranks low in solid analysis but high in anecdotal evidence.