I remember the first time I watched The Stepford Wives ( I didn’t read the book until my teens) ,I remember being really angry and scared of those husbands. I was little, and it was all so terrifying seeing men controlling women like that and turning them into robots. I can laugh now, because I didn’t know it was satire and I didn’t know that I would be dealing with some men who probably find the idea of a Stepford Wife appealing. So imagine my surprise when I started reading The Husbands and noticing that it was a reverse of the Stepford Wives and thinking to myself, “Ya know? That doesn’t sound half bad, now does it.” I mostly kid.
We follow Nora Spangler, a mother of one, expecting a second, trying to get partner this year at work. The things that are standing in her way? Motherhood, being a wife, and being a woman. Constantly she’s trying to remember when picture day is, trying to do the laundry, get dinner on the table, not be too cranky with her husband for having drinks with colleagues when she needed him home to take care of their child so she could continue working on her billable hours. For some, the entire first half of the book might be over the top. They really hammer home how busy Nora is and how much her husband seems clueless, barely helping, but is self congratulatory for doing things in his own house like take out the trash. This is just as much of a satire as the inspiration, but it’s also pretty real for me. My husband now works from home, but there was a time where he was commuting several hours a day and parenting three kids under 4 was my job on top of my actual job, along with being the dishwasher, the laundry lady and every single job you could possibly imagine. Obviously, I wouldn’t be married to a jerk, so he did his part on the weekends or after he got home after 8 most nights…but we would both be lying if we weren’t more than a little resentful of each other in our children’s early days. He wanted to relax after a nightmarish commute, I wanted to not be responsible for anything ever again. Luckily, I didn’t have to turn him into a drone of himself ,we were able to do it the old fashioned way–by making a list of all of our responsibilities and having a draft for who would do what, losing the list and just being good partners to each other and accepting that it’s never going to be completely 50/50 but at least we would both pick up the pieces of our very tired lives and not expect perfection. Nora’s experience was a little different than ours.
Nora and her husband check out a house in a desirable community. Nora notices almost immediately that this seems like a fairy tale. All the women have high stress, high powered positions but seemingly are able to have that oft teased utopian dream of a work/life balance. They’re able to have this because each of the women’s husbands cooks, cleans, take care of the kids, remembers to grocery shop, can drop everything to buy supplies for a forgotten last minute school project, and because of that, the women can thrive at work and at home. You pretty much know what’s going on. Nora, however, doesn’t. She’s been hired by several of the women to help determine the cause of the fire at one of their homes. The fire claimed one woman’s husband. As she begins to investigate to see if there’s any type of suit she can file to help Penny recoup damages, things begin to unravel…but not before Nora and her husband begin a very special couples’ counseling.
I’ll stop there.
The book was a fun read. It’s also a depressing read because all the pressure we put on ourselves, the pressure society puts on us and the way it feels like men get some free passes that we just don’t have. This is overly simplified obviously, but just reading the book conjured up all kinds of memories for me. I was told as I was dragging three small children everywhere with me, that I would “miss these days”. I was passed up for the AP Lit job because I was busy having a baby the week the course was being offered in my area and they wouldn’t take my word for the fact that I would take it the following month elsewhere (because “I would be too busy with the second baby” eye roll). It’s been 13 years and the person who got to go instead of me is younger than me, so my chances of being able to teach that course are pretty much zero. I can honestly tell you, I don’t miss those days at all. My children are now almost all in their teens. I get to sleep through the night, I have energy for sex and time to read for fun. I even get time to grade papers instead of having to go into work an hour early every day. Long story short, I maybe enjoyed this book because I could relate to the character of Nora on a cellular level. I’m no attorney, but I know what it’s like to be a tired mom who might’ve been tempted at one time to turn my husband into my personal servant…he’s just lucky I didn’t know how. Just kidding.