Wife 22

by Melanie Gideon

Wife 22

Hardcover, 380 pages, Ballantine Books, List Price: $26 | purchase

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Book Summary

Baring her soul in an anonymous survey for a marital happiness study, Alice catalogues her stale marriage, unsatisfying job and unfavorable prospects and begins to question virtually every aspect of her life.

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NPR stories about Wife 22

Critics' Lists: Summer 2012

Laughing Matters: Five Funny Books With Substance

Melanie Gideon hits the refresh button on midlife crises with this comedy of manners about an Oakland couple increasingly estranged by electronic media as they approach their 20th anniversary. Bored and vaguely discontented with her life, Gideon's appealing narrator takes part in an online survey about the state of marriage in the 21st century, for which she's dubbed Wife 22. She finds the anonymity liberating — and her assigned researcher alarmingly attractive. Before you know it, she's up

Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: Wife 22

Wife 22

1

April 29

5:05 p.m.

GOOGLE SEARCH "Eyelid Drooping"

About 54,300 results (.14 seconds)

Eyelid Drooping: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia

Eyelid drooping is excessive sagging of the upper eyelid . . . Eyelid drooping can make somebody appear sleepy or tired.

Eyelid Drooping . . . Natural Alternatives

Speak from the chin-­up position. Try not to furrow your brow, as this will only compound your problems . . .

Droopy Dog . . . eyelid drooping

American cartoon character . . . drooping eyelids. Last name McPoodle. Catchphrase . . . "You know what? That makes me mad."

2

I stare into the bathroom mirror and wonder why nobody has told me my left eyelid has grown a little hood. For a long time I looked younger than I was. And now, suddenly all the years have pooled up and I look my age—­forty-­four, possibly older. I lift the excess skin with my finger and waggle it about. Is there some cream I can buy? How about some eyelid pushups?

"What's wrong with your eye?"

Peter pokes his head into the bathroom and despite my irritation at being spied on, I am happy to see my son's freckled face. At twelve, his needs are still small and easily fulfilled: Eggos and Fruit of the Loom boxer briefs—­the ones with the cotton waistband.

"Why didn't you tell me?" I say.

I depend on Peter. We're close, especially in matters of grooming. We have a deal. His responsibility is my hair. He'll tell me when my roots are showing so I can book an appointment with Lisa, my hairdresser. And in return, my responsibility is his odor. To make sure he doesn't exude one. For some reason, twelve-­year-­old boys can't smell their underarm funk. He does run-­bys in the mornings, arm raised, waving a pit at me so I can get a whiff. "Shower," I almost always say. On rare occasions I lie and say "you're fine." A boy should smell like a boy.

"Tell you what?"

"About my left eyelid."

"What—­that it hangs down over your eye?"

I groan.

"Only a tiny bit."

I look in the mirror again. "Why didn't you say something?"

"Well, why didn't you tell me Peter was slang for penis?"

"It is not."

"Yes, apparently it is. A peter and two balls?"

"I swear to you I have never heard that expression before."

"Well, now you understand why I'm changing my name to Pedro."

"What happened to Frost?"

"That was in February. When we were doing that unit on Robert Frost."

"So now the road has diverged and you want to be Pedro?" I ask.

Middle school, I've been told, is all about experimenting with identity. It's our job as parents to let our kids try on different personas, but it's getting hard to keep up. Frost one day, Pedro the next. Thank God Peter is not an EMO, or is it IMO? I have no idea what EMO/IMO stands for—­as far as I can tell it's a subset of Goth, a tough kid who dyes his hair black and wears eyeliner, and no, that is not Peter. Peter is a ro­mantic.

"Okay," I say. "But have you considered Peder? It's the Norwegian version of Peter. Your friends could say 'later, Peder.' There's nothing that rhymes with Pedro. Do we have any Scotch tape?"

I want to tape up my eyelid—­see what it would look like if I got it fixed.

"Fade-­dro," says Peter. "And I like your sagging eyelid. It makes you look like a dog."

My mouth drops open. You know what? That makes me mad.

"No, like Jampo," he says.

Peter is referring to our two-­year-­old mutt, half Tibetan spaniel, half God-­knows-­what-­else: a twelve-­pound, high-­strung Mussolini of a dog who eats his own poop. Disgusting, yes, but convenient if you think about it. You never have to carry around those plastic bags.

"Drop it, Jampo, you little shit!" Zoe yells from downstairs.

We can hear the dog running manically on the hardwood floors, most likely carting around a roll of toilet paper, which next to poop is his favorite treat. Jampo means "gentle" in Tibetan, which of course turned out to be the complete opposite of the dog's personality, but I don't mind; I prefer a spirited dog. The past year and a half has been like having a toddler in the house again and I've loved every minute of it. Jampo is my baby, the third child I'll never have.

"He needs to go out. Honey, will you take him? I have to get ready for tonight."

Peter makes a face.

"Please?"

"Fine."

"Thank you. Hey, wait—­before you go, do we have any Scotch tape?"

"I don't think so. I saw some duct tape in the junk drawer, though."

I consider my eyelid. "One more favor?"

"What?" Peter sighs.

"Will you bring up the duct tape after you've walked the dog?"

He nods.

"You are my number-­one son," I say.

"Your only son."

"And number one at math," I say, kissing him on the cheek.

Tonight I'm accompanying William to the launch of FiG vodka, an account he and his team at KKM Advertising have been working on for weeks now. I've been looking forward to it. There'll be live music. Some hot new band, three women with electric violins from the Adirondacks or the Ozarks—­I can't remember which.

"Business dressy," William said, so I pull out my old crimson Ann Taylor suit. Back in the '90s when I, too, worked in advertising, this was my power suit. I put it on and stand in front of the full-­length mirror. The suit looks a little outdated, but maybe if I wear the chunky silver necklace Nedra got me for my birthday last year it will mask the fact that it has seen better days. I met Nedra Rao fifteen years ago at a Mommy and Me playgroup. She's my best friend and also happens to be one of the top divorce lawyers in the state of California who I can always count on to give very sane, very sophisticated $425-­an-­hour advice to me for free because she loves me. I try and see the suit through Nedra's eyes. I know just what she'd say: "You can't be bloody serious, darling," in her posh English accent. Too bad. There's nothing else in my closet that qualifies as "business dressy." I slip on my pumps and walk downstairs.

Sitting on the couch, her long brown hair swept back into a messy chignon, is my fifteen-­year-­old daughter, Zoe. She's an on-­and-­off vegetarian (currently off), a rabid recycler, and maker of her own organic lip balm (peppermint and ginger). Like most girls her age, she is also a professional ex: ex–­ballet dancer, ex-­guitarist, and ex-­girlfriend of ­Nedra's son, Jude. Jude is somewhat famous around here. He made it to the Hollywood round of American Idol and then was booted off for "sounding like a California eucalyptus tree that was on fire, popping and sizzling and exploding, but in the end not a native species, not native at all."

I was rooting for Jude, we all were, as he made it past the first and second eliminations. But then right before Hollywood he got a swelled head from the instant fame, cheated on Zoe, and then dumped her, thus breaking my girl's heart. The lesson? Never allow your teenager to date the son of your best friend. It took months for me—­I mean, Zoe—­to recover. I said some horrible things to Nedra—­things I probably shouldn't have said, along the lines of I would have expected more from the son of a feminist and a boy with two moms. Nedra and I didn't speak for a while. We're fine now, but whenever I go to her house Jude is conveniently out.

Zoe's right hand moves over her cellphone's keypad at top speed.

"You're wearing that?" she says.

"What? It's vintage."

Zoe snorts.

"Zoe, sweetheart, will you please look up from that thing? I need your honest opinion." I spread my arms wide. "Is it really that bad?"

Zoe cocks her head. "That depends. How dark is it going to be?"

I sigh. Just a year ago Zoe and I were so close. Now she treats me like she does her brother—­as a family member who must be tolerated. I act like I don't notice, but invariably overcompensate, trying to be nice for both of us, and then I end up sounding like a cross between Mary Poppins and Miss Truly Scrumptious from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

"There's a pizza in the freezer, and please make sure Peter is in bed by ten. We should be home soon after that," I say.

Zoe continues to text. "Dad's waiting for you in the car."

I scurry around the kitchen looking for my purse. "Have a great time. And don't watch Idol without me!"

"Already Googled the results. Should I tell you who gets the axe?"

"No!" I shout, running out the door.

• • •

"Alice Buckle. It's been entirely too long. And what a breath of fresh air you are! Why doesn't William drag you to these events more often? But I suppose he's doing you a favor, isn't he? Another night, another vodka launch. Ho-­hum, am I right?"

Frank Potter, chief creative officer of KKM Advertising, looks discreetly over my head. "You look wonderful," he says, his eyes darting around. He waves to someone at the back of the room. "That's a lovely suit."

I take a big gulp of wine. "Thanks."

As I look around the room, at all the sheer blouses, strappy sandals, and skinny jeans most of the other women are wearing, I realize that "business dressy" really means "business sexy." At least with this crowd. Everybody looks great. So of the moment. I wrap one arm around my waist and hold the wine glass so it hovers near my chin, a poor attempt at camouflaging my jacket.

"Thank you, Frank," I say, as a bead of sweat trickles down the back of my neck.

Sweating is my default response when I feel out of place. My other default response is repeating myself.

"Thank you," I say once more. Oh, God, Alice. A trifecta of thanks?

He pats me on the arm. "So how are things at home? Tell me. Is everything okay? The kids?"

"Everybody's fine."

"You're sure?" he asks, his face screwed up with concern.

"Well, yes, yes, everybody's good."

"Wonderful," he says. "Glad to hear it. And what are you doing these days? Still teaching? What subject was it?"

"Drama."

"Drama. That's right. That must be so—­rewarding. But I imagine quite stressful." He lowers his voice. "You are a saint, Alice Buckle. I certainly wouldn't have the patience."

"I'm sure you would if you saw what these kids are capable of. They're so eager. You know, just the other day one of my students—­"

Frank Potter looks over my head once again, raises his eyebrows, and nods.

"Alice, forgive me, but I'm afraid I'm being summoned."

"Oh, of course. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to keep you. I'm sure you have other—­"

He moves toward me and I lean in, thinking he's going to kiss me on the cheek, but instead he pulls back, takes my hand firmly, and shakes it. "Goodbye, Alice."

I look out into the room, at everyone breezily drinking their lychee FiGtinis. I chuckle softly as if I'm thinking of something funny, trying to look breezy myself. Where is my husband?

"Frank Potter is an ass," a voice whispers in my ear.

Thank God, a friendly face. It's Kelly Cho, a longtime member of William's creative team—­long in advertising anyway, where turnover is incredibly fast. She's wearing a suit, not all that different from mine (better lapels), but on her it looks edgy. She's paired it with over-­the-­knee boots.

"Wow, Kelly, you look fabulous," I say.

Kelly waves my compliment away. "So how come we don't see you more often?"

"Oh, you know. Coming over the bridge is such a hassle. Traffic. And I still don't feel all that comfortable leaving the kids home alone at night. Peter's just twelve, and Zoe's a typical distracted teenager."

"How's work?"

"Great. Other than being up to my neck in details: costumes, wrangling parents, soothing spiders and pigs that haven't learned their lines yet. The third grade is doing Charlotte's Web this year."

Kelly smiles. "I love that book! Your job sounds so idyllic."

"It does?"

"Oh, yeah. I would love to get out of the rat race. Every night there's something going on. I know it seems glamorous—­the client dinners, box seats for the Giants, passes to concerts—­but it's exhausting after a while. Well, you know how it is. You're an advertising widow from way back."

Advertising widow? I didn't know there was name for it. For me. But Kelly's right. Between William's traveling and entertaining clients, I'm basically a single mother. We're lucky if we manage to have a family dinner a few times a week.


Excerpted from Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon. Copyright 2012 by Melanie Gideon. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books.

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