Review: The Stepford Wives

The Stepford WivesThe Stepford Wives 
by Ira Levin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Stepford Wives / 9780062037602

"The Stepford Wives" is one of those rare horror novels that reads even more creepily when you already know the twist at the end. I read it when I was younger and merely liked it; now that I'm older and re-reading it, I find it absolutely terrifying.

The most terrifying thing about the Stepford men isn't that they objectify their wives into sex-slaves and cleaning-bots; no, the most terrifying thing about the Stepford men is that they don't *seem* like the kind of men who would do that sort of thing. They don't seem overly boorish or loutish or medieval in their thinking; the men help with the housework and give lip service to equality with their protestations that they intend to "change from the inside" the men-only Men's Association. Terrifying, too, is the fact that these men weren't somehow brought up believing that turning their wives into automatons is the right way to live; the Men's Association has been around for a mere six or seven years, and in that short time *every* man in Stepford has signed on to the barbaric replacement of their human wives with mindless servants. Not a single man in Stepford has refrained from turning his wife into an unthinking sex-bot, and based on Joanna's newspaper findings we cannot soothe ourselves with the thought that perhaps the more principled men moved away with their families.

The men of Stepford are men who are sexist, but seem on the surface not to be. Joanna sits in on a meeting and at first enjoys the flow of the conversation, feeling she has struck a blow for women's equality; it is only when the men start treating her like an object (expecting her to wait on them, and drawing her as an object in the midst of their deliberations) that she starts to feel genuinely uncomfortable in their presence. When Joanna starts objecting to living in Stepford and fearing for her safety, her husband responds kindly and sensibly -- they will move, if that is what she wants, just as soon as the school year ends. This kind response lulls Joanna into dangerous complacency; because she believes her husband does care about her as an equal, she is willing to let precious time slip away, not realizing that her husband's reassurances are completely false.

"The Stepford Wives" is a true horror story as it counts down inexorably to the end; it's impossible not to feel Joanna's heart-pounding terror as she tries to flee the town (an attempt that resonates all too well after having read Jessop's "Escape" earlier in the year). If there is a moral here, then perhaps it is that prejudices can be easily hidden and can arise from the most unlikely among us -- and that even the most liberated can be tempted to hurt and objectify another, when given the chance.

~ Ana Mardoll

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