Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 15, 2009

The Stepford Wives, by Ira Levin

The Stepford WivesThe Stepford Wives (1972) is a remarkably silly book, poor even for its own silly genre, but mercifully, only just over a hundred pages long.  It has recently been made into a film starring Nicole Kidman who seems to have a talent for taking on silly films.  I haven’t seen it, but I’d be surprised if it’s any good.  There’s not much anyone could do with such a flimsy plot.

I suspect that Levin would never have made it out of the remaindered horror books bin had he not capitalised on the angst of the feminist movement in the 1970s.  Chauvinists, I expect, would have cheered the notion of compliant, sexy robots as wives while The Sisterhood would have deplored it.  The whole concept is based on the belief that women’s liberation disadvantaged men – who would therefore justify behaving in immoral ways to prevent it.  As The Bookseller of Kabul shows, these gender issues might still resonate in places like the Middle East and Afghanstan, but to those of us in the West it reads like a museum piece. 

But that’s not really what makes it unsatisfactory.  Even the fact that Joanna Eberhart is a cardboard cutout herself is not the problem – the horror genre doesn’t have to bother with character development.  But it does have to bother with creating an atmosphere of tension and incipient violence from some hinted-at source so that the reader shares the fear of the characters, and there is some obligation to create some sort of credible mechanism for the horror.  In The Stepford Wives there’s no attempt to create a plausible explanation for how the men translated their perfidy into action, just vague allusions to the life-like robots at Disneyland and the presence of brilliant engineers in Stepford who had been working on automaton programs.

I should have known better…


Responses

  1. Oh no, please don’t diss our Nic! For some reason she fascinates me – and she has made some good/decent movies. I loved her in Moulin Rouge. I think she’s a bit gutsy too – she gives things a go (or so it seems to me). Anyhow, I did see the movie – gave it an average rating in my personal IMDB database and that was mostly for its look. It was gorgeous to look at – the way it evoked that scary 50s perfection. Other than that I recollect little of it.

    • I love our Nic too, but she’s been stretching the friendship a bit lately, you have to admit. I’d like to see her do a good Merchant Ivory, or something that allows a bit of character development. Lisa

  2. Phew…I’ll relax now. Her career is very uneven I admit…but I actually rather liked her in Australia. Maybe you didn’t! It was an odd role but I feel she did exactly what Luhrmann wanted – and I think she played the feisty English rose pretty well. I thought the whole movie was a hoot. Over the top, melodramatic, inaccurate but a sort of cross between an homage to and spoof of some of the great movies of the late 1930s/early 40s.

    • I’d like to see her do something really good. My definition of good is Judy Dench, who brings grace and credibility to every role she touches. Is that maybe a bit unfair?

  3. Interesting. They are so different. But I guess you could want that of every actor. Cate Blanchett achieves it too. Kidman is a bit self-conscious – and this works in some roles more than others.

  4. An enjoyable read. Loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and original, this book is going in my “to read” list.

  5. Just spotted this as I am contemplating reading the book. I did see the movie and it was not OK – seen worse.

    Still it is less than 200 pages so maybe I will still read it for my classic challenge :)

    • Well. you know there must be a reason why a lot of other people admire it. And it is short!


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