Sisterhood Blog

Q&A: Meg Wolitzer on Sex, Suburbs — and the Workmen's Circle

By Allison Gaudet Yarrow

  • Print
  • Share Share
Lisa Barlow
Meg Wolitzer

Meg Wolitzer writes in spaces where women’s emotions run high: She has tackled wives overshadowed by their husbands, as well as career woman who became stay-at-home moms. In her new novel, “The Uncoupling” (Riverhead), she investigates sex by creating characters who stop having it altogether when a spell enchants their suburb. The magic begins — or ends, depending on how you see it — when a drama teacher produces the Aristophanes comedy “Lysistrata,” in which women withhold sex from men to protest war. Wolitzer spoke recently with The Sisterhood about mobile devices as sex objects, loud, Second Wave feminist Jewesses and not writing chick lit.

Allison Gaudet Yarrow: When you were writing the novel, did you see it as a commentary about how American women are sexualized?

Meg Wolitzer: I think everybody is completely weird about sex. We are marinating in sexual imagery constantly. It’s almost a radical position to say there are vicissitudes.

The post-Freudian idea that sex means you are filled with vigor and therefore if you are not sexual for some period of your life, you are weak — that isn’t true.

The mysterious drama teacher who conceives performing “Lysistrata” is loud, quirky and plays show tunes on the piano. Her name is Fran Heller. She’s Jewish, right?

Yeah, I guess she is. I’ve known women like this. My mother was very affected by Second Wave feminism and became a novelist because of it. She had some friends, a new breed, who were more interesting, tougher; a couple of lesbians, ones who wrote dirty fiction. This was exciting and interesting to me.

Did you have a particularly Jewish upbringing?

Growing up, I went to Sholem Aleichem Yiddish Folk School on Sundays. It had that Workmen’s Circle, lefty quality that I respond to.

Another theme in “The Uncoupling” is a profound generation gap amplified by technology. Students are preoccupied with screens, and mobile devices are described as sex objects.

We’re at a moment in time we don’t even understand. We’re seduced away from human interaction to screen interaction. It is another kind of spell. The best way to look at the unconscious would be to look at all your searches on the Internet in a few hours when you thought nobody was looking.

There are a lot of jokes about upper-middle-class suburban culture in the book. Women who aren’t necessarily close sign e-mails “xo.” There’s a Whole Foods-type grocery store, Grains and Greens, where you buy produce, and a trendy restaurant, Peppercorns, where you drink after work.

They aren’t jokes so much as they are a consolidation of what the culture is doing right now. I try to use as few real-life popular culture references as I can. Using a lot of them assumes there is a public vocabulary and that it is the same for every person. I make up my own lexicon.

Is it bothersome to hear people refer to your writing as “chick lit” when comparing you with male writers, like Tom Perrotta, who traverse similar modern suburban territory?

I don’t write chick lit. I guess I have staked out the territory of women’s interior lives. Next time, I’m going for women’s exterior lives: plastic surgery, Martha Stewart and makeup.

Listen to the Yid Lit Podcast with Meg Wolitzer here.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Literature, Meg Wolitzer, The Uncoupling

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.