Wayward by Dana Spiotta

Wayward  is one of the trickiest books I’ve run into in a long time. While I was reading it, I kept marking passages because they were so true and insightful. The thoughts and feelings of Sam, the main character, had such resonance and were so beautifully written. Proudly middle aged, she is not sad about losing her youth and beauty. She’s actually looking forward to what’s to come and  becomes involved with a Facebook group called Hardcore Hags, Harridans and Harpies. I empathized with Sam’s rage at how she’s dismissed as irrelevant now that she’s middle aged.

Yet, it’s not always easy to like or even understand her. Her actions and interactions with her husband and daughter seem opaque and impulsive. She doesn’t ever explain to her family, in a satisfying way, why she leaves them. The allure of solitude is certainly understandable, as is buying and restoring a beautiful old house. But there’s never any payoff; her dreams and plans never come to fruition. In the beginning of the book, the signs are all there for a story about a woman of a certain age whose marriage comes apart and she restarts her life by moving into an house that is beautiful but needs a lot of work. But, neither her life nor the house are ever transformed. In fact, her life becomes messier and less resolved and her house remains ramshackle.

It soon becomes apparent that the outcome of the book was not going to be predictable; there isn’t a smooth, satisfying narrative in which wrongs are righted and growth and change follow hardship. But, as in real life, expected trajectories turned out to be unfulfilled. New friendships and relationships start out in a promising way but are aborted.

Go into this book with no preconceived ideas of the usual formula of: woman leaves husband, buys a cool, abandoned house, becomes self-aware, makes new friends, and transforms her life. If you don’t have such expectations, it’s a great read about a fascinating, complicated person.

 

 

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