Joanna and her family move to Stepford, a beautiful suburb bursting at the seams with glamorous housewives. The sort of wives you see in those old advertisements in the 1950’s featuring a gorgeous smiling housewife doing laundry or vacuuming. Stepford is so perfect it’s unsettling.
“That’s what they all were, all the Stepford wives: actresses in commercials, pleased with detergents and floor wax, with cleansers, shampoos, and deodorants. Pretty actresses, big in the bosom but small in the talent, playing housewives unconvincingly, too nicey-nice to be real.”
Some history is in order to add some context to the story. The Stepford Wives was written in the early 1970’s, during the women’s liberation movement. This is important for understanding the setting. Joanna is a fiercely independent second-wave feminist and feminist authors and works are referenced several times throughout the novel. It becomes clear very quickly that the novel is a satire for the rise of the feminist movement and the subsequent backlash.
The humor in this novel is subversive and all of the characters were a little bit ridiculous. The Stepford wives of course are the most obvious—they are the embodiment of the 1950’s housewife. The husbands are all caricatures of the dirty old man stereotype, blatantly treating Joanna like a piece of meat when she arrives in town. The men constantly keep to themselves, completely wrapped up in their little boy’s club. Joanna and Bobbie also give off the impression of being the sorts of overbearing, obnoxious “feminists” that force their beliefs on others and neglect chores out of principal.
The events and the timing at first appear benign, but as I read on some of the seemingly normal conversations or actions of some of the characters started to make me feel uncomfortable. I won’t say much more, because it’s the type of book best approached having absolutely no knowledge about the plot. Trust me, you won’t have to look far for spoilers. Despite having some of the story spoiled for me with how widely this book has been talked about in the past, I still really enjoyed it and honestly wish I could’ve gone into the story blind.
For Joanna, her husband, Walter, and their children, the move to beautiful Stepford seems almost too good to be true. It is. For behind the town’s idyllic facade lies a terrible secret — a secret so shattering that no one who encounters it will ever be the same.