First and foremost: if you don’t know what The Stepford Wives is about, don’t look it up; the plot twist is damn near everywhere you hear the story talked about. It’s difficult to not spoil. And if you pick up the newer edition with the introduction by Peter Straub (pictured here,) do not read said introduction. Straub takes away all the surprise before you are even given the chance to enjoy it.
That being said, I won’t be spoiling anything. Let’s jump in.
When most people mention foundational stories in horror and suspense literature, seldom do I ever hear mention of Ira Levin. Arguably, Levin is best known for his novel Rosemary’s Baby, which isn’t what I recommend to readers who want to begin exploring his work, mostly because the pacing and development. However, many of Levin’s other works are as sharp as they come—even if they take time to build up suspense.
Out of all, The Stepford Wives is probably my favorite from him, and it’s short enough to read in a few hours or less. And I think this is a foundational story, and a must-read for those interested in suspense and mystery.
The story begins and takes place in the quaint, seemingly ordinary town of Stepford, where our main character Joanna moves and makes plans with her husband to spread the good word of women’s liberation. Stepford seems to be a more traditional sort of town, where women are expected to maintain a tidy house and care for their children. However, Joanna begins to suspect there may be something more sinister going on, and she fears it may be something worse than mere culture shock…
What I Loved
I was concerned at first with the political nature of this story—mostly because I read to be entertained and not preached to. But not to fear, readers: this is an awesome story. It’s politically themed, and though you can make arguments for either side of the political debate posed here, that’s not what I want to discuss in this review. The point is that this is a well told tale, and as far as I can tell, Levin favored his craft over merely shouting opinions through characters and plot.
The plot may be a tad slow to start for some, but I was intrigued no less. It doesn’t even seem like a horror story for the first half or so, but by the last third I was turning each page with my stomach stomach sinking lower and lower in the best way possible. The dread and suspense around the climax is some of the best you will find in the field.
The plot twist. is. phenomenal. If you pay careful attention you may be able to see it coming, but the great thing about Levin is that he’s skilled at implication. He never directly says what’s going on, but guides the reader to put the pieces together—which is something many fresh faces in writing can learn from. There is a sharp efficiency to the language that conveys exactly what it needs to without a word in excess.
What I Didn’t Love
Thankfully there isn’t anything that really stands out to me that I really didn’t like—aside Peter Straub’s introduction I mentioned earlier. It’s a fine piece of writing that analyses the story, but it would have been far more appropriate as an afterword, seeing as it reveals the twist and lots of plot details. It’s possible the publishers or Straub were thinking most people buying this edition would have been familiar with the story already, but regardless I was glad I postponed reading it until I’d finished the book.
The Stepford Wives is a must-read for suspense fans and even those looking to develop their skills in storytelling. If you want a quick read before digging into the next best thing, you can’t go wrong here. There really isn’t much more to say—you just need to add this one to your list and set a copy on your shelf.