The Not Wives by Carley Moore is a personal look into the lives of three women living in New York City during the time of Occupy Wall Street. Told through three alternating points of view, the story mainly follows Stevie, a soon-to-be divorced professor, as she navigates dating, protesting, and being a mother.
We enter the narrative with a monologue from Stevie about how good sex is and how it “was still the most reliable way to split myself in two, especially since I’d mostly given up on drugs, and good fucking was the closest to unlocking the doors of perception as I thought I might get” (6). This attitude is one that dominates throughout the rest of the book. Sex is one of the three main topics of this story, the other two being, ‘capitalism is killing us’ and ‘is anyone really happy.’ It defines our characters and the rules of the world they live in, one of polyamory and queer relationships. I found this emphasis on sex is both successful and unsuccessful. On one hand, I found it a bit distracting from the otherwise realistic setting to have three of them have an almost-threesome in a walk-in freezer while at work, but on the other it’s refreshing to have women who are a bit older than the average female protagonist being sexual. So often sexuality and queerness has been portrayed as something that can only apply to you when you’re young, but Moore shows this is not the case. Stevie and her best friend, Mel, indulge themselves, breaking out of the stereotype of what women over 40 are supposed to look and act like.
That is the spirit of this whole book truly. Mixed into the chapters that push the plot along, Moore features list-like snippets from the point of view of “the wives” that shows how both unifying and contradictory such titles can be,
“The wives were at work. They had jobs in publishing and marketing. One wife was a doctor. Another was a lawyer. The wives were stay- at-home moms. The wives were tired. The wives were so busy and so bored, and all at the same time. They worked their co-op shifts and they started co-op nursery schools. The wives were curious about the lives of other wives. The wives did not care about other wives….” (24)
In just these few sentences Moore sets up what she is going to deconstruct in the rest of the book. She questions the simple, cookie-cutter picture that comes along with the word “wife.” That’s not all she questions either. Setting her story against the backdrop of Occupy allows her to portray the conflict between wanting to support a protest and being obliged to your life and struggling with what you consume.
What the book may lack in complex narrative , it makes up for it in character. Mel and the other POV character, a homeless teenager named Johanna, provide depth when the action may get a bit repetitive, even if their sections feel a bit like interludes. All three women are fully fleshed out and flawed, making questionable decisions and having to deal with the aftermath; that’s what makes this story compelling. It’s not a page-turner in the traditional sense, but it is the ability to recognize yourself in the characters that makes you want to read more.
Overall, I think The Not Wives gives an honest portrayal of difficulties that come with living in a world worthy of protest. Moore shows that the balancing act of living your life and caring about the world is not an easy one.