Picks and Pans Review: The Wife

updated 04/07/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/07/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Meg Wolitzer

There are women in New York City who would kill to be Joan Castleman, the narrator of Wolitzer's frothy new comic novel. For four decades Joan has been both wife and muse to famed writer Joe Castleman. But Joe cheats on Joan and neglects their kids. As the Castlemans fly to Finland so Joe can receive the coveted Helsinki Prize, Joan plans to leave him.

But will she? As Joan recalls the decades in which she set aside her aspirations to steer Joe to success, her lingering love for him clashes with her daydreams of revenge: She knows a secret that could destroy him.

Wolitzer, whose mother and husband are writers, paints an urbane picture of the book world of the '50s and '60s, when male writers would put down their pens and use their fists. Her hilarious gripes about marriage make this tale a pleasure best indulged in away from your better half. (Scrib-ner, $23)

BOTTOM LINE: Don't miss the spouse that roared

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