Literary Wives: My Father’s Wives by Mike Greenberg


literarywives2Literary Wives is an on-line book club that examines the meaning and role of wife in different books that have the word “wife” in the title. Every other month, we post and discuss a book with these two questions in mind:

1. What does this book say about wives or the experience of being a wife?

2. In what way does this woman define “wife”—or in what way is she defined by “wife”?

Don’t forget to check out the other members of Literary Wives to see what they have to say about the book!

21936844My Father’s Wives by Mike Greenberg

For some reason, when I heard about this book, I thought it was a memoir, and I didn’t have a whole lot of interest in it. But, it’s fiction, and I found it somewhat entertaining, despite the fact that there doesn’t seem to be much point to it.

This is a book about a man who has it all; good job, lots of money, beautiful wife, and two perfect children. Then, one day, he discovers that he has reason to believe his wife is cheating on him. Instead of confronting her about it, he takes the easy way out and hires a detective. Then, the next thing that occurs to him is that he wishes he knew more about his dad. How these two things are related, I’m not sure. This is where the author is grasping at straws. He needed the shocking event (cheating wife) to spur his main character on to what the rest of the book is about, I guess?

The last time Jonathan saw his father was when he was 9 years old. His father is dead now, and he wants to know more about him. He starts by questioning his mother, then moves on to his father’s other five wives. He travels around, meeting up with them, in the order of when his dad was married to them. I’m not sure what he gets out of it, but it is entertaining to read about each of the wives, the next one more beautiful and arresting than the last. I kept wondering how much more perfect the next wife could possibly be.

But, what does this have to do with his own marriage? Over the course of his little journey, I guess he finds out a few things about life, what is important and what isn’t. But, it really doesn’t have much to do with how things play out between he and his wife. They seemed like completely different stories to me.

I can see this book as a romantic comedy movie; man-who-has-it-all finds out his perfect life might be falling apart – sets off to figure out how to fix it. Complete with beautiful women of all ages, various women hitting on him as he manages to remain faithful to his wife (what a great guy!), and comical detective who is dramatically discreet, even disguising himself with a mustache and wearing a long overcoat that puts me in mind of these two. 


1. What does this book say about wives or the experience of being a wife?

2. In what way does this woman define “wife”—or in what way is she defined by “wife”?

My first reaction when I was thinking about these questions was that this book seemed to be more about husbands than wives. But, of course, you can’t have one without the other.

1. Near the beginning of the book, Jonathan talks about how meeting some women is like being struck by lightning, but this kind of relationship doesn’t last, just as lightening doesn’t. When he met his wife, it was the opposite of lightening – it was like they had always known each other

The fact that his father had 6 wives could mean that he never learned the same lesson as his son. That lightning kept striking him and he kept falling for it. But, later we learn that each of his wives was able to give him something he needed at the time; adoration, youth, serenity, intelligence, comfort. He always seemed to be looking for something more; searching for perfection. He was expecting his wife to complete him – give him what he was missing. And, we all know that’s not how it works.

The key to life is learning to put up with imperfections. If you expect life to be perfect, you will always be disappointed. If you expect yourself to be perfect, you will never be satisfied. And if you expect others to be perfect, you will always be alone.

2. There are a lot of wives in this book, but we don’t get to know any of them very well. The one we get to know best is Claire, Jonathan’s wife, and even then I feel stuck by the fact that she was just so perfect. After the big lesson he’s learned about not expecting perfection, it really doesn’t apply to him, because he seems to have it anyway. Claire doesn’t do anything wrong. They seem to see no faults in each other; she doesn’t get annoyed at him for spending so much time away from home. There really is nothing for him to be annoyed about; she takes care of the kids, the house, she cooks salmon for supper every night, and she’s still incredibly beautiful after 12 years of marriage. It sounds like she has her role all figured out. The only real thing I picked up on was that, at the beginning of their marriage, she insists that they always stick together on things, like a team.

As for his father’s wives, did they all think that their main goal was to keep their husband happy? Or did they each hope they’d be ‘the one’ to change him and keep him around for life? Or, maybe some of them just wanted his money. It’s hard to say.

Do you find it hard to take a book seriously when the characters seem to have it all?


17 thoughts on “Literary Wives: My Father’s Wives by Mike Greenberg

  1. River City Reading says:

    I often find that books like this (there are so many of them!) can work for me, but the writing has to be exceptionally good or the book needs to have some kind of unique structure. Without that, they seem to fall into a cloud of very similar books that are just hard to distinguish from one another.

    • Naomi says:

      I don’t read a lot of books like this (not sure what this genre is – it’s almost like chicklit written by a man with a male protagonist, like No Relation by Terry Fallis), but the story is probably relatively memorable. It’s not very common to have a father with 6 wives and to run around and track them all down. And, it did keep my interest, despite not having much point to it. I think I was just enjoying all the sarcastic comments running through my head as I read it. 🙂

  2. whatmeread says:

    Gosh, you made almost all the same points that I did, including this book being a male version of chick lit. How funny! I agree that we don’t learn much about how wives are portrayed in this novel.

  3. TJ @ MyBookStrings says:

    I can see your sarcasm lurking in your review, a little bit. I think I would have a similar reaction. I never understand why a Wife #3 or Wife #4 might think she’ll be the one to tie down the man, but it could happen, I guess. Who am I to judge? But if there’s no point to this story, I’ll be happy to skip it. I’ll go check out what the other club members have to say about this book now.

    • Naomi says:

      The one good thing about this book is the fun I’m having making fun of it, and reading what the other Literary Wives members have to say! That part is worth the read. 🙂

  4. Emily J. says:

    I like how you brought in the lightning part. Since it was the hook of the novel, it seemed to be “important” but I didn’t quite make the connection to the rest of the novel. And you are spot on that this is a book about husbands, and that if we are being honest, there are no wives or husbands without the other. Perhaps we should expand our questions to include what these books say about the role of husbands, or marriage in general. I guess we do that with our reviews without a formal question. And why was Claire so perfect? I wish she hadn’t been. I wanted her to yell at Jonathan or say something about anything, instead of being so Stepford-y.

    • Naomi says:

      Yes! I wanted her to feel something other than bliss and happiness and peacefulness!

      I was thinking it would be fun, if we ever ran out of good ‘wife’ books, to branch out into books about marriage in general; broaden our horizons. But, being the last member on board, I was hesitant to suggest it.

  5. Lynn @ Smoke & MirrorsP says:

    I love the imperfections quote. I believe Emily also included that. I agree with that sentiment wholeheartedly. And see, I really resonated with the “lightning” stuff regarding girlfriends/possible wives! I think it is sooooo true! For either gender. For me, it is the friendship that keeps a relationship together, not the zing of that lightning strike! 🙂 As I stated, this felt much more like a book discussing why men select women as wives, rather than about the wives overall. I don’t know. I liked it, for its unique twist (male chicklit? lol) as much as anything perhaps, plus I found it humorous. I don’t think I took it as seriously as you-all did. Perhaps the next one will prove to be more enjoyable! 🙂

    • Naomi says:

      This book did definitely seem to be more about the husbands and how they view their wives, and choose them. There wasn’t a lot of insight into what the wives were all thinking, with the exception maybe of Jonathan’s mother.
      Here’s to the next one! 🙂

  6. Shaina says:

    I really love the idea of this book club! Like everyone else, I’ve noticed the trend of tacking “wife” or “wives” onto book titles and tend to avoid those books, for better or for worse. I like that you’re using this as a way to explore the topics of marriage and what being a wife can mean.

    • Naomi says:

      It is fun! The best part is reading them together and comparing thoughts about them. It makes up for the odd book that really isn’t that great. It’s also fun to have a reason to read books I might not normally think to read.

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