A chilling tale of horror that descends into madness one step at time.
Ira Levin’s suspenseful tale of horror is both a commentary on society as well as a character study into the descent of sanity. His prose is sparse and vernacular with poignant ideas that are supported by masterful suspense.
The female protagonist’s main struggle is that she fears being swallowed up by the banality of suburban life after leaving the rich and rewarding culture of her former urban home. A trite cultural tale of a young couple passing from one phase of life into another. Yet, herein lies one of Levin’s major strengths. He takes a rather common place cultural experience and slowly twists it until by the end its purple, atrophied and rather gangrenous. And even though we know the infected limb will eventually fall off, we can’t help but hope all the while that there may just be a way to save things.
In a nutshell, the protagonist goes from general irritation toward the lack of progressive thinking in her new found suburban trappings to outright fear. He annoyance turns to distrust, outrage and terror. What is actually going on at the archaic men’s association in town, and how is it afflicting her friends and her very own husband?
There is just the right amount of tension going on throughout this work. The pace is inevitable, yet it is not relentless or swift. I felt I knew where things were going early on (through my own cultural awareness of the work), however I still felt compelled on. Levin wonderfully pulls back each new development with surgical skill. He gives just enough information to put the pieces together without providing the whole puzzle. Some may find this frustrating, but I feel that if he went the other way and really went into detail with some big reveal at the end—the horror of the story would have been cheapened.
The protagonist’s growth and emotional evolution is also very real. Her questioning and sleuthing out the mysteries connects her to the readers. Even her own self-doubts add to making the character more believable and support the more fantastical elements that exist in the shadows of the prose.
Levin touches on issues of suburban isolationism, paranoia, cultism, apathy and of course, feminism. Though the protagonist invokes causes of social injustice as she beats her war drum for long overdue change, her struggles are also very personal and individual. The way Levin is able to tie in the societal problems and show how deeply rooted evil can penetrate into the micro levels of personhood is very powerful.
This story is fiction, but the under currents feel believable. Levin takes seemingly normal people and shows how easily corruption and evil can leach darkness into those places of society that seem sunny and devoid of real problems. This, of course, is nothing new, but Levin’s take on things feels fresh and leaves a lasting impression. He drives home how inhumanity can lurk even in the everyday familiarity. What is really going on over there at that place where we can’t go?
This novella is tight and sharp. An excellent, swift read that will leave an unsavory taste in your mouth.
Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: “No Deodorant In Outer Space”. The podcast is available on iTunes, YouTube or our website: https://nodeodorantinouterspace.wordpress.com/2016/03/14/review-stepford-wives-ira-levin/.