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The Stepford Wives

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For Joanna, her husband, Walter, and their children, the move to beautiful Stepford seems almost too good to be true. It is. For behind the town's idyllic facade lies a terrible secret—a secret so shattering that no one who encounters it will ever be the same.

At once a masterpiece of psychological suspense and a savage commentary on a media-driven society that values the pursuit of youth and beauty at all costs, The Stepford Wives is a novel so frightening in its final implications that the title itself has earned a place in the American lexicon.

144 pages, Paperback

First published September 1, 1972

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About the author

Ira Levin

86 books1,395 followers
Levin graduated from the Horace Mann School and New York University, where he majored in philosophy and English.

After college, he wrote training films and scripts for television.

Levin's first produced play was No Time for Sergeants (adapted from Mac Hyman's novel), a comedy about a hillbilly drafted into the United States Air Force that launched the career of Andy Griffith. The play was turned into a movie in 1958, and co-starred Don Knotts, Griffith's long-time co-star and friend. No Time for Sergeants is generally considered the precursor to Gomer Pyle, USMC.

Levin's first novel, A Kiss Before Dying, was well received, earning him the 1954 Edgar Award for Best First Novel. A Kiss Before Dying was turned into a movie twice, first in 1956, and again in 1991.

Levin's best known play is Deathtrap, which holds the record as the longest-running comedy-thriller on Broadway and brought Levin his second Edgar Award. In 1982, it was made into a film starring Christopher Reeve and Michael Caine.

Levin's best known novel is Rosemary's Baby, a horror story of modern day satanism and the occult, set in Manhattan's Upper West Side. It was made into a film starring Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes. Ruth Gordon won an Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her performance. Roman Polanski, who wrote and directed the film, was nominated for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.

Other Levin novels were turned into movies, including The Boys from Brazil in 1978; The Stepford Wives in 1975 and again in 2004; and Sliver in 1993.

Stephen King has described Ira Levin as "the Swiss watchmaker of suspense novels, he makes what the rest of us do look like cheap watchmakers in drugstores." Chuck Palahniuk, in , calls Levin's writing "a smart, updated version of the kind of folksy legends that cultures have always used."

Ira Levin died from a heart attack at his home in Manhattan, on 12 November 2007. He was seventy-eight at the time of his death.

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Profile Image for Federico DN.
357 reviews624 followers
December 30, 2022
Disparate Housewives.

In the midst of the women’s liberation movement, a little town in Connecticut seems to show an inexplicable regression. Independent women are turning into cleaning maniacs and dedicated housewives. What the hell is happening? Something in the air? The water? Is it a disease? Is it contagious? Walter, Joanna Eberhart and their kids are new in Stepford, but when she realizes something fishy going on, it all becomes a desperate quest for answers, before it’s too late.

For some reason this is marketed as a horror novel, but I found it to be much closer to a psychological thriller, and a very good one. Fast paced, and packing quite a punch. Very short, but extremely gripping. Everything moving so fast it’s over before you even know it. A somewhat too open ending for my taste, but a welcomed one overall. Joanna plays a wonderful heroine, and Bobbie a lovely and hilarious sidekick. Quite a bunch of feminist references too, which will be duly investigated at the appropriate time. Recommendable.

The movie (1975) is a great adaptation. Katharine Ross plays a convincing Joanna, but Paula Prentiss perfectly nails Bobbie and is the absolute best of the movie by far; so crazy, and utterly adorable. Not nearly as good as the book, but very faithful, several direct quotes can be found all through the film. An ending that goes a bit beyond the original work, and possibly gives a more satisfying answer to the mystery.

The remake (2004) is a terrible adaptation, and is critically panned for good reasons. Beside the protagonists and some general idea of the plot, everything else has been changed, and not really in a good way. No direct quotes, and lot of things added that doesn't make justice to Levin’s work. Not even a cast including stars like Kidman, Broderick, Midler, Close and Walken can save it. Points for some very funny moments, but very unfaithful to the book, and quite cheesy sometimes.

[1972] [144p] [Thriller] [“Sex, yes; sexism, no.”] [‘She’s marvellous,’ Charmaine said. ‘A German Virgo; if I told her to lick my shoes she’d do it. What are you, Joanna?’ ‘An American Taurus.’ ‘If you tell her to lick your shoes she spits in your eye,’ Bobbie said.]

Amas de Casa Dispares.

En el medio del movimiento de liberación de las mujeres, un pequeño pueblo en Connecticut parece mostrar una inexplicable regresión. Mujeres independientes se vuelven maniáticas de la limpieza y dedicadas amas de casa. ¿Qué demonios está pasando? ¿Es algo en el aire? ¿El agua? ¿Es una enfermedad? ¿Es contagiosa? Walter, Joanna Eberhart y sus hijos son nuevos en Stepford, pero cuando se da cuenta de que algo raro está sucediendo, todo se vuelve en una desesperada búsqueda por la verdad, antes de que sea demasiado tarde.

Por alguna razón esto está identificado como una novela de terror, pero yo lo encontré mucho más cercano a un thriller psicológico, y uno muy bueno. De ritmo muy rápido, y con un golpe directo y certero. Muy corto, pero extremadamente atrapante. Todo transcurre tan rápido que termina antes de que te des cuenta. Un final algo demasiado abierto para mi gusto, pero dentro de todo bienvenido. Joanna hace una estupenda heroína, y Bobbie una adorable e hilarante compañera. Un montón de referencias feministas también, que serán debidamente investigadas a su tiempo. Recomendable.

La película (1975) es una excelente adaptación. Katharine Ross hace una convincente Joanna, pero Paula Prentiss acierta perfectamente a Bobbie y es absolutamente lo mejor de toda la película; tan alocada, y terriblemente adorable. No tan buena como el libro, pero muy fiel, varias citas directas pueden ser encontradas a lo largo del film. Y un final que va un poco más allá de la obra original, y posiblemente brinda una respuesta más satisfactoria al misterio.

El remake (2004) es una terrible adaptación, y duramente criticada por buenas razones. Más allá de las protagonistas y una idea general de la trama, todo lo demás fue cambiado, y no realmente de una buena forma. No hay citas directas, y muchas cosas fueron agregadas que no le hacen justicia a la obra de Levin. Ni siquiera un elenco incluyendo estrellas como Kidman, Broderick, Midler, Close y Walken lo puede salvar. Puntos por algunos momentos muy graciosos, pero muy desleal al libro, y bastante artificial a veces.

[1972] [144p] [Thriller] [Recomendable] [‘Es maravillosa,’ dijo Charmaine. ‘Una Virgo alemana; si le digo que lama mis zapatos lo hace. ¿Qué sos vos, Joanna?’ ‘Una Tauro americana.’ ‘Si le decís que lama tus zapatos te escupe a los ojos,’ dijo Bobbie.]
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
March 9, 2019
“That’s what she was, Joanna felt suddenly. That’s what they all were, all the Stepford wives: actresses in commercials, pleased with detergents and floor wax, with cleansers, shampoos, and deodorants. Pretty actresses, big in the bosom but small in the talent, playing housewives unconvincingly, too nicey-nice to be real.”

 photo Stepford-Wives-1975-PIC_zps1669f67d.jpg
Katharine Ross stars in the 1975 movie version

Joanna Eberhart is an accomplished photographer. A woman comfortable with herself, in love with her husband, and raising two charming/rambunctious children. They decide to move to Stepford, Connecticut an idyllic community full of successful people and beautiful scenery. In an attempt to get to know her neighbors she soon discovers that the women are too busy waxing floors and ironing clothes to really spend time with her. They are friendly and will offer her a cup of coffee, but they are driven to keep working as they chat.

These women have singular ideas and no ambition outside of pleasing their husbands and maintaining their households. WEIRD even in 1972.

The men have a club that is truly a men’s only affair. This is irritating to Joanna, but after some discussion they decide that her husband Walter should join the club to initiate change from the inside. Joanna does start to talk to the local women about picketing the club and forcing the organization to allow women to participate, but she is met with stoic indifference. She does meet one woman named Bobbie who is different from the robotic devotion of the other women in the community even to the point of having a *gasp* dirty house. With the aid of her new friend Joanna tries to get support to resurrect a women’s club that went away many years ago that failed, not surprisingly, due to poor membership numbers.

Her husband Walter meanwhile is spending more and more time down at the club.

 photo Kidman_zpsdc8821cd.jpg
Nicole Kidman stars in the 2004 movie version

Walter brings home Dale Coba, president of the men’s club and a famous artist named Ike Mazzard whose sketches of woman set an impossibly high ideal of what a woman should look like in all the women’s magazines. The group does allow Joanna to participate in the conversation and while they are talking Ike Mazzard sketches her. He gives her one of the sketches and Joanna is disconcerted at this idealized portrait of herself.

It turns out all the women have one. Blueprint?

Dale Coba gives Joanna the heebie jeebies. He used to work for Disney and as events unfold it becomes more and more clear what a large part he has played in making Stepford an “ideal community”.

 photo Poodle-Skirt_zps82bb892d.jpg
Poodle Skirt

This book is considered a thriller satire. It certainly makes fun of the idealized female portrait of the 1950s when women supposedly did housework in poodle skirts and kept their hair, nails, and figure in immaculate condition. I’m sure there are still men who would like their women to meet that criteria. They might even pine for a woman to fetch them a beer when they hear him crushing an empty can from his recliner, but most of us enjoy the equality of women with jobs, with careers, with interests, with hobbies, and able to discuss with us more than just what’s for dinner. This book made such an impact that now “Stepford” is a part of our popular culture language used to describe a submissive housewife. I impulsively decided to read this book when I discovered that my local library did not have a copy of Ira Levin’s even more famous book Rosemary’s Baby. Sometimes detours are as fun or more fun than the originally intended destination.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
Profile Image for Susan Budd.
Author 7 books212 followers
June 7, 2019
In the early 80s, I took a college course in feminist theory. That’s where I was introduced to the ideas of Simone de Beauvoir, Kate Millet, and Betty Friedan. Little did I know that I could have saved myself a lot of time by reading The Stepford Wives instead.

The Stepford Wives is one of the popular books of the 1970s that I somehow overlooked, though I did see the 1975 movie on television years later. What recently prompted me to finally read the book was an article at JSTOR Daily titled “Sex and the Supermarket” (1/3/18).

While reading “Sex and the Supermarket,” I recalled the image of the women of Stepford in their maxi dresses, gloves, and floppy hats, languidly pushing their shopping carts down the aisles of the supermarket. The clothes inspired me with nostalgia. The sexism did not.

Ira Levin’s 1972 novel manages to convey that sexism in a hundred or so pages of tight suspenseful prose. I didn’t remember much from the 1975 movie ~ just the premise of the story and the image of the soulless wives with their neatly-filled shopping carts ~ but it was enough for me to be able to read the novel as a feminist text without the distraction of wondering what Stepford’s sinister secret was.

A couple of scenes stood out to me as I read.

Ike Mazzard, a magazine illustrator who created idealized images of women, sketches Joanna. When she notices what he is doing, she feels “as if she were naked” (29).

The way Dale Coba looks at her is “disparaging” (26, 27, 31). He says “I like to watch women doing little domestic chores” (30).

This made me think of Simone de Beauvoir’s existentialist feminism. The problem, as defined by existentialist feminism, is that man casts himself in the role of subject and woman in the role of object; himself as observer and woman as observed; himself as Self and woman as Other. These two scenes effectively convey that creepy feeling women get when subjected to the ‘male gaze,’ that feeling of being naked, of being watched, of being reduced to an object.

Radical feminism defines the problem as the patriarchal nature of society itself. And Stepford is this patriarchy in microcosm. It is perpetuated from one generation to the next. When one of the wives’ behavior suddenly changes, turning her from a spitfire into a hausfrau, her young son approves of the change in his mother. Instead of missing her spunk, he welcomes her subservience.

But the feminist theory that most informs this book is liberal feminism and the feminist text that The Stepford Wives brings to mind is The Feminine Mystique. But this is no revelation. Joanna and Bobbie are members of NOW. Betty Friedan once gave a lecture to a Stepford women’s club. The backlash against women’s liberation in Stepford is a backlash against Friedan’s analysis and rejection of “Occupation: housewife.”

The men of Stepford don’t want liberated women. They don’t want equals. They want wives who live only for their husbands, wives whose sole fulfillment comes from keeping house for her husband and satisfying his sexual desires. They want wives who wear push-up bras and girdles as they clean their kitchens, wives with large breasts and lipstick who get ecstatic over floor wax.

But all men aren’t like this, right? Joanna’s husband Walter seems happy with their life as equals. At least, that’s how he seems in the beginning. Yet Walter is just like all the other Stepford men. When his discontent with having an equal for a wife finally comes out in full force, he reveals the insidious nature of the sexism identified by Friedan: that it isn’t just out there in society; it’s at home as well.

In a chilling scene, Joanna becomes adamant about moving away from Stepford and Walter uses all the tactics of the manipulative emotional abuser: He pretends to consider her point of view, but at the same time he calls her “irrational” and “a little hysterical” (87) He tries to arouse guilt by explaining how hard it would be on the kids. Then he suggests she visit a psychiatrist to see if she’s delusional. In other words, he tries to make her doubt reality. He tries to gaslight her.

The Stepford Wives is a book that deserves its iconic status. It succeeds as both a feminist text and a psychological horror story. And it is no less needed now than it was in 1972. We may have come a long way baby, but we still have a ways to go.
Profile Image for Baba.
3,563 reviews863 followers
December 29, 2022
A modern classic, whose ending many of you will already know from the movie? An eternal warning about how men truly want to deal with issues around the gender equality? Is that far fetched? Just look at the machinations of the Trump White House and the legacy of Hollywood's casting couch approach to providing women with work, to see how relevant Levin's little book continues to be.

The sparsity of character development, description and scene setting further enhances the suspense and heading into the unknown of this read. Personally I think most of Ira Levin's work has something to say, and everyone should read at least one of his works. A Three Star, 7 out of 12 read.

2018 read
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,868 reviews16.5k followers
May 15, 2019
Ira Levin’s 1972 novel The Stepford Wives is a darkly comedic and satirical modern horror story with cautionary but subtle overtones.

Originally and commonly misunderstood to remark upon the growing feminist movement in the late sixties it is instead a scathing indictment on conservative attacks on women’s liberation.

Levin describes a family that has recently moved into the quiet suburban township of Stepford, where a caste of upwardly mobile male professionals have barricaded themselves into an affluent and influential Men’s Association. Joanna Eberhart, a smart and talented married mother of two realizes quickly that she does not fit into the picture perfect stylized stereotype of the wives of Stepford who toil about the house in crisp Donna Reed dresses and makeup while their husband’s while away the nights at the Men’s club. More disconcerting, Joanna realizes that there is a more sinister explanation for this odd discontinuity. Reader's will notice a similarity with Jack Finney's brilliant 1955 allegory Invasion of the Body Snatchers and with Robert A. Heinlein's The Puppet Masters, though Levin eschews sci-fi fun for a mainstream horror genre delivery.

Levin’s prose is elegant and direct, his storyline tight and focused on his understated message.

A very good read.

Profile Image for Julie G .
884 reviews2,754 followers
April 6, 2018
When I finished Larry McMurtry's 800 page novel, Moving On two weeks ago, I felt like a war widow, grieving her fallen soldier. I had become desperately attached to every single character in that slow-paced but brilliant story, and after closing the back cover, I paced my house like a desperate ghoul, ordering books from the library and Amazon, in an attempt to fill the void.

Turns out, one of the books in my new stack of arrivals was written just two years after Moving On (McMurtry's novel came out first in 1970), and both cover the theme of the Western woman trying to emerge after a mere millennium or more of mistreatment and casual abuse. Women's liberation, if you will.

But, the similarities stop there.

The Stepford Wives couldn't be more different than Moving On, but I loved them both, and I'm only drawing comparisons in this particular review to bring attention to the diversity in writing styles and tastes that exist in our world and the gratitude I feel for having the opportunity to develop into such an eclectic reader.

Moving On was a tall cool drink of water, a Texas tale of characters and dialogue so real, I feel like I have wronged them by leaving them behind. It's a novel that has almost no real action at its core, and I certainly wouldn't describe it as plot-driven. My copy ended up with some thirty dog-eared pages.

The Stepford Wives has characters that amount to nothing more than mere sketches of people, and scanty dialogue at best. It is completely plot-based and is a short little jaunt at 123 pages, but I truly marvel at the imagination that Ira Levin must have possessed to come up with this story.

And. . . holy shit. . . did my heart race! I was so anxious at the end, I'm surprised I didn't drip sweat right down onto the book's pages.

What a privilege to be able to read and to be exposed to such depths of human understanding and creativity.

I'm just sitting here, smiling in awe. A total book geek.
Profile Image for Jon Nakapalau.
4,934 reviews687 followers
May 8, 2023
A very complex book: a commentary on the way we look at women and the role women have been assigned for centuries. The horrific aspect of the novel is that (in the end) the real question is: who really has lost their humanity? Deeper questions of male dominance and misogyny are undercurrents in this modern masterpiece of horror.
Profile Image for Ravenskya .
234 reviews37 followers
October 10, 2008
I can handle watching or reading just about any level of horror... so what was it about this tiny little novella that I read in an hour that truly chilled me? First, I have never seen the movies... so I had no real preconceived notions other than having seen the commercials. Something about being a girl, who was raised in a society where everything tells you that you have to be beautiful, you have to be talented, and above all you have to be perfect or you are nothing... this book really taps into that mantra. The feeling that every little girl has that "I'm not good enough" most of us (hopefully) follow that up with "but at least I'm ME" and that is where the terror of this book lies.

What if the ultimate deceiver, the true villain is the one person who should love you the most, your protector, your partner, your husband. What if he would change you... take away your identity for his own pleasure... and what if everyone was on his side. How would you hold on, how could you escape?

As you can tell this book really hit a nerve with me... true I was born in 1978, so this was a little before my time, but it hasn't changed all that much even though we want to think so. The book is really about men's desires, or Levin's interpretation of them. That they would be willing to sacrifice their wife's very identity, her being, to make her a mindless barbie that did what they pleased. The men in this book are truly horrifying beings... but even more frightening is that this is a doubt shared by all women, across the globe. From a young age we are taught to doubt ourselves, our physical appearance, our mind, our talent, the love of others. I know women with genius IQ's who act like idiots because that is what men want from them. Though there is overnight drug that can do this to a woman... there is the lifelong barrage of the media and society which does a pretty good job in and of itself.

Off my soapbox now. This book freaked me out... it was very well written, very tight and compact, and rediculously short for the price. I would advise getting it from a library, a used book store, or a friend rather than spending the cover amount on it. Mainly because it is so short. Still, I think this book has a lot of meaning, this book should be read and discussed with others... and to the ladies out there... odds are you will end up a bit unsettled and a bit angry at the end of it all.
Profile Image for Always Pouting.
568 reviews717 followers
July 21, 2022
I haven't seen the movie but I did really enjoy this. It's a short and engaging read. I almost wish it was longer. I really want to watch the movie now as well.
March 21, 2021

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Is this a feminist book?

I just read this book called YOU PLAY THE GIRL, a book of essays about pop culture written through a feminist lens, and one of the essays was about Stepford Wives - I seem to recall the author juxtaposed it against the Desperate Housewives and writing a good deal about what it means to be a "housewife," whether you're a good one or a dysfunctional one. I really liked what the author had to say, and it actually motivated me to go dig out my old copy of STEPFORD WIVES for a belated reread.


Disclaimer: I'm a feminist, so obviously I'm a little biased, but in my opinion, STEPFORD WIVES is a feminist book in the same vein as THE HANDMAID'S TALES. STEPFORD is set in the middle of the civil rights era, where Betty Friedan is giving her talks and NOW chapters are rallying for equal rights for women. Men, for the first time, are suddenly expected to share in the housework, and women are being empowered to seek out their own jobs and goals independent of marriage and children, becoming sexually and fiscally autonomous.

One of the biggest issues that women continue to face is objectification. You see this a lot when sexist dudes talk about women, reducing them to their parts ("grab some p*ssy," "Tits or GTFO"), or talking about them as if they are trophies to be won for their accomplishments ("I'm such a nice guy, so why don't I have a girlfriend?"). It's gotten better, but not nearly as much as it should have, and one of the more chilling aspects for me is how modern STEPFORD WIVES feels, despite being published in 1972. I don't know about you, but it doesn't speak very highly towards our society that we're still being plagued by the same exact issues almost fifty years later. Especially since the chilling climax of this book is objectification in the ultimate sense: taking living, breathing women and replacing them with actual objects: in this case, robots.

I've read this book several times over the course of my life, and with every reread I take something new from the text. I feel like I was able to appreciate it more this time because I've been reading more books about history and feminism, so I have a better appreciation for the zeitgeist of the time of this book's publication, and what the broader historical context behind it was. In fact, I would say STEPFORD WIVES actually improves with subsequent reads, because there are all these sinister hints that you pick up on while reading between the lines that make it even more terrifying.


When Joanna first finds out about the Men's Association, she is against it. She expects her husband, who claims to be a feminist, will be, too, but he joins because "the only way to change it is from the inside" (6). The irony here is that the only changes being made on "the inside" are occurring within the context of her marriage: Walter sabotages Joanna so slowly that by the time she finally feels the noose tightening, it's already too late.

After one of his Men's Association meetings, Walter comes home late and masturbates furiously in their bed, but acts ashamed when she catches him: His eye-whites looked at her and turned instantly away; all of him turned from her, and the tenting of the blanket at his groin was gone as she saw it, replaced by the shape of his hip (15). They have sex at her insistence, which ends up being "one of their best times ever - for her, at least" and she says, "What did they do...show you dirty movies or something?" (16). This is one of those moments where, in subsequent rereads, the reader wonders: did the members of the Men's Association indoctrinate Walter by showing him what they do to their wives, and did the possibilities of that excite him instead of horrifying him?

Towards the end, after Bobbie, a friend to Walter and Joanna, "changes", Walter hesitates when it's time to say goodbye: Bobbie moved to Walter at the door and offered her cheek. He hesitated - Joanna wondered why - and pecked it (77). I took this to mean that Walter is thinking of his own wife's pending transformation and feeling guilt and uncertainty. Should he go through with it? When Joanna is worried about her friend, Walter has this to say: "There's nothing in the water, there's nothing in the air....They changed for exactly the reasons they told you: because they realized they'd been lazy and negligent. If Bobbie's taking an interest in her appearance, it's about time. It wouldn't hurt YOU to look in a mirror once in a while" (86). He goes on to say: "You're a very pretty woman and you don't do a damn thing with yourself any more unless there's a party or something" (86). That's when I felt like it became too late for Joanna. In the midst of her mental breakdown, she let herself - and the house - go, and Walter decided he didn't want to deal with that, any of it, anymore. Why settle for a flawed woman when you could have a perfect one?

When Joanna tries to run away from the women and the men from the Men's Association corner her, they hunt her down like an animal and mock her fear. I took this to mean that the objectification was complete: they no longer saw her as human - they knew she was about to become a robot, and so to them, she was just a thing. What makes this even more ironic is when they say, "[W]e don't want ROBOTS for wives. We want real women" (114). Because I've heard so many men say similar things - that they want smart, clever, beautiful women...but there's always a qualifier. As long as they don't try too hard, as long as they aren't more successful than me, as long as they aren't shrill or know-it-all.

The Men of Stepford want "real" women...but they also don't want flawed, forgetful women who sometimes let themselves go and don't want to do all the housework. They want the women of their fantasies made real: they want Pygmalion.

"Suppose one of these women you think is a robot - suppose she was to cut herself on the finger, and bleed. Would THAT convince you she was a real person? Or would you say we made robots with blood under the skin?" (114)

The ending of this book is depressing AF. I'm not sure what the message is, exactly, either - is it saying that men are inherently sexist and unwilling to move towards equality? Or is it a warning of the reductio ad absurdum variety of what objectification can lead to if left unchecked? And what of the children: are they going to groom their daughters to become robots when they come of age as well, marrying themselves off to the highest bidder? The story becomes even bleaker if you consider the possibilities. I took it as a warning, and a criticism of the patriarchy, but STEPFORD is open to so many possible interpretations, and I think that's what makes it such an interesting and lasting book.

3.5 stars
Profile Image for Bren fall in love with the sea..
1,576 reviews270 followers
July 23, 2020
“That’s what she was, Joanna felt suddenly. That’s what they all were, all the Stepford wives: actresses in commercials, pleased with detergents and floor wax, with cleansers, shampoos, and deodorants. Pretty actresses, big in the bosom but small in the talent, playing housewives unconvincingly, too nicey-nice to be real.”

Ira Levin-The Stepford Wives.

It is important for people who are not familiar with the original Stepford wives to understand that this is not a comedy. It is a genuinely frightening novella that is fantastic but creepy as anything.

I feel that this is one of the best. Fun it is not. It is very rare that one reads a book with such a strong sense of doom as the Stepford wives.

It is bleak, dark and horrifying. If there is one thing I worry about, it is that some people, not having read this, and not having seen the original movie, will go into this thinking it's going to be a light funny book.

Nothing is further from the truth. This is a genuinely frightening read and a great one as well. This novel is quite short and you will not be able to turn away.

You will notice I have not done a plot review. Do I really need to do that with this book? I think not.

I cannot remember or think of to many books that take the idea of marriage and drive an arrow through it as effectively as this book. And it is also important to note that the original movie is just like the book. I did love the remake and enjoyed it for what it was but it wasn’t close to being at the level of the original.

This is one of those times where I honestly don’t know what is better, the book or the movie. They’re pretty closely aligned and they are both just horrifying.

I have heard many different theories about what Levin was trying to achieve with this book. Far be it for me to know but he created a terrifying tale that was so powerful that the term Stepford wife made it into the human consciousness and still exists so powerfully today.

Now I have to say that I can think of some men who might go along with scheme like this if it were possible. Can you?

Without naming names, a certain powerful (and repelling) person with the initials: DJT perhaps? Or perhaps a certain person who was featured in the news this week for screaming and ranting at Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.

Things have changed a lot since since this book was written. But they haven’t changed as much as many would like. There are still many men who are terrified at the idea of female power in any form. It’s frequent, it’s pervasive and it is damn scary.

This book will never ever lose its relevance and if one hasn’t read it, they really should.
Profile Image for Rachel.
365 reviews164 followers
November 11, 2022
Who needs monsters when you have men?

The town of Stepford, move there if you want some cult vibes. I saw the newer movie adaptation before reading the book, and definitely found the book more entertaining. It’s obviously not supposed to seem plausible and there’s no real mystery, and the horror element is really focused around the gaslighting of the wives primarily. Of course, the meat of it is the eerily domestic women in the insulated little community, who mysteriously abandoned their political group around the time the men of the community started theirs…and no women allowed of course. We all know *something* happened to the women, we just don’t know what it is.
I think we’ve all met people who behave like they are in a toothpaste commercial and it makes me want to flee. There is a major discomfort for me as a woman reading about women who are patronized and disrespected and manipulated, because that still happens. Even though it was so over the top, tbh I feel like some men wouldn’t mind this scenario playing out with their partners in present day.

Anyway this is a quick read, and if you want a light horror read then this may fit the bill for you. Of course, IL wrote books that went harder on horror and thrills but this is an easy one to pick up.
Profile Image for L A i N E Y (will be back).
394 reviews678 followers
December 31, 2020
Since reading, and loving, The End of the Affair and The Great Gatsby, I have been readily more open to reading more books that I - a.) generally know the plot of and/or b.) have seen its adaptation on screen. And that agreeableness made me suffer through all 200 pages of this bone dry, robotic *winkwink* story of The Stepford Wives.

Nice premise, egregiously bland book. Underwhelming writing with about ten pages of suspense, if that. And with basically no resolution.

rating: ★½
Profile Image for Robin.
485 reviews2,626 followers
March 24, 2021
Warning: spoilery stuff ahead

The amazing thing about this story is its wide-reaching cultural impact. Whether you've read the book or seen any of the film versions, when you hear the term "Stepford wife", you know what it refers to: an immaculate woman in a 1950s throwback poodle skirt, with an impressive rack - and a glassy, eerie gaze. She's "so busy" with her housework and pleasing the husband she is so lucky to have, she doesn't have time for anything else.

The idea behind this chilling social satire is nothing less than ingenious and that is why this book has achieved iconic status.

But the reading of this novella is a whole other thing. A brief 125 pages, this reads like poor YA with a few errant sex scenes. The super simplistic plot, the cardboard characters, and the lack of tension for the most part, combine to make for a truly lacklustre reading experience. Had I not the stunning visuals in my mind from the silver screen versions, it would have been far more forgettable.

It's a satire on misogyny and oppression. It portrays an exaggerated, negative male response to feminism. I understand that. However, the author failed to interest me - not with language, motivation, characterisation, or fear. He repeats the word "hausfrau" at least a dozen times. And he employs a monochrome brush of the broadest possible size to paint the men in this book. Are we to believe after a few meetings at the Stepford Men's Association, every man is going to be sold into murdering his wife and turning her into a robot? There could have been so much more complexity and believability if we could have seen ANY thought process - any at all - on the part of the men, especially our main character's husband. Sadly, the end result is bland, underdeveloped and a little bit boring.

As I said, the idea is brilliant. Ira Levin is the same man who brought us Rosemary's Baby. Based on these two books, it's safe to say Levin didn't have a great opinion of husbands, or neighbours either, for that matter! And it's equally safe to say this guy's imagination translated remarkably well to film. 3 stars for ideas that keep us thinking, decades later.
Profile Image for Carol.
1,370 reviews2,138 followers
May 11, 2016
I REALLY do like Ira Levin's style of writing!

There's a frightening secret in the town of Stepford, and Joanna & Bobbie hope to get out of Dodge before it's too late, but the Men's Association is powerful and time is running out.

THE STEPFORD WIVES is a creepy little satirical novella that proves (some) men are pretty shallow or really were afraid of the Women's Liberation Movement!

Suspenseful and deadly read!

Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
2,933 reviews10.6k followers
November 10, 2015
When Johanna, Walter, and their children move to Stepford, everything seems perfect. A little too perfect, in fact. Why do all the Stepford wives live to do housework and please their husbands? Is their a conspiracy afoot or are Johanna and her friend Bobbie imagining things?

The Stepford Wives is a paranoid thriller by Ira Levin. There is also quite a bit of social satire as well. What would a community be like if all the women behaved like the stereotypical 1950's style housewife?

It's a pretty creepy book, though Levin eases you into the waters little by little so you don't notice all the dead animals around the pond until you're up to your neck in it. The feel reminded me of Jack Finney's Body Snatchers a bit. When will it be Johanna's turn to join the ranks of the sexually charged housewife drones?

On the negative side of the scale, the book is very much a product of its time. All of the male characters seem like they'd be right at home working with Don Draper. Also, the 1972 publishing date wasn't all that far removed from the book's 1950's portrayal of male and female cultural ideals. Now, over 40 years after the book was written, everything seems quaint and a little ridiculous.

3.5 out of 5 stars. I'm throwing in an extra .5 for the level of creepiness.
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,964 reviews294k followers
November 15, 2021
Like a lot of people, I knew the basic premise of The Stepford Wives, but I'd never read the book or seen the film adaptations before. I was surprised how chilling this was. And quite depressing, too.
Profile Image for Kelly (and the Book Boar).
2,450 reviews7,564 followers
May 26, 2017
Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/

“I want to wish you a sincere and hearty ‘Welcome to Stepford.’”

A quaint little hamlet nestled somewhere in Connecticut, Stepford is a place where you can buy your dream home for a mere $52,500 (obviously this book is kinda an oldie but a goodie), your children will attend Grade-A schools and have plenty of friends to play with, and your husband can unwind after a rough day at the office at the local Men’s Club . . . . .

And how will you occupy your free time? Well, if you are even a halfway decent wife you won’t have much of it with all of the housekeeping you need to focus on. But on the off chance you do have a minute or two, it’s nice to find new products to test out while your husband is watching the big game . . . . .

Walter and Joanna have just recently moved to Stepford. It should only take a few months for them to discover all of the amenities their new town has to offer, but hopefully sooner than that because poor Joanna . . . . .

File this under “I can’t believe I never read this before now.” At less than 150 pages this is a tiny little nugget you can easily devour in one sitting. Aside from the aforementioned real estate prices and a couple of outdated pop culture references this 40+ year old novel withstands the test of time remarkably well. My husband should probably read this in order to figure out how to get me to be a little more like this . . . . .

And not quite so much like this . . . . .

Book #4 in my quest to obtain a new coffee mug from the Winter Reading Challenge!

Profile Image for Ana Mardoll.
Author 7 books387 followers
July 17, 2011
The Stepford Wives / 9780062037602

"The Stepford Wives" is one of those rare horror novels that reads even more creepily when you already know the twist at the end. I read it when I was younger and merely liked it; now that I'm older and re-reading it, I find it absolutely terrifying.

The most terrifying thing about the Stepford men isn't that they objectify their wives into sex-slaves and cleaning-bots; no, the most terrifying thing about the Stepford men is that they don't *seem* like the kind of men who would do that sort of thing. They don't seem overly boorish or loutish or medieval in their thinking; the men help with the housework and give lip service to equality with their protestations that they intend to "change from the inside" the men-only Men's Association. Terrifying, too, is the fact that these men weren't somehow brought up believing that turning their wives into automatons is the right way to live; the Men's Association has been around for a mere six or seven years, and in that short time *every* man in Stepford has signed on to the barbaric replacement of their human wives with mindless servants. Not a single man in Stepford has refrained from turning his wife into an unthinking sex-bot, and based on Joanna's newspaper findings we cannot soothe ourselves with the thought that perhaps the more principled men moved away with their families.

The men of Stepford are men who are sexist, but seem on the surface not to be. Joanna sits in on a meeting and at first enjoys the flow of the conversation, feeling she has struck a blow for women's equality; it is only when the men start treating her like an object (expecting her to wait on them, and drawing her as an object in the midst of their deliberations) that she starts to feel genuinely uncomfortable in their presence. When Joanna starts objecting to living in Stepford and fearing for her safety, her husband responds kindly and sensibly -- they will move, if that is what she wants, just as soon as the school year ends. This kind response lulls Joanna into dangerous complacency; because she believes her husband does care about her as an equal, she is willing to let precious time slip away, not realizing that her husband's reassurances are completely false.

"The Stepford Wives" is a true horror story as it counts down inexorably to the end; it's impossible not to feel Joanna's heart-pounding terror as she tries to flee the town (an attempt that resonates all too well after having read Jessop's "Escape" earlier in the year). If there is a moral here, then perhaps it is that prejudices can be easily hidden and can arise from the most unlikely among us -- and that even the most liberated can be tempted to hurt and objectify another, when given the chance.

~ Ana Mardoll
May 6, 2015
The Stepford Wives, a story of women who have no means of self-expression, might have been the story of real women in Jordan, Syria or Yemen. Women who are utterly controlled by their husbands but look quite normal, fashionable even as they no longer (have to) wear hijab. But it's the story instead of American women whose husbands would like to control them in the same way and, like Arab men, have no controls on themselves whatsoever. Unable to fulfil this desire in the usual ways of living, they result to extremism. So the women are dehumanised in life and in the book.

Although this is a good, light read from one point of view, what it says about the nature of the majority of men is not light at all. In Arab society there are men, a few, who do not like the strictures their women have to live under, but most do not object at all. Some seek to deepen it even unto the utter keeping of women as private pleasures and public invisibility as in Saudi Arabia, and some, with some success, seek to spread their control of women into our own societies.

Ira Levin's book is as much a parable as it is entertainment.

Edit. For those who think that this desire for control of women is not in the nature of the majority of men, I'm talking globally, not just of people living in a couple of rich, secular, emancipated countries in the world, although that said, that is where the book is set.
Profile Image for Bill.
908 reviews161 followers
February 9, 2023
It's always good to return to a book you remember liking to find that you enjoy it even more reading it again. Ira Levin's 1972 novel may be short, but it's full of tension that keeps on building up until the final shocking ending.
Although I've read the novel & seen the 1975 film more than once it's still a great read thanks to Levin's superb plotting. I think it may be time to reread another of his novels again very soon.
Profile Image for Becky.
1,339 reviews1,633 followers
October 5, 2013
When it all boils down you gonna find in the end
A bitch is a bitch, but a dog is a man's best friend
So what you found you a hoe that you like
But you can't make a hoe a housewife
Clearly Dr. Dre has never been to Stepford. You can make ANYONE a housewife there.

In October 2011, I read Rosemary's Baby, and it was amazing. I'm glad that I read it before this one, though, because I feel like if I had read Stepford on its own, I might not have gotten as much out of it as I did, even though that's still probably less than I should have.

I feel like there was a pattern of behavior in the way that the two main character husbands behaved in these two books. Both move their wives/family into a seemingly perfect new home, with just the nicest neighbors. The Hubs fit in like a fish to water, but Wifey is... a little on the outside. Things just don't feel right, but Hubs is there to encourage her to keep on keepin' on, that everything's fine... And when that doesn't reassure Wifey, he starts with the manipulation: Maybe YOU'RE the problem. Everyone here is so nice, and you're the one making things difficult. Don't you want to fit in? Won't you even TRY?

He plays on these wives' desires to compromise, to trust in their husband, to stand by that "love, honor, and obey" crap. They want to give it a chance, and not be unreasonable. And in the end, the wives are the ones who suffer.

And it's this that makes Levin a genius. He writes from the perspective of the victims, the ones who lose in the battle they didn't know they were fighting, against the men they swore to stay with through thick and thin... and in doing so, he shows us how ordinary men can become almost evil in their aspirations and greed, and their deluded ideas of picture-perfect marriages. The very women they should be fighting to protect against outside threats are the ones they betray from the inside... and in such mundane fashion that it's THIS that makes these stories so terrifying. I mean, yes, there's the supernatural aspect - and the overall fate of these wives was awful... but the loss of trust, that's the scary thing.

Levin's writing here was great, and just as straightforward as in Rosemary's Baby... but there were times when I felt that sections ended in an awkwardly abrupt way. As though there was another sentence to follow, but it was just forgotten. In fact, there were a few times when I had to check the page numbers in my copy (which is an old, well-read ex-library edition) to make sure that none of the pages were missing. It's for this that I can't give this one 5 stars. In every other aspect, it's completely deserving of it.

The little details in this book are great, the things that only have significance after things come to a head and you are able to see the whole picture. (This is one of the things that I loved about Rosemary's Baby, as well.) I really enjoyed the repetitiveness in the newly Stepfordized ladies' explanations of their recent, err... attitude adjustments. It's creepily nearly verbatim, something that I noticed, but Joanna likely wouldn't have.

I love the vagueness of the story, how we have Joanna's suspicions and theories, but nothing concrete... and we never really find out for sure, but we do know that she was right about the end result.

I do wonder, though... How would this little community carry on like this? I mean, sure, it's a blast for a few years. Picture it: You get to hang with the dudes, play poker and watch porn all you like, no nagging wife at home to cramp your style, and even better, when you waltz in at 3:45 in the morning, smelling like a brewery and a cigar factory, Robo-Wife is there to do her nightly duty while you lay back and think of how perfect your life is.

But they are very short-sighted. What happens in 5 or 6 years? Or 10? Or 15 and all the daughters are learning that their one role in life is to be a man's slave... Do these fathers want their daughters to end up married to guys like they've been? Do these fathers care that they are teaching their daughters to be nothing more than a cooking, cleaning, penis receptacle for some guy who can't be bothered to actually think of them as a person?

Probably not. And considering that there are people in the world who really do think this way is terrifying.

The moral here, ladies? Just buy a "personal massage device". They always satisfy, and can be disposed of when they go bad, unlike men. Well... legally, anyway. ;)
Profile Image for inciminci.
358 reviews34 followers
December 8, 2022
Stepford Wives definitely is one of the most engaging books I’ve ever read, it totally grabbed me and I thought the pacing is insane.

We follow Joanna, who is a modern woman of the 70s, interested in the Women’s Liberation movement, politics, feminist theory and photography. Scattered throughout those really suspenseful moments in the lives of Joanna and her husband Walter moving to the idyllic suburban town Stepford to escape the stress of the city, thanks to Joanna’s interests there is a variety of early feminist namedrops, ideas and examples from the lives of different women. But once they move to Stepford, Joanna first slightly and progressively more intensely senses that things are off here. All women become perfect and pretty and give up their own hobbies and professions and think of nothing but housework – they become plain. Their husbands and children love the changes in these women and everything is great for them, but what about the women? Is this a natural process or is there a plot, a conspiracy against women orchestrated from the anachronistic Gentleman’s Club?
I loved reading this – the writing was awesome, the characters interesting to follow, useful literary references… Then there is the ending. I have to say I was a little shocked and not amused, .

This was a buddy read over at the Shine and Shadow reading group!
Profile Image for Kerri.
980 reviews351 followers
October 14, 2022
The second Ira Levin book I have read (after Rosemary's Baby) and I'm incredibly impressed by several aspects of his writing. First; how simple and almost easy it feels, second; how impeccably he builds up paranoia and fear, where you feel the characters confusion without the book itself becoming confusing, and third; the ideas, which are brilliant and perfectly executed.

The term 'Stepford Wife' seems to have become shorthand for oddly perfect, submissive woman (perhaps with an undercurrent of insult when directed at real people that isn't present in the source material). People tend to know what you are referring to, even if they haven't read the book or seen the film. That both The Stepford Wives and Rosemary's Baby have had such a cultural impact is amazing, but having now read both, I'm not surprised. They are so chilling and also oddly plausible. For all that the big reveals are excellent, there is also that unfortunate realism of fairly typical women discovering that their seemingly typical husbands have betrayed them.

Now that I have read both of these iconic books I will watch the films when able. There are two versions of The Stepford Wives, and while I am more interested in the earlier one, I would like to see both.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Michael.
907 reviews135 followers
September 22, 2012
As Peter Straub points out in the introduction to this book, a lot of people miss the point. It is not "the easy satire on the banality of suburban housewives that it is commonly taken to be - a misconception that has installed its title in our language as shorthand for those homemakers who affect an uncanny perfection." This resulted in the fact that, after Ann Romney's recent speech at the RNC, I was asked whether I thought she was "like a Stepford Wife." No, she's not. For one thing, her vocabulary is too large. But, more than that, referring to politically-active conservative women as Stepford wives undermines the feminist argument of this novella.

The critical point here is that this novella is not a parody of the WOMEN of Stepford, it is a parody of their HUSBANDS. As with Rosemary's Baby, which is actually about Guy Wodehouse, not Rosemary or her baby, the title here is a deliberate distraction. This book is a humorous critique of the anti-feminist backlash that takes the anti-feminist slogan "War of the Sexes" at its word and suggests that men are so frightened by women's liberation that they will start executing them to prevent it. The fact that our narrator’s husband is “a good guy,” who – at first – treats his wife as an almost-equal only heightens the irony that, when offered a pleasure-android with bigger breasts who will keep the house meticulously clean, he is just as willing as all of the others to kill his own wife to get it.

It was interesting to me to see how the book differs from the movie. Unlike most film-adaptations, several scenes have been added to the novella, and fairly little was cut, resulting in a rather long movie (for 1975 sci fi, anyway). There is even the addition of a surprising new character with the unlikely name of Raymond Chandler who isn't in the book. It also seems to me that the truth of the “Men’s Association” is lost in the film: that it isn’t a long-standing organization with an archaic membership policy, but it was a recent innovation founded to combat a growing feminist presence in Stepford after Betty Friedan gave a well-received speech. Also unusual for a film-adaptation, the movie has more explicit sexual references than the book does, and plays up that side of what the men are “up to” while the book leaves this largely to the reader’s imagination.

At any rate, the premise of this book is disturbing, and it is intended to be. The prose is efficient and the pacing effective. At its short length, it is a quick read and may actually comment more deeply on American society than it is generally given credit for doing.
Profile Image for Ria.
430 reviews61 followers
February 11, 2020
‘’They never stop, these Stepford wives. They something something all their lives. Work like robots... They work like robots all their lives.’’

I just wanted to say that I liked the Stepford Wives 2004 remake. Fight me... the 1975 is obviously better tho.
“What’s the going price for a stay-in-the-kitchen wife with big boobs and no demands?”
It’s 2020 and there are still men who want a submissive housewife that will be hot, hair/nails/clothes on point every fucking day, will clean and cook daily and will take care of their 2-3 kids without complaining. Just fuck a robot. It’s a relationship. Both parties need to make money and take care of the house… Look I know that there are women who want to be housewives *don’t get it, can’t convince me that they aren’t brainwashed into liking this shit by their parents* but why tho. I hate kids & can’t cook to save my life so what do I know. I’m a city girl. I could never live in the suburbs.
It’s a satire of the irrational hatred people had *and honestly still do* for feminism & the women’ liberation movement. Some people just want family values. The woman to stay home, have 0 hobbies & have her life revolve around her husband and kids.
I think that we can all agree that by the end of this less than 200 pages book you will get irritated & have the urge to stab someone.
Profile Image for Susanne.
Author 13 books142 followers
February 13, 2013
Creepy, unsettling, horrific, made me want to sit and fume and hate men for a bit.

This book is even scarier than the original movie, although the movie provides more background and explanation as to how the murderous bits would actually work.

While some of the organizations and details in the story may be "dated," the core horror of this book is still -- and will always be -- with us:
How well do you really know your significant other?
If your husband could have the woman of his dreams, would he betray you?

It's those very real insecurities that power the fear in this tale.

NOTE: If you get the edition with the introduction by Peter Straub do not read that intro first! Not only does he assume you've already read the story, he's pretty tone deaf when it comes to the issue of male/female relations.
Profile Image for Carla Remy.
837 reviews61 followers
May 11, 2023

Like his Rosemary's Baby, this tells the story of a likeable wife being utterly betrayed by her own husband for his personal benefit. This is more sci fi, and here the conspiracy is bigger (the whole town!), but they both involve the husband using her body for his own happiness and success.
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