Thursday, May 5, 2011


     Sometimes a term from literature or movies enters the national lexicon, its meaning potent and universal, even if the work itself fades from wide-scale popularity.  "Stepford" is such a term.  When placed before "wife" or "husband" or what-have-you, it implies a vacuity, a sort of robotic hollowness that renders the person in question more automaton than human.
     The term's popularity may well have been helped along by the movie The Stepford Wives, which has its place in the pantheon of 1970's paranoid, fear-of-authority cinema (one of my very favorite genres, naturally).  But the term, the idea itself, originated in Ira Levin's novel.  Levin wrote the fantastic Rosemary's Baby, which Roman Polanski's fantastic movie was based on (and talk about paranoia . . .) as well as the slightly lesser known The Boys from Brazil (which also spawned a movie version).  But for the deftness of his literary skill, the original Stepford Wives cannot be topped.  It's  a very quick read, but it manages to characterize an era of the national dialog, and of women's rights in particular, with great clarity.  And as a stylistic achievement, it is incomparable.  This is a 208 page novel in which, essentially, nothing at all happens and yet, thanks to a tone of underlying unease, every page is utterly riveting.
     There was, of course, a Stepford Wives remake with Nicole Kidman.  I don't remember it being as horrendous as everyone claimed, but honestly, it is hard to imagine anything outdoing that book.

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