Sunday, October 18, 2009

Playing House by Fredrica Wagman

When Playing House appeared in 1973, Publishers Weekly hailed it, "A probing descent into madness that will fascinate the same audience that appreciated I Never Promised You a Rose Garden." This nationally bestselling story of one woman's struggle with the lasting effects of a childhood sexual relationship with her brother shocked American readers, and is a literary work of enduring quality and value.

In his foreword Philip Roth writes, "The traumatized child; the institutionalized wife; the haunting desire; the ghastly business of getting through the day — what is striking about Wagman's treatment of these contemporary motifs is the voice of longing in which the heroine shamelessly confesses to the incestuous need that is at once her undoing and her only hope."

With Mackenzie Phillips recently disclosing her incestuous relationship with her father, we have had to think about this unpleasant situation and shudder. Unfortunately, some of you may be shuddering because you know exactly what that is like. I was given Playing House to review before Mackenzie dropped the bomb, but I think now is the perfect time to post this.

This novel is narrated by a woman who spent most of her childhood in a sexual relationship with her brother. Now, as an adult, she is unable to live a productive life. Quite frankly, she is crazy. The novel flows from her mind onto the page and it can feel like you are reading a complete train wreck. The intensity of her love and hatred of her brother - and he for her- can be difficult to read. Without her brother's love and affection she ceases to function. Her brother is unable to deny himself, but also spends a great deal of time treating her horribly both physically and emotionally.

The unnamed narrator attempts to live her life. She marries "The Turtle" and has kids, but it is not enough. Her entire life is spent making comparisons to her brother. Her eventual affair is with a man who reminds her of her brother. She at times realizes that her life will never be complete without her brother. There is never a "fix" in the reader's eyes, but I think the narrator might feel differently.

I don't know exactly how I felt about this book. It was convoluted and intense. It made me feel dirty while reading it. It also made me feel overwhelmed. I kept thinking things like, "It is so obvious their mother knows" or once the narrator is an adult, "What about her children? Who cares for them? Are they neglected?" The feelings of adoration for her brother are disturbing, but are they realistic? Is this how you feel if you are molested by a brother, begin a relationship, and never move past it? Do you compare all men in your future to this level of intensity? Luckily, I have no idea.

I would only recommend this to someone who is willing to read something intense that deals with inappropriate sexual behavior. This book is a mere 160 pages, but it took me a long time to read. I had to put it aside several times and read something lighter.

Thanks to Julie at FSB Media for providing me this book to review.


  1. I've seen this book but not read it. Sounds pretty intense, but I think I'll look out for it. Great informative review. Thanks.

  2. This book has been on my list for awhile. I'm waiting until my TBR stack diminishes...but I may have to get it sooner.

    I just read and reviewed "High on Arrival," by Mackenzie Phillips, and it is posted at: