The author of Innocents and Others returns with a novel about midlife: On the heels of the election of 2016, Sam Raymond's life begins to come apart: her mother is ill, her teenage daughter is increasingly remote and she leaves her marriage. Moving into a fixer-upper and incensed about the state of the nation, Sam gets involved in local history and women's activism, all while grappling with her troubled relationships.
... furious and addictive ... I diagramed Wayward on a paper napkin to show a friend, trying to explain the novel’s hold on me. The lure isn’t just voice or plot ... Sam turns out to be an ideal guide. She’s rash, funny, searching, entirely unpredictable, appalled at her own entitlement and ineffectuality—drawn with a kind of skeptical fondness ... The local pleasures of Spiotta’s writing are sharp, and many: Sam recalling the narcotic pleasure of holding her daughter as a baby, her painful longing and loneliness for it now. Or smaller moments ... So much contemporary fiction swims about in its own theories; what a pleasure to encounter not just ideas about the thing, but the thing itself—descriptions that irradiate the pleasure centers of the brain, a protagonist so densely, exuberantly imagined, she feels like a visitation.
The menopausal (or in this case, perimenopausal) protagonist is rare, which is just one thrilling aspect of Dana Spiotta’s new novel ... Sam burrows into several women’s groups online and in person (Spiotta is highly amusing in her renderings of these; one of the novel’s many pleasures is its humor about the humorless) ... Spiotta’s novel is at once satirical and earnest: Sam asks what she can do to atone for her thoughtless privilege, what role she might play as an agent of change. There’s much comedy in the asking (menopausal feminists delivering deliberately unfunny monologues at open-mic night at the local comedy club prompts an uneasy titter in both the audience and the reader), but the novel makes clear that the answers aren’t straightforward ... Spiotta’s novels are unfailingly dense with life—the textures, digressions, and details thereof—and Wayward is no exception ... Spiotta offers grand themes and beautiful peripheral incidents ... She writes with sly humor and utter seriousness ... For this reader, roughly the same age as Sam Raymond, there is uncommon pleasure in the paradoxes of this climacteric tale.
[A] a comic, vital new novel ... Sam’s unprincipled pursuit of her confused principles gives the novel a loopy energy ... When a wife, not her husband, is the one to indulge a midlife crisis and abandon her family, her behavior is either derided as selfish or championed as subversive. A good novel shouldn’t ask us to choose between those readings, and Spiotta has written a very good novel ... If Wayward has competition in the category of best American novel devoted to the subject of perimenopause, I am not aware of it.