Click here to read reviewer Megan Duncan's take on Sleeping with Ward Cleaver.
Most romance stories follow a fairly predictable pattern of Boy Meets Girl, Boy Woos Girl, Boy Loses Girl for an instant, Boy Wins Girl back, and they live happily ever after in a state of constant bliss. In Sleeping with Ward Cleaver, the formula was thrown out the window in favor of a revolutionary new idea in romantic storytelling: Jenny Gardiner tells the story of what happens long after happily ever after began, right splat in the middle of the no-longer blushing bride and her now terribly stern and grouchy groom. Five kids and fourteen years later, Claire is wondering where her happy ending went.
Dreading their scheduled Sunday night marital intimacies, Claire’s narration introduces us to the humdrum life she’s belatedly found herself leading. Her husband, Jack, awaits her in bed, wearing his typical pinstriped pajamas and reading specs. After ignoring her all night, she knows he will expect the “chore” to be done before she sleeps. Sick kids and messy bathrooms intervene, giving her a brief respite. The handsome, loving guy she was passionately head-over-heels in love with at her wedding has morphed into a stodgy workaholic who doles out lectures and orders and likes things scheduled to death. Life, for Claire, trudges along. She is lost in the depressing minutiae that can run all of our lives should we let it. Everywhere she looks, she sees another reason to be unsatisfied, unappreciated, and unloved.
Until, that is, she receives an email from an old flame. Emails flurry back and forth, ripe with innuendo and half-remembered excitement, while her marriage continues to crumble. Todd reawakens the woman in her, and it doesn’t take a genius to guess that they will find themselves in a compromising position at some point or another.
Sleeping with Ward Cleaver is cleverly worded, cute and mildly entertaining. The first few chapters, particularly, are heavily laden with sarcastic humor. The characters are one-sided to the extreme, making it difficult to get a real sense of anyone, but the unhappy Mrs. What it isn’t new- it’s been done before, and better. It is real enough, however, to twinge the reader with vicarious worry and guilt when Claire dips her toes into the waters of possible adultery with old Todd.
It isn’t the quite light chick-lit one might expect, but it will serve to make us old married gals take a second look at our own lives with a new respect. Gardiner nails the inner workings of a marriage, right down to the loud silences and the shared glances that speak entire conversations without words. Sleeping with Ward Cleaver is kind of like a marriage manual of how not to behave when dissatisfaction tries to creep into the middle of a long-term relationship. The biting humor offsets the unease while sinking into Claire’s personal pity party, to some degree… but not enough to make the story “enjoyable”.