At first, Sam revels in his new neighborhood. Like a tourist in Paris, she discovers a bakery and a grocer, “surprisingly everything she needed was within walking distance.” But she quickly realizes that she has not only traded a new home for an old one, she has forsaken the physical security of the suburbs. Even the money Matt gives her—thinking the house and divorce as a momentary fad—can’t protect her, a lonely woman, in a neighborhood where “opioid zombies” roam the streets and shots are fired at dawn. Huh.
But as the months go by, Sam decides that the house has served its purpose. “That’s why you came here,” she thinks. “You’re here to testify, see the world, and then act and make it better.”
This is, in some ways, familiar territory for Spiota, whose precisely observed, fiercely intelligent imagination rests on all women who resist comfort and security, who question – and often sacrifice – wealth and success. To seek refuge on the margins of society. But while Spiota’s previous novels take on Didion-like cold fusion, “Wayward” reads like a burning fever dream, driven by hot fury rather than icy removal. There’s a mythological quality to her narration, as well as a deep tension of humour, such that she – like Sam – can’t believe the world in which we have found ourselves.
That world will be, well, 2017, probably six weeks after Trump’s inauguration. “Is it about the election?” Matt asks when Sam tells him she is leaving. Not so, she insists; However, over the ensuing months, she has transformed from a Talbots-clad housewife into someone who feels not only ridicule but also anger toward her well-placed peers, her ” With age-defying, sculpted shoulders and upper arms,” her “expert balayage highlights” and “ash-blonde with a gray-disguise.” Sam finds refuge in Facebook groups with (hilarious) names like “CNY Crohn’s” and “Hardcore Hags, Harrisons and Harpies,” not realizing — sadly — the extent to which he walked down a rabbit hole. Gone, behind him is Clueless Matt and his terrifyingly self-motivated 17-year-old, Ally, whose piercing eyes Spiota shows us Sam from time to time. Of course, the picture is not pretty.
Neither is “Wayward”. But it’s far better: a virtuoso, eccentric and very funny portrait of a woman seeking prudence and purpose in the world gone mad. And here’s the thing: In the eight years since those first nights in my new apartment, I’ve remarried and moved into a charming house in a beautiful neighborhood. My life is happy and full. But as I read “Wayward,” I felt a tinge of envy for Sam’s silent home, for his ability to provide order to his own days, and for “his furious attempt to lead an honest life.” Even more,” in fact: “A good life. You can’t do anything or you can do better.”