I recently read The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer. The central conflict of the book is a modern-day Lysistrata-inspired sex strike, but the novel investigates this occurence with a great deal of nuance and sympathetic characterization. Chapter 7 offers a lovingly recreated but bitingly funny scene of a high school teachers’ potluck supper. The scene plays out largely through the eyes of Leanne Bannerjee, the school’s young and attractive guidance counselor. In contrast to many of her colleagues, Leanne is single and enjoys an active sex life with multiple partners. Normally she does not experience shame or doubt about her lifestyle, but she starts to feel the pangs of difference at this potluck – starting at the buffet table, resplendent with homemade dishes and colorful vegetables:
All the food that had been brought to the house tonight was gaudy and enticing, except for Leanne’s dumped-from-a-supermarket-tub hummus, which seemed to say: The person who brought me is the young, sexual one who is involved with three different men. She has no time to spend on potluck. Please excuse her.
As the night goes on, and the town’s conflict quietly resonates under civil but increasingly tipsy conversation, Leanne periodically returns to the table look at her hummus. No one was eating it, and it becomes even more unappetizing, developing a “lunar, pitted surface.” Leanne feels “strangely protective of it, as if it were her child, and he or she was being ignored on the playground.”
I feel particularly sympathetic to Leanne’s predicament this week: I made guacamole for a friend’s birthday, and the dip was similarly spurned – all the more stinging when it was made by my own hands! But in the context of the novel, this hilariously astute scene is the preface to Leanne’s conversion to the town’s sex strike – she begins to worry about how her own sexual practices appear to others. (It also provides one of her lovers, the high school principal, the opportunity to display his attachment to her by being the first person to drag a carrot through the deflated, neglected dip.)