True story: there was a time when, for a few months, one of the online places I used to visit somewhat compulsively was the "Stepford Wives"
thread at a certain conspiratainer's online message board. After finding my way there through Google search engine results, I was confused. "They can't be serious? ... They ARE serious! ... Well this is entertaining. ... Wait that person made a pretty good point. ...Oh. Oh THAT'S just crazy." After a while of reading all sorts of weird shit, and occasionally some engrossing stuff, alternately dismissing claims, laughing at them, or actually evaluating them and considering the possibilities, I moved on to greener pastures. When I mentioned this to Peter a few months ago, he said something along the lines of, "I know exactly what you're talking about--WHY does that kind of stuff hold such sway over people?" I told him I thought it was because it's a great story--whether or not you "believe" it, it's just a good, entertaining, interesting narrative. It's fun to think about.
That's how I feel about this book. It's a great story (it is also quite creepy; maybe replace "fun to think about" with "horrifying to think about"). I saw in another review the writing style named as "compact" and I think that's quite apt. The writing isn't flowery or overly descriptive, yet the phrases Levin uses are very familiar in that you can see the actions really clearly in your mind. It's really short--I feel like I only spent a couple hours reading it--and that may be part of its strength too: it doesn't hit the reader about the head with anything, it doesn't bog down, you know something is afoot, and it moves you along toward that goal. I did come to it knowing the basic premise, probably considerably "spoiled" in the plot/premise, but I don't really think my experience suffered from it. It's possible that knowing what was going on before the protagonist did made it more enjoyable, since I had the advantage over her to see what was going on while still not knowing how her story ended.
It's also a good piece of social commentary. I have the version that has Chuck Palahniuk's introduction (Everywhere is Stepford), which I read after finishing the book. I appreciated his commentary and generally agree with his point--which is that backlash against the gains we've made to end sexist oppression persist and that Stepford-type wives are still revered--although some of his phrases bothered me, for example: "a master at accentuating a woman's best features"--seriously, you couldn't have just inserted "physical" in front of "features"? Even then, "best" would be somewhat specious, but with the addition of "physical" to that sentence I would feel better about it. In another example: "This it seems is progress: women may now choose to be pretty, stylishly dressed, and vapid." I don't think that being "stylishly dressed" or "pretty" should be confused or conflated with "vapid"--that's just another face of the false dichotomy that a woman can be only pretty or only intelligent/interesting, not both. I also think it's true that often fashion & style are denigrated solely because they are "women's" pursuits. We indoctrinate our children from birth to see females as decorative sex objects...and then when they have the natural desire to feel attractive and use the avenues outlined for them by our society, we knock them for it. This is what I call "not so awesome." (I may think a lot of fashion is frivolous but no less so than, say, professional sports teams. But somehow playing in a fantasy football league is "cool," "fun," and "takes skill," while comparing & contrasting the merits of different outfits is "shallow," "vacuous," and "superficial.")
Anyway. I'm super glad that I read this book. I find it very intriguing. I would encourage anyone who's interested to give it ago. Even if you hate it, it's so short that you won't waste much time on it.
Update: Read this to Peter in April 2013. He loved it! He was on "pins and needles" and was a great audience. :)