The Other Woman Essays


From some of America's top writers comes a groundbreaking, compulsively readable and bestselling anthology about that taboo subject -- women who steal husbands and lovers from other women, the consequences for those left behind, and the impact made by the vixen, the Lorelei, the Jezebel ... the bitch ... on families and our futures.


June issue

Invite the bitch to dinner" is one wickedly brash survival strategy in The Other Woman: 21 Wives, Lovers, and Others Talk Openly About Sex, Deception, Love, and Betrayal, edited by Victoria Zackheim. Among the star turns in this unusually frank and furious collection of essays are Pam Houston's "Not Istanbul," a hypothetical journey into an impossibly complicated relations ("Here's the thing about the other woman. She lives inside your head") and Connie May Fowler's "The Uterine Blues," a savory bit of rancor from a woman scorned.

The Other Woman
Edited By Victoria Zackheim
Warner, $24.99 (276p)
ISBN 978-0-446-58022-9

The Other Woman may be a topic of eternally prurient interest, but the main attraction of this strong collection of 21 personal essays is the top-drawer writers... Narrated from the point of view of the marriage wrecker or that of the wife who suffers the anguish of triangulation in a trusting relationship, these tales drip with the bitterness of experience... The anthology features tales from women of all ages, lesbians and women who have been abused physically: it is a candid and truly fascinating look at how men and women love and hurt.


Cheating hearts; Essays examine the pain and suffering the modern-day mistress injects into relationships
Candace Fertile

Pain, pain, pain. That's what the essays in The Other Woman have in common. Relentless, heart-searing pain. Occasionally moments of joy punch through the walls of despair, but overall this collection indicates that being the other woman or having to deal with another woman is hurtful on numerous levels. These essays explore a range of experiences. The other woman is frequently vilified, even by herself, and these essays are quite an eye-opener. Sometimes, the other woman is a victim...The other woman herself often becomes one in a series. Love and lust are complicated, and this collection shows that human beings are flawed, often behave badly, suffer, and can learn from their mistakes. All of the women in this book are writers, some famous, such as Jane Smiley and Pam Houston. The essays are all competent and moving, and some are infuriating.

Dianne Rinehart
It hurts to cheat in love
Women will do anything for love.
That much is clear in Victoria Zackheim's revealing�and riveting�collection
of female-authored essays in The Other Woman. What isn't as clear is the answer to the question: Why? And even more so�as we get to know the men beloved by these wives and lovers�why with this lot, none of whom comes across as the charismatic Cary Grant in An Affair to Remember, but rather as cads, really, who lie as easily and as often to their lovers as to their wives, betraying them not only to each other, but with Other Other Women. The power behind Zackheim's collection is in the rich, multifaceted perspectives
that can make us feel as sorry for the Other Woman (or at least pity her) as for the wife, though not...sorry for the philandering husband. There are bitter lessons in this book, too, for TOW. Zackheim's collection is both piercingly analytical�none of these women hides her faults or humiliations�and timely, arriving when we are apparently fixated
on the Other Woman. Written by top writers, these modern tales from the marriage crypt are grippingly paced and rich with social analysis and insight...

When we think of �the other woman,� thoughts run from a harpy to a home wrecker, from a scheming Jezebel to a heartless predator. After all, she�s the woman who seduces husbands and often hopes to replace the loving wife. In the introduction of The Other Woman, editor Victoria Zackheim asks, Who is this creature who arrives like a wrecking ball to devastate our lives and our families? Girls grow up primping and dieting to defend against her; boys grow up developing their pecs and abs to be enticed by her. And yet who among us has intentionally brought up our precious daughters to become her? It�s too easy to lump �the other woman� into one neat little description. While it�s true that she often has the power �to throw a wrench into our relationships and, quite often, bring the entire mechanism to a grinding halt,� she has also been known to drive wives and girlfriends to a new-found sense of power. However, the one element that is a uniting force of these essays is deception...All of the essays in this anthology are unforgettable. They are honest, revealing, and offer a glimpse into the lives of some of this country�s finest authors. The result is a collection that reads more like a page-turning novel. When you catch your breath and remember that all of these stories are true, you�ll be touched by the willingness of these women to let you in on their secrets. Sometimes painful, other times funny, always wise�this is a wonderful book.

Jezebels, Loreleis, Bitches, Vixens, and Home-Wreckers

By chowardbc | Books | April 6, 2010 | Comments ()

By chowardbc | Books | April 6, 2010 |

In the same trip to the library as my last post, I picked up The Other Woman, a breezy-read anthology of 21 essays that explore various sides of non-monogamous relationships from a female perspective. Some of America's top writers candidly discuss Jezebels, Loreleis, bitches, vixens, and home-wreckers. The essays explore deeply personal experiences, from heart-wrenching anguish to light-hearted humor to full-throttled rage, in order to show that, in the end, neither the mistress nor the wife is entirely responsible or free from blame in the destruction of a relationship.

Every "other woman" is enticingly multi-faceted: mistress, wife, girlfriend, lover, daughter, mother, co-worker, neighbor, escape, confidante. Each essay sheds a glimmer of perceptive, and often sensible, recognition of the complexity of love and devotion.

Pam Houston's essay "Not Istanbul" illuminates how destructive obsession with an affair

ooze[s] into every nook and cranny of your cerebrum, until you won't be able to think of anything else. And if you let her take up residence there, no matter when you cut her off, no matter how hard you try to starve her, you may never, ever, get her out. (p.1)

While I understand the old adage that concentrating on the other woman only gives her undue power, Houston's take on the idea of obsessing over a man's affair was particularly poignant. You see, she points out, a woman never sees herself as the other woman. Even if the man we are interested in has been in a long-distance relationship for years with another woman. That woman is the other woman.

There is still no point in the conversation when it comes anywhere near your consciousness that, technically speaking, the Other Woman is you. (p. 10)

That line smacked me in the face. It's true. We are so self-involved, wanting what we want, that other women are villainously in our way, rather than realizing that our actions are hurting someone else.

While Houston has experience as the Other Woman, Connie May Fowler's unleashes a no-holds-barred diatribe against women who have affairs with married men in "The Uterine Blues: Why Some Women Can't Stop Fucking Over Their Sisters." She berates the married man:

If he has kids -- and maybe even if he doesn't -- he most likely wines, dines, and pampers her more often than he spoils his legit woman. After all, he has a full-blown life, complete with ups and down, joys and sorrows, with the woman who washes his shorts. (pp. 123-124)

And while she hates TOW (her term for "the other woman"),

the bitch, the liar, the cheat, the no-good-keep-me-awake-and-crying-all-night-cuntress, (pp. 125-126)

Fowler has some sympathy.

And she is tragic. Yes, despite her abundance, her sheer numbers, her self-evident place in society, she is invisible, anonymous: the freakin' unknown dishonorable soldier of the heart. (p. 124)
And do we, as women, really have such low self-esteem that we're willing to screw over our fellow sisters and put out on the basis of a lie delivered on the wings of a smile? Why are we so willing to believe him when he says he is going to leave his wife? The stats are in: Even if he does leave her, he's not likely to end up with TOW because, once the marriage is over, TOW is no longer a fantasy (sex without ties); she's a home wrecker. (p. 134)

Fowler calls on women to quit fucking around and victimizing themselves, to have some self-respect and quit letting men enjoy the spoils of our insecurities. She's badass. And a pretty great writer to boot.

Some of the other essays include:

  • "Palm Springs" by Mary Jo Eustace -- recognizing herself as an aging mother and losing her actor husband to a young starlet
  • "Iowa Was Never Like This" by Jane Smiley -- complex polyamorous (and poly-not-so-amorous) relationships and attempts to splice needs into little sections to be met by various people
  • "The Mistress" by Dani Shapiro -- a heart-breaking story of a young woman living for years as an isolated mistress for a wealthy older man only to discover that everything he told her about his family and his marriage is a lie
  • "Cassandra" by Caroline Leavitt -- how the betrayal of a friend keeping a husband's affair a secret can be more heart-breaking and damaging than the affair itself; while romantic relationships may wax and wane, women expect their friendships to weather all turmoil
  • "Sheba" by Sherry Glaser -- walking away from a one-sided lesbian relationship into the arms of a soul-mate
  • "The Man With the Big Hands" by Maxinne Rhea Leighton -- surviving sexual abuse as a child only to be involved in emotionally destructive relationships as an adult

    This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of chowardbc's reviews, check out the blog, Pool of Books.

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