The Woman Who Wouldn't by Gene Wilder

I enjoyed My French Whore enough that when I found out Gene Wilder had recently released a new one, The Woman Who Wouldn’t, I decided to check it out. After all, I had the following to say in my review:

It should be interesting to see if Wilder can further hone this craft as he did his comedic acting. His first effort showed enough promise that I will be sure to pick up his next work.

So, does his latest work reflect that he has furthered honed his craft? Not really. But before you assume that is a harsh or negative answer, allow me to offer that I don’t think that was his intention. I don’t think Wilder is seeking to be a great writer or hone his craft in some academic or literary way. Rather, I think he enjoys telling stories of a certain kind. He isn’t doing this to get rich or famous but because he enjoys it. 

So what kind of stories are involved? Well, here is how PW describes the plot of The Woman Who Wouldn’t:

Wilder’s short second novel, following the similarly semifarcical My French Whore, takes a poignant and whimsically romantic poke at turn-of-the-last-century Europe’s privileged gentry. When British concert violinist Jeremy Spencer Webb snaps, pouring water down a tuba and pounding the Steinway during a performance, he is sent to a health resort in the German Black Forest to recover. There, under the care of the orchestra director’s brother, Dr. Karl Gross, Jeremy meets his idol, the consumptive Anton Chekhov, and an elusive cute Belgie named Clara Mulpas. His treatment, a regimen of rigorous walks, long baths, fine dining and the local white wine, is put to the test when he is asked to play with the string quartet that entertains the guests during dinner. The episode ends badly, but helps deepen his friendship with Chekhov. Jeremy also grows closer to Clara: struggling to restrain his normally flirtatious impulse so as not to scare her off, he gradually wins her over, with unexpected results.

I said of My French Whore that it was a “silly, sappy, love story. But Wilder infuses it with enough wit and heart that it is enjoyable regardless.” That can be said of this work as well. Kirkus calls it a “A sweet, adult fable.” Wilder has a certain minimalist style; a straightforwardness that matches the brevity of his stories. But there is also a sense of humor; what PW calls “whimsically romantic.” This second novel has a happier ending but it still has the poignancy and the sense of the power of love.

Whether you would enjoy The Woman Who Wouldn’t thus depends a lot on your taste. If you are a fan of Gene Wilder you will obviously enjoy these books as they share a large aspect of his personality. But if you are looking for complexity, cynicism, or psychological realism I am not sure Wilder is for you.

But if you enjoy simple, romantic, and often poignant stories told with a touch of whimsy then you probably will enjoy Wilder’s novellas. Personally, I enjoy complexity and depth as much as the next but it is fun to try something different now and again. And I enjoy Wilder’s simplicity and belief in the redemptive power of love.

A little sappiness never hurt anyone.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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