On a flight to Helsinki, where her husband, Joe, will receive a Nobel-like literary prize, Joan Castleman suddenly realizes she wants out of their marriage of 40-plus years: ''[W]e were thirty thousand feet above the ocean, hurtling forward but giving the illusion of stillness and tranquility. Just like our marriage.'' The book, The Wife, soon jumps back to 1950s Smith College, where Joe is a charming -- and married -- professor and Joan is a cardigan-wearing freshman and aspiring writer. Wolitzer expertly constructs this lopsided relationship, particularly Joan's stoic pocketing of her own ambitions, into an eviscerating and acerbically funny novel. Just how much will a wife sacrifice for her husband's success? Wolitzer keeps us guessing right up until the gut-wrenching twist of a finale.