This one has come highly recommended by one of my trustworthy reader friends. It’s a novel, but I am hoping it is also a how-to guide.
I’ve been sick for what seems to be the last decade, but a calendar suggests it’s only been about eight days. Nevertheless, illness has been cramping my style. For a while, I was too miserable to even read, which is a new low for me.
(You know how when you go to the doctor and she asks you to rate your pain based on a set of faces ranging from happy to grumpy? The lowest one should just be a book with an x through it. That’s my low.)
Anyway, I’m kind of back, and I started reading again last night. I’m re-reading an old favorite for a directed studies group I’m leading. After all these years, I still adore Catcher in the Rye.
What about you: Love it or hate it?
Elevator Pitch: A bookish girl, Greer Kadetsky, heads off to college and discovers all of the ways the world is sympathetic to men (especially rich white men), often at the expense of women. After meeting Faith Frank, a famous feminist in the vein of Gloria Steinem, Greer devote herself to feminist cause. Greer’s exciting new life upends all of her plans, including her plans with her high school boyfriend Cory, who has an awakening of his own.
My Tagline: Hmm, this is tough because the novel is really quite original. I’d say The Feminine Mystique meets Lean In meets Backlash (with a teeny-tiny dash of The Devil Wears Prada–but just the good parts).
My Opinion: Every once in a while, you come across a book that says things you’ve felt and thought but that you’ve never been able to give voice to. Or that you’ve struggled to arrange in any coherent way. Wolitzer is one of those authors who keenly says all the things you didn’t even know you wanted to say.
The novel itself takes on problems with white feminism and calls out lack of intersectionality. But it also reckons with what that means in a world that’s financed (largely) by old white dudes who, if they even support women’s causes, are far more interested in charismatic and conventionally attractive white women figureheads.
I know some readers were bored or frustrated by the plot. It’s definitely not a plot-driven book, though I think it’s compelling enough. I felt like Cory’s story was muddied Greer’s at times, and I was more interested in her and her relationship with Faith than I was with him. He might have needed his own book, actually.
What kept me reading was the characters, especially Greer. She’s a stand-in for millennial (or post-millennial?) feminists, and I really wanted to see how she would square second-wave feminist with her own views. Ultimately, I think Greer’s conclusion is a little depressing and doesn’t leave a ton of hope for major structural changes, nor does it offer much hope for intersectionality. But I think it’s a pretty realistic portrait of what feminism actually looks like now–and why we need to keep talking about these issues.
Wolitzer points out all the ways that the world is made for men. Here are some of my favorites:
Referring to badly behaved men: “How could men like this even hold their heads up? Yet they did” (277). [Seriously. How do some of the dudes of this world not just die of embarrassment??]
Describing a meeting with men and a woman: “Faith, when she spoke, was perceived as smart and articulate too, but the men felt free to cut in and interrupt her” (282). [Yup.]
Discussing why women are so hard on ourselves: “Faith thought, it’s not that I’m so hard on myself exactly, it’s that I’ve learned to adopt the views of men as if they were my own” (284). [Yup.]
Talking about feminism in general: “She was reminded by older activists that the vanguard had to be extreme so that the more moderate people could take up the cause and be accepted” (287). [I’d never thought of it this way before.]
Describing privileged men: “Men like him romped through the world, and it wouldn’t be possible to take away his sense of freedom or security” (300). [I’d like to romp.]
Writing about the things men “let” women do: “Men give women the power that they themselves don’t want” (325). [So true. ]
Questioning what it means to be a “good” girl: “Good girls could go far, but they could rarely go the distance. They could rarely be great” (352). [Definitely. Being a “good girl” is not a goal.]
Verdict: Definitely read it if you are interested in feminism. It would make a great high school or college graduation gift, in fact.
If you loved Wolitzer’s other books, I think you’ll like this one too. My favorite remains The Wife.