Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Female Persuasion

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
Penguin Publishing Group: 4/3/18
eBook review copy; 464 pages
ISBN-13: 9781594488405

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer is a highly recommended coming-of-age novel that follows a decade in the life of a young woman and explores friendship, relationships, ambition, and mentors.

Greer Kadetsky is a freshman at Ryland College who is trying to keep a long-distance relationship going with her high school boy friend, Cory Pinto, who is attending Princeton. She has always been a bookish, intelligent, independent girl with parents who were more self-involved than parental.  She was also accepted at and planning to attend an Ivy league school with Cory, but her parents messed up the financial aid form, which Greer still resents. When Greer gets groped at a frat party during her first weekend at college, she is hesitant to report it. Her politically savvy friend Zee urges her to, but she doesn't until other girls go through the same thing. When the university hearing on the matter results in no sanctions or actions, Greer and Zee are angry at their inability to address the actions of this young man.

Greer and Zee are still angry when they go to hear the famous, charismatic feminist Faith Frank, sixty-three, speak on campus. Greer is mesmerized by Frank, asks her a question related to the groping incident, and the university's empty response to the charges. Later the two continue their discussion in the bathroom. Faith is taken by Greer, talks to the young woman and gives her her card. This leads to an opportunity after Greer graduates to work for the feminist icon at her new foundation, Loci, which sponsors conferences about women's issues.

The writing is excellent. I loved this:  "You know, I sometimes think that the most effective people in the world are introverts who taught themselves how to be extroverts." It is clear from the beginning that Wolitzer knows how to tell an entertaining and engaging story while keeping her plot moving forward. The Female Persuasion really becomes a saga as it follows Greer and the others through the decade. The narrative follows Greer, Cory, Faith, Zee, and another male character. These are all well-developed but flawed characters, with strengths and weaknesses. The characters are all distinctive and have their own individual voices. While Greer is the compelling central character, in some ways Cory is actually the more sympathetic and humane character.

Is this the feminist blockbuster of our times? Well, I'm not convinced it is, but perhaps I'm too old for it. It is certainly a very good novel and I was engrossed in the story. I would agree that it explores embracing womanhood, yet also suffering because of it. All the young characters start out emotional, wanting to change the world, striving to make their mark on the world and do something. They are also can be a bit entitled, naive, and sometimes, well, whiny. I realize that they don't feel the need to acknowledge what women before them have experienced, how many of us have been groped, or worse long before they came along, but they also seem to want all women to be pigeon-holed into walking lock-step with a set list of ideals.

"'Sisterhood,' she said, 'is about being together with other women in a cause that allows all women to make the individual choices they want.'" Although this sentiment was shared, it was never really embraced in the novel and perhaps that is what is bothering me. As women, we fought for the right to be individuals and to be able to voice our own opinions and be in charge of our own bodies. We don't need to throw that away by insisting that it means only these ideals or only a specific stand on certain issues. Sometimes I see women destroying our own freedoms by not allowing others to have their own views and opinions based on their experiences.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the Penguin Publishing Group.

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