Review: The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

Review: The Female Persuasion by Meg WolitzerThe Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: literary fiction
Pages: 454
Published by Riverhead Books on April 3, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Greer Kadetsky is a shy college freshman when she meets the woman she hopes will change her life. Faith Frank, dazzlingly persuasive and elegant at sixty-three, has been a central pillar of the women's movement for decades, a figure who inspires others to influence the world. Upon hearing Faith speak for the first time, Greer--madly in love with her boyfriend, Cory, but still full of longing for an ambition that she can't quite place--feels her inner world light up. Then, astonishingly, Faith invites Greer to make something out of that sense of purpose, leading Greer down the most exciting path of her life as it winds toward and away from her meant-to-be love story with Cory and the future she'd always imagined.

My Review:

There was just so much buzz about this book that I couldn’t resist picking it up. But now that I’ve finished it, I have a whole boatload of mixed feelings.

I started this book in the morning, and kept returning to it. In the end, I finished it in one day, all 454 pages of it. It is extremely readable – at least after the first chapter. But once I finished, it just didn’t feel like there was all that much there, there.

As I said, mixed feelings.

The story feels like it sits right on the border between literary fiction and women’s fiction. If it wasn’t for the heaping helpings of feminism and feminist history, I’d be certain it was women’s fiction, because the focus isn’t just on the women in the story, but primarily on their relationships with each other. The few men who feature in the story are very much secondary characters.

Not that the women are not themselves interesting, because they certainly are.

The protagonist of the story is Greer Kadetsky, who is a college freshman when the story begins. Shy, awkward, withdrawn and miserable, at first it seems as if Greer is a character who will not be much fun to follow. That first chapter is all Greer’s perspective, and it is pretty shallow and self-absorbed. She’s eighteen, so while it may be forgivable, it doesn’t make particularly thrilling reading.

But her story really begins when she meets Faith Frank, an icon of second-wave feminism. (If Faith seems modeled on Gloria Steinem, that’s probably close to the mark.) When Greer meets Faith, she is inspired to do more, to be more, to step outside her comfort zone and finally begin speaking up for herself.

There’s no question it’s the making of her.

Fast forward to Greer’s graduation. Her arrival at the offices of Faith’s feminist magazine for an interview occurs on the day the magazine closes. But again, that event galvanizes Greer, and when Faith starts up a new venture, Greer is one of the first people she calls.

Faith’s new venture, Loci, a combination speaker’s bureau, event management company and charitable foundation, all focusing on women, seems too good to be true. When Greer finally discovers that truth, it nearly breaks her. It certainly breaks her relationship with Faith.

And it’s the making of her, all over again.

Escape Rating B-: As I said, a whole boatload of mixed feelings. A boat the size of a container barge might be about right. Or an oil tanker.

While the first chapter almost threw me out of the book, once I got past that point – in other words once Greer stops being so inward-turning and actually starts doing things, she gets less self-absorbed and the story becomes difficult to put down.

At the same time, this is very much in the literary fiction tradition that not a lot happens and when it does it happens offstage. While traumatic events definitely do occur, we see them through the characters chewing them over (and over) and dealing with the aftermaths – with one notable exception, we’re not actually present for the event itself. So the book feels more like its about how the characters feel than about what they do.

For a book that purports to be about feminism, or at least about a feminist icon, or even about said feminist icon passing the torch to a new generation, it still seems very much rooted in second-wave feminism, which was mostly about middle and upper class cisgender white women and didn’t have a whole lot of intersectionality. And while the fact is that Faith’s new foundation definitely has a problem in this regard, that the problem gets lampshaded repeatedly does not actually solve the problem. And while it may not be intended to solve the problem for Faith’s foundation, it remains a problem with the book as a whole, and adds to the ultimate sense of shallowness. At least for this reader.

In the end, The Female Persuasion doesn’t feel so much like a book about feminism as it does feminist-adjacent airport fiction. But it will probably make an excellent movie.

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