Review: Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

Review: Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van PeltRemarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: literary fiction, magical realism, relationship fiction
Pages: 360
Published by Ecco on May 3, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

A novel tracing a widow's unlikely connection with a giant Pacific octopus.
After Tova Sullivan's husband died, she began working the night shift at the Sowell Bay Aquarium, mopping floors and tidying up. Keeping busy has always helped her cope, which she's been doing since her eighteen-year-old son, Erik, mysteriously vanished on a boat in Puget Sound over thirty years ago.
Tova becomes acquainted with curmudgeonly Marcellus, a giant Pacific octopus living at the aquarium. Marcellus knows more than anyone can imagine but wouldn't dream of lifting one of his eight arms for his human captors--until he forms a remarkable friendship with Tova.
Ever the detective, Marcellus deduces what happened the night Tova's son disappeared. And now Marcellus must use every trick his old invertebrate body can muster to unearth the truth for her before it's too late.

My Review:

Remarkably Bright Creatures is a story about higher numbered chances than merely second and the long tentacle of coincidence that helps them happen.

Initially, they don’t seem to have much in common. A man whose prime isn’t very prime, who seems to have thrown away all his chances. An aging woman who has lost both her husband and her son, living lonely but determinedly in the house her parents built. And a giant Pacific octopus eking out his final days in the tiny Sowell Bay Aquarium on Puget Sound.

But Marcellus the octopus, whose placard outside his tank lists him as a “remarkably bright creature”, is as clever as he is bright. He’s also an intelligent observer of human behavior and a bit of an escape artist. There isn’t much else to do, all alone in his tank.

So he occasionally squeezes himself out to graze on the sea cucumbers – or even hazard a trip to the staff break room when the smell of leftover Chinese takeaway is too tempting to resist.

Which is how Tova Sullivan finds him, outside of his tank, caught in a tangle of wires and electrical cords and about to suffer what Marcellus calls “The Consequences” of being out of a tank for more than 20 minutes. Which he can calculate.

Marcellus is, after all, a remarkably bright creature.

Tova rescues him from the tangle. Not only that, but she doesn’t report Marcellus nighttime excursions to the aquarium’s director. It’s their little secret and the beginning of their unlikely friendship.

A friendship that ultimately results in both of them achieving the dreams they never admitted that they held. Not even to themselves.

Giant Pacific Octopus at the National Aquarium in Washington DC

Escape Rating A-: This book turned out to be WAY more charming than I expected. It was recommended by someone in my reading group so I was expecting a decent to good read, but this turned out to be just lovely.

This is kind of a quiet story, where things happen slowly and truths emerge over time. To the point where it borders on literary fiction a bit. But instead of being dark and gloomy where nothing happens and everyone argues a lot – which is how I tend to see litfic – the situations all start out a bit gloomy but everyone gets better. Even Marcellus.

At first you kind of wonder how Cameron’s story is going to link up to Tova’s and Marcellus’. And that coming together takes a while and goes off on a couple of tangents as it meanders along. But once it does, it all fits together beautifully.

What holds the story together – besides Marcellus’ tentacles – is Tova. Her son disappeared without a trace when he was just 18. Her husband has passed away. She’s alone – and yet she’s not. She has friends, she has a job, she makes sure she has purpose. And yet she also has concerns about what will happen to her when she can’t live on her own anymore.

Being Tova, she doesn’t wallow. Instead, she takes steps to determine her own future for her own self. In her situation I’d want to be her when I grew up. She’s a character to both admire and empathize with. To the point where we want her to get a better ending than it looks like she’s headed for when the story begins.

Cameron is not initially all that likable. He’s not bad, and he’s taken some seriously rough knocks, but he’s not good at taking responsibility for himself. And at 30 it’s past time he did. He arrives in Sowell Bay searching for his sperm donor in the hopes of a big financial score. He’s doomed to be disappointed – and it’s the making of him.

Marcellus – who is much more present as a character than one might think – is an absolute gem. At the same time, his intellectual presence in the story, his perspective on the events that he helps to bring about, is both fascinating and a bit equivocal. Anyone who wants to believe that all of the thoughts and actions ascribed to Marcellus are in the minds of Tova and Cameron – in the same way that we all believe we know what our pets are thinking when we most likely don’t – the story still works – and works well.

But it’s so much better if you let yourself believe that Marcellus is helping Tova and Cameron all along – and that they are helping him as well.

I enjoyed Remarkably Bright Creatures a whole lot more than I ever expected to. And in that way that when you are conscious of something you suddenly start seeing it everywhere – like getting a new car and being aware of all the cars of the same make and model sharing the road with you – I liked this so much that I started seeing books with octopi characters everywhere. In addition to Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus from a few years ago there’s The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler coming out in October, and Sea Change by Gina Chung next year.

I’m going to hunt me down some more octopi to read about while I look forward to seeing what this author comes up with next!

Review: Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Review: Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle ZevinTomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: literary fiction, relationship fiction
Pages: 416
Published by Knopf Publishing Group on July 5, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

In this exhilarating novel by the best-selling author of The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry two friends--often in love, but never lovers--come together as creative partners in the world of video game design, where success brings them fame, joy, tragedy, duplicity, and, ultimately, a kind of immortality.
On a bitter-cold day, in the December of his junior year at Harvard, Sam Masur exits a subway car and sees, amid the hordes of people waiting on the platform, Sadie Green. He calls her name. For a moment, she pretends she hasn't heard him, but then, she turns, and a game begins: a legendary collaboration that will launch them to stardom. These friends, intimates since childhood, borrow money, beg favors, and, before even graduating college, they have created their first blockbuster, Ichigo. Overnight, the world is theirs. Not even twenty-five years old, Sam and Sadie are brilliant, successful, and rich, but these qualities won't protect them from their own creative ambitions or the betrayals of their hearts.
Spanning thirty years, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Venice Beach, California, and lands in between and far beyond, Gabrielle Zevin's Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is a dazzling and intricately imagined novel that examines the multifarious nature of identity, disability, failure, the redemptive possibilities in play, and above all, our need to connect: to be loved and to love. Yes, it is a love story, but it is not one you have read before.

My Review:

That “Love is all there is, is all we know of Love” is from the pen of Emily Dickinson, a poet who was near and dear to Sadie Green’s heart. But Dickinson’s poem, as ineffably true as it is, does not specify the type of love to which it refers. It’s often taken to mean romantic love. In this story, while there is plenty of love to go around, the form of love at its heart is not Eros but Philia, the love of friends and equals.

The relationship that stars, and sings, and occasionally weeps with grief or is frozen by neglect and misunderstanding in Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow is the 30 year friendship and partnership between Sam Masur and Sadie Green, who meet at a children’s hospital in New York when they are on the cusp of adolescence.

They are both stuck at that hospital. Sam is about to undergo yet another surgery to stabilize the damage to his foot that he incurred during the accident that killed his mother. Sadie has been shuffled out of her sister’s room because Alice, who has leukemia, is also being a temperamental bitch to her younger sister – and their parents are indulging Alice because, after all, she has cancer and Sadie is healthy.

Sam and Sadie discover that they both LOVE computer games. Love to play them, love to talk about them, love to share them with anyone who will listen – which mostly means each other.

But Sam thinks Sadie is his friend – and he’s not wrong. But Sadie starts out thinking that helping Sam while away the hours is her public service project for her upcoming Bat Mitzvah. The revelation of her deception breaks them in two.

Until they meet again in Boston, where Sadie is now going to Harvard while Sam is at MIT. And their friendship knits itself and them back together as though they had never parted – although the faultline created in that first and biggest deception lies deeply buried and waiting to erupt again.

The friendship between Sam and Sadie, in all its depth and all its incipient heartbreak, is rooted in their shared love of gaming. It’s the mid-1990s, and computer and video gaming is at that golden age where it has become a big business but the games can still be built by just a few dedicated people who are willing to eat, sleep and breathe the game until it comes out or they burnout – whichever comes first.

Sam and Sadie, with the help of Sam’s roommate Marx, decide to make a game. They sacrifice their senior year in college to do it. And the rest, as they say, is history. Just not the one anyone would expect.

Escape Rating B-: Everyone seems to love this book. The ratings on both Goodreads and Amazon are at 4.4 out of 5. I’m saying this up front because I have to say that I’m just not seeing it – or at least not seeing it the way that so many people seem to.

For me, at least, this one sits on the border between relationship fiction and literary fiction, with a bit too much of a tilt towards the litfic side – which is not my personal preference.

At the same time, I loved the parts about the video game industry. I played many of the games referred to in the story, and still play video games. The way their company starts out, how it develops, the fights, the ups and the downs, reminded me fondly of the reporting on the industry at the time.

But the video game industry is used more as a vehicle than anything else. It’s about the work of being an entrepreneur at a time when the work can be done by a small, intimate group who live for each other, die for each other, and breathe each other’s air, day in and day out until the work is done.

And then they start all over again because the work is an integral part of the love they have for each other. And it’s also the central point of gaming as a whole, that there’s always another game, another life, and that endings are never permanent. Until they are.

More than anything else, Tomorrow is the story of a 30-year friendship between two very scared and flawed people who love each other and more importantly know each other more and better than anyone else in their lives. Even though they grow apart as often as they grow together, they’re still in reference to each other no matter what.

So I loved the video game parts, both the playing of them and the discussion of them and especially the creation of them. And the way their friendship ebbed and flowed turned these characters into real people. Almost as if they were the player characters in a game that I was playing rather than a book I was reading.

But the last third of the book felt rather more literary fiction than relationship as the situation got bleaker and bleaker and it seemed as if there was no light at the end of that tunnel that the story was dragging towards. It read like the full quote from Macbeth that the title is taken from was a bit too much of a metaphor for the entire book.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Clearly, I had mixed feelings about the whole thing, and probably will for quite some time. There is one thing about the story, or at least about something that is often said about it, about which I have no mixed feelings at all.

There have been quite a few comparisons drawn between Tomorrow and Ready Player One, including among my reading group which probably led me astray. It seems like an easy choice, as both stories are imbued with nostalgia for what are now classic games. But Ready Player One is an action-packed adventure story. It has a pace and a verve that keep the reader compulsively following the action. Tomorrow is a much quieter, slower-paced story. Obviously, both of them have massive audiences. And there will be some overlap between those audiences. But readers coming into Tomorrow thinking it will be like Ready Player One are going to be in for one hell of a disappointing shock and probably vice versa. An opinion which is very much my 2 cents and your reading mileage may vary.

Review: The Women of Pearl Island by Polly Crosby

Review: The Women of Pearl Island by Polly CrosbyThe Women of Pearl Island by Polly Crosby
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, literary fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Park Row on December 7, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

"A luminous and beautiful novel that gently lures the reader into a captivating story with a mystery at its heart." – Jennifer Saint, bestselling author of Ariadne
Set on a secluded island off the British coast, The Women of Pearl Island is a moving and evocative story of family secrets, natural wonders and a mystery spanning decades.
When Tartelin answers an ad for a personal assistant, she doesn't know what to expect from her new employer, Marianne, an eccentric elderly woman. Marianne lives on a remote island that her family has owned for generations, and for decades her only companions have been butterflies and tightly held memories of her family.
But there are some memories Marianne would rather forget, such as when the island was commandeered by the British government during WWII. Now, if Marianne can trust Tartelin with her family's story, she might finally be able to face the long-buried secrets of her past that have kept her isolated for far too long.

My Review:

The setting for The Women of Pearl Island is absolutely beautiful, totally fascinating, and stunning in its strange and hidden history. The secrets that the island keeps are explosive, but not nearly as explosive as those kept by Marianne Stourbridge as the story begins.

The story is set in two timelines, the primary one in 2018, as the elderly Miss Stourbridge, the owner of the crumbling island of Dohhalund hires the grieving, escaping Tartelin Brown to serve as her personal assistant, general factotum, and all around helper and housemate.

As Tartelin explores the island, both on behalf of her employer and as part of her own increasing fascination with the mysterious locale, the story slips between Tartelin and Marianne’s somewhat fractious present to Marianne’s past growing up on the island that has been passed down through her mother’s family for generations. The island that Marianne Stourbridge now owns – at least what is left of it.

There are secrets buried in Marianne’s past, lost offshore on the parts of the island that have fallen into the sea in the years since 1955. The year that all the residents of Dohhalund were evacuated from their homes by order of the British military. They claimed to be testing explosives and that it would be too dangerous for the civilian population to remain.

Not that Marianne Stourbridge ever listened to what people in authority were telling her. Not now and certainly not then.

Escape Rating B: The most compelling character in this timeslip story is Dohhalund itself, a fictitious island in the North Sea within sight of both the United Kingdom to whom it belongs and the Netherlands from which it gets much of its language – at least as related to food – and its customs.

(Dohhalund is fictitious, but its geography and ecology are based on the real Orford Ness.)

Something obviously happened in 1955 on the island, a catastrophic event that Marianne Stourbridge has returned to the island to prove. Based on her previous research, and on her requests to Tartelin, it is clear to the reader if not to Tartelin that what Marianne is searching for proof of is a secret nuclear test. The evidence is everywhere among the wildlife of the island.

That the civilian population was evicted in 1955 and the island remained interdicted under military reserve for more than 50 years is a bit of a clue.

Because the most compelling character in the story is the island itself, The Women of Pearl Island reads as more than a bit lit-ficcy. It seems like not a lot is happening, the story isn’t moving all that quickly, and not many of the characters are happy about much of anything. But it still sucks the reader in like the tide that surrounds the island.

The part of the story that Tartelin is telling in 2018 feels like the stronger – or at least the more interesting – part of the book. Tartelin is still grieving the recent death of her mother, and she’s come to the island, to this strange, ambiguous job with this secretive and cantankerous old woman in order to get away from her grief and her memories – only to find herself dropped into the mystery of Marianne’s.

But Marianne’s story of the pivotal years of her childhood is told from her perspective in 1928. Not her perspective ON 1928, but her perspective IN 1928. She was 15 at the time, cosseted, protected and privileged, and she is immature, selfish and self-absorbed. Not that we all aren’t at least some of that at 15 – and even later. But it does not make her a remotely likeable character.

Tartelin, on the other hand, as frozen within herself as she arrives, is much more sympathetic. Her journey is one of reaching out and getting past, and it’s slow and sometimes hesitant, but she is getting there and it makes her the more dynamic of the two women.

But not quite as dynamic as the island itself, and the strange, sad but ultimately magical tale of it that she discovers as part of her own journey.

Review: The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

Review: The Four Winds by Kristin HannahThe Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, literary fiction
Pages: 464
Published by St. Martin's Press on February 2, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Nightingale and The Great Alone comes an epic novel of love and heroism and hope, set against the backdrop of one of America’s most defining eras—the Great Depression.
Texas, 1934. Millions are out of work and a drought has broken the Great Plains. Farmers are fighting to keep their land and their livelihoods as the crops are failing, the water is drying up, and dust threatens to bury them all. One of the darkest periods of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl era, has arrived with a vengeance.
In this uncertain and dangerous time, Elsa Martinelli—like so many of her neighbors—must make an agonizing choice: fight for the land she loves or go west, to California, in search of a better life. The Four Winds is an indelible portrait of America and the American Dream, as seen through the eyes of one indomitable woman whose courage and sacrifice will come to define a generation.

My Review:

Today is the Presidents Day Holiday in the U.S., so I went looking through the virtually towering TBR pile for something with an Americana theme. Which led me straight to The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah. While the Great Depression happened everywhere, the Dust Bowl feels like a distinctly American bit of history. At least this particular telling of it certainly is. Just as the topsoil of Texas and the Great Plains States blew east as far as Washington D.C., many of the people living in the former – and future – breadbasket of America blew west to California.

Like many of the people who went west, in that or any other era of American history, these former farmers – and doctors, lawyers, bankers and businessmen – and their families went west to make a better life for their families. Or at least a life where the very land that once sustained them wasn’t killing them with every breath.

The story, this era of devastation and loss, is seen through two women, Elsa (Elsinore) Wolcott Martinelli and her daughter Loreda. The story begins with Elsa, over-protected and under-loved, a 25-year-old woman who sees the life her upper-class parents have mapped out for her and wants none of it.

Elsa is no beauty, and she was diagnosed with a heart condition in her early teens. Her parents expect her to live the life of an invalid, doomed to spinsterhood and expected to sit quietly and self-effacingly in a corner, waiting until her parents become elderly and need her to take care of them.

Elsa wants a life for herself. One evening she goes out in secret and meets a man who is just as lonely and feels just as trapped as she does. In stolen moments together, she discovers love while he honestly just finds a temporary escape.

At least until the child they make changes all of their plans. And the dry years and the dust take away everything they ever dreamed of. It’s left up to Elsa to take her children somewhere that they might have a chance.

Or at least somewhere that the land itself won’t kill them – although there will be plenty of other things and people that just might do the same.

Escape Rating A-: I’m having a bit of a mixed feelings reaction to this book and in an unusual way. Those mixed feelings are because I recognize that this book is really, really good, while at the same time feeling like it’s not for me.

And I’m thinking that’s because for historical fiction, which it very much is, The Four Winds definitely borders on Literary Fiction which is generally not my jam. So I’m torn.

The alternative explanation is that the historical parts really drew me in, but the character of Elsa didn’t. On the one hand, she’s an indomitable spirit, surviving in a situation that would bring anyone to their knees – as it certainly does Elsa.

The difference is that Elsa doesn’t so much rise up until the very end as she puts her head down and keeps on keeping on for the sake of her children Loreda and Anthony. But she doesn’t so much exhibit courage or selflessness as she does a lack of self. She’s been beaten down her whole life and now she beats herself down whenever her situation isn’t doing a hard enough job at it.

I think that is where the story verges on Literary Fiction as she’s downtrodden internally even before she’s trodden down externally.

But the history wrapped into this is intensely compelling. It’s as though the author reached into the Dust Bowl Migration photographs by Dorothea Lange and just pulled out all of the emotion and backstory and poured it onto the page. If you’re not seeing the iconic image of the woman with her children as you’re reading this you need to take a good, hard look at Lange’s work because the images are still absolutely soul-searing 80-plus years later.

And those scorching is on every page of The Four Winds. Not just the despair of the land and the life blowing away – and into everyone’s lungs – in Texas, but the hate and derision on the face of so many Californians when they arrive. The inhumane treatment that Elsa and her children – and all of the other migrant workers – receive in California echoes through the years right up to the present and the way that immigrants are spoken about, written about and treated to this very day.

Review: Museum of Forgotten Memories by Anstey Harris

Review: Museum of Forgotten Memories by Anstey HarrisThe Museum of Forgotten Memories by Anstey Harris
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: family saga, literary fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 336
Published by Gallery Books on November 3, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

At Hatters Museum of the Wide Wide World, where the animals never age but time takes its toll, one woman must find the courage to overcome the greatest loss of her life—from the author of Goodbye, Paris.
Cate thought she’d met her match in Simon at university—until she laid eyes on his best friend, Richard. Cate and Richard felt an immediate and undeniable spark, but Richard also felt the weight of the world more deeply than most. As the three matured, he receded further and further into darkness until he disappeared altogether.
Now, four years after Richard’s passing, Cate is let go from her teaching job and can’t pay the rent on the London flat she shares with her and Richard’s son, Leo. She packs the two of them up and ventures to Richard’s grandfather’s old Victorian museum in the small town of Crouch-on-Sea, where the dusty staff quarters await her. Despite growing pains and a grouchy caretaker, Cate falls in love with the quirky taxidermy exhibits and sprawling grounds and makes it her mission to revive them. When the museum is faced with closure because of a lack of visitors, Cate stages a grand reopening, but threats from both inside and outside the museum derail her plans and send her spiraling into self-doubt.
As Cate becomes more invested in Hatters, she must finally confront the reality of Richard’s death—and the role she played in it—in order to reimagine her future. Perfect for fans of Evvie Drake Starts Over, The Museum of Forgotten Memories masterfully weaves life with death, past with present, and grief with hope.

My Review:

The Museum of Forgotten Memories sits on an uneasy border between literary fiction and women’s fiction. By uneasy, I mean one of those uncomfortable boundaries marked by a wooden fence, the kind that leaves splinters up your ass if you sit on it too long.

That’s appropriate, as the situation that Cate Morris is in when the story opens is uncomfortable in the extreme – and it looks like things will get worse before they get better. Not that she’s sure that they ever will. Get better that is.

And for a significant chunk of the story, they don’t.

When we first meet Cate, she’s in the process of packing up her London flat. She’s been laid off from her teaching position, she can no longer afford the apartment, and she’s been unable to find another position. She’s been forced by her circumstances to retreat to the only place she has left, Hatters Museum of the Wide Wide World in tiny, remote Crouch-on-Sea.

And that refuge that only exists because the museum belongs to her late husband’s family, and her son is permitted to live there whenever he wants to – or in this case needs to – as part of the trust that maintains the museum.

But this retreat is just as fraught as everything else in Cate’s current situation. Her husband committed suicide four years before, leaving her a mountain of debts and fractured memories of both their early happiness and his early life. The little he told her about Hatters and Crouch-on-Sea is sketchy at best and uncomplimentary at worst. And may have no resemblance to current or real truths.

Her son is 19 and was born with Down Syndrome. Leo lives a fairly independent life in London, but then Cate has crafted a circle of friends, activities and community in which he is occupied, stimulated and safe. The move, his reluctance to leave his friends and his incomplete understanding of the reasons why it is necessary only add to Cate’s stress.

As does her initial introduction to Hatters. The place is nothing like the trust agent told her, and the combination caretaker and museum manager is nowhere near as friendly or helpful as Cate was led to believe. And only seems too happy to inform her that her refuge may be even more temporary than she thought. The woman, who seems to be the proverbial old family retainer, tells Cate that the addition of herself and her son to the tiny museum household will push the budget so far into the red that they will be forced to close by the trustees who are eager to sell off the assets.

But it is those very assets that give this story its charm, and the secrets behind those assets that provide both the pathos and the ultimate redemption. Led by an entire host of strange, rare and wonderful animals, marvelously preserved, marching two by two into a brighter sunrise.

Escape Rating B: This is a story that needs an absolute ton of setup. It’s also a story where that setup just seems to pile the angst onto its protagonist, hence my early comment that this has a strong bend towards literary fiction. Not only is there a lot of setup in the first half of the story, but much of that setup consists of piling more stress and angst onto poor Cate. She just can’t catch a break and the story keeps pounding her into the dirt.

And then she gets a bit settled into Hatters and Crouch-on-Sea and things shift, in spite of her failed romance with a guy who turns out to be a con man and a thief.

As Cate finds her footing in the little town, so does her son. Cate begins to bring the museum out of its doldrums, and the town takes both her and Leo to its heart. The more that things seem to be getting better, the more forces seem to be arrayed in keeping them all down.

But they manage, with a lot of grit and a surprising amount of charm, to rise above and triumph.

In the end, the story which began as a deep dive into Cate’s many woes, turns itself into a much more interesting story about families and legacies, about the lies that bind and the legacies that strangle.

With that utterly marvelous museum sitting at the center of it all, and at the heart of what turns out in the end to be a terrific story. I just wish I hadn’t had to wade through that downer of a first half to get there.

Review: The Girl Who Reads on the Metro by Christine Feret-Fleury

Review: The Girl Who Reads on the Metro by Christine Feret-FleuryThe Girl Who Reads on the Métro by Christine Féret-Fleury
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: literary fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 175
Published by Flatiron Books on October 8, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the vein of Amelie and The Little Paris Bookshop, a modern fairytale about a French woman whose life is turned upside down when she meets a reclusive bookseller and his young daughter.

Juliette leads a perfectly ordinary life in Paris, working a slow office job, dating a string of not-quite-right men, and fighting off melancholy. The only bright spots in her day are her metro rides across the city and the stories she dreams up about the strangers reading books across from her: the old lady, the math student, the amateur ornithologist, the woman in love, the girl who always tears up at page 247.

One morning, avoiding the office for as long as she can, Juliette finds herself on a new block, in front of a rusty gate wedged open with a book. Unable to resist, Juliette walks through, into the bizarre and enchanting lives of Soliman and his young daughter, Zaide. Before she realizes entirely what is happening, Juliette agrees to become a passeur, Soliman's name for the booksellers he hires to take stacks of used books out of his store and into the world, using their imagination and intuition to match books with readers. Suddenly, Juliette's daydreaming becomes her reality, and when Soliman asks her to move in to their store to take care of Zaide while he goes away, she has to decide if she is ready to throw herself headfirst into this new life.

Big-hearted, funny, and gloriously zany, The Girl Who Reads on the Metro is a delayed coming-of-age story about a young woman who dares to change her life, and a celebration of the power of books to unite us all.

My Review:

There’s a power in stories, and not just the ones that last. There’s magic in books, and not just the ones that stand the test of time. The Girl Who Reads on the Métro is a charming tale of a young woman who takes that power and uses that magic to finally begin a story of her very own – a story not limited to between the pages of a book.

This is a story that invokes feels rather than thoughts – until it settles into your psyche and generates lots of thoughts. All the thoughts.

The plot is rather simple. Juliette lives a small life in the “real” but a large life within the pages of books. And she’s too shy, or scared, or too deeply programmed to even think about trading the one for the another.

She just knows she’s not truly happy. But she’s not really unhappy, either. She’s just going through the motions.

Until one morning when she meanders her way to work instead of taking the straight and narrow path and finds herself in an extremely eclectic bookstore – and at the edge of a brand new life.

Juliette has always made up stories about the people she sees reading on the Métro. Soliman and his Book Depot give her a mission – to take books from the Depot and find exactly the right person to give them to.

It’s a calling – one that takes Juliette out of her comfort zone and into the Book Depot full-time when Soliman needs someone to take care of his daughter while he goes on a mysterious journey.

But just as Juliette and the other book passers of the Book Depot find the person who needs to read each book, Soliman has found the right person to take over the Depot in Juliette. Right for her and right for the Depot.

She takes it on a new adventure – and it most definitely takes her.

Escape Rating A-: This is one of those little books that sticks with you after its done – sort of like the way that the books that Juliette gives away stick with the people she gives them to.

In spite of being set in Paris, this isn’t really a book about Paris. The focus is very tight on Juliette’s small life, her daily ride on the Métro, and her journey of discovery in, by and for the Book Depot. There really isn’t a lot about the feel of the city, so It could be any city big enough to have a well functioning commuter system. The Chicago ‘L’ would serve as well as the Paris Métro, and there are plenty of unlikely and untidy corners of that great city to house a magical bookshop like the Book Depot. And it doesn’t matter, because this isn’t about the location of the Book Depot. It’s about the magic of the Book Depot.

It’s possible to interpret this story as a paean to the physical book. Certainly the physicality of books is part of what Juliette – and many other people – love about them. The way that they absorb the atmosphere and even the aroma of the places and people who keep them – and the way that they hold their own history within the leaves of their pages and tucked inside their bent spines.

At the same time, this feels like it’s more about the power of story to change a life. The lives of the people that the passers pass those books to, and especially the power to change Juliette’s own. The right story at the right time can move mountains – or at least shift the hardest heart. And that doesn’t have to be the printed book – it’s the story that matters.

But books as artifacts are sure a lot easier to pass around. There’s always a magic in connecting the right person with the right story at the right time. After all, that’s one of the reasons that librarians do what they do.

The Girl Who Reads on the Métro is a charming story of a young woman gathering her courage to begin writing her own story – while sharing the books she loves with as many others as possible. Including the reader – as Juliette’s own list of books to pass to that reader is an extensive tease of possibilities – just like her story.

Review: Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson

Review: Meet Me at the Museum by Anne YoungsonMeet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: literary fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 272
Published by Flatiron Books on August 7, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

“Warm-hearted, clear-minded, and unexpectedly spellbinding. A novel to savor.” —Annie Barrows, co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

In Denmark, Professor Anders Larsen, an urbane man of facts, has lost his wife and his hopes for the future. On an isolated English farm, Tina Hopgood is trapped in a life she doesn’t remember choosing. Both believe their love stories are over.

Brought together by a shared fascination with the Tollund Man, subject of Seamus Heaney’s famous poem, they begin writing letters to one another. And from their vastly different worlds, they find they have more in common than they could have imagined. As they open up to one another about their lives, an unexpected friendship blooms. But then Tina’s letters stop coming, and Anders is thrown into despair. How far are they willing to go to write a new story for themselves?

My Review:

Meet Me at the Museum is a quietly marvelous little gem of a book. That it is also the author’s debut novel just makes it that much more special.

This is an epistolary novel, which is a fancy way of saying that the entire story is written as a series of letters. In this particular case, the letters are between two semi-accidental correspondents, both in their early 60s, who find themselves asking each other some of the big questions.

Questions like, “Does my life have meaning?” and, “Have I been my best self?”, as well as, “Where do I go from here?” and the big one, “Is this all there is?”

They are both at crossroads in their lives, and neither of them seems to have anyone with whom they can discuss what is really important to them – or to even to reveal what is really important to them.

The well-preserved head of Tollund Man

Tina has just lost her best friend. The friend who has been with her since childhood. And the one with whom she made a vow to go to Denmark and see the Tollund Man. When they were girls, the expert on this archaeological artifact, this Iron Age man who was dug up (or perhaps decanted) from a peat bog in Denmark, wrote a book about the Tollund Man and dedicated to his daughter and to all the children in their class in East Anglia. (This book, with its dedication, really does exist although the rest of this story is fiction.)

Tina writes to that author, all these years later, because she is putting her own thoughts down on paper, thoughts she wishes she could ask, not the old professor, but the Tollund Man himself. If he could talk.

The man who answers her from Denmark is the current curator of the museum, Anders. And at first his answers are rather dry and factual. He’s still grieving the recent death of his wife, and dry and factual seems to be all that he has in him.

But, the writing of the letters is cathartic for Tina, even if at first Anders isn’t very responsive in an emotional sense. So she keeps writing. And he keeps responding, and as he responds they step cautiously towards friendship. A friendship that is lacking in both their lives.

Anders is alone. He has his work and his children. Those children are grown now, and are beginning to have children of their own. He loves them, and they love him, but he cannot confide in them as equals. Writing to Tina becomes a solace for him. Her friendship allows him to hope again.

Tina is married, and also has children who are now having children of their own. But she is also alone – a fact which grows on both her and the reader through this correspondence. She should be talking with her husband but the fact is that they don’t really talk. They have a life together, but it is his life as a family farmer in East Anglia, a life that Tina did not want but was persuaded into when she became pregnant at 20. The person she really is only exists on the margins of her life. Her husband is one of those people for whom the only way is his the right way which is his way in everything, and he ruthlessly suppresses any of Tina’s impulses that don’t mesh with his way of life on his farm.

In her correspondence with Anders she can share her innermost thoughts. For that matter, she can share that she HAS innermost thoughts. They share the hopes, doubts and fears that neither of them is able to express to anyone in their daily lives.

So when Tina’s life finally breaks, Anders is more than willing to catch her. The question is whether she will be able to let him.

Escape Rating A+: This is absolutely completely marvelous. You wouldn’t think that reading a bunch of letters written between two strangers would be so utterly compelling, and yet it is. The reader feels like a secret witness to their correspondence, turning to each new letter as eagerly as its intended recipient.

That the two characters are both 60 or thereabouts is an interesting choice. This is a debut novel, and the writer herself is also (more or less) at that age. As am I. With modern medical science, 60 is no longer truly old, but one is certainly aware that one is no longer young. We may have 30 or even more years of mostly healthy and active living to do, but at the same time some choices are irrevocably behind us and some patterns are now too established for us to want to change even when change is possible.

Much of what Anders and Tina explore in their letters is at that crossroads. They are both aware of the roads not taken, and are searching for the meaning both in the choices they made and the ones they passed by – and whether or not it is too late to pick up some threads they left behind along the way.

This book is also the story of an emotional affair. When the story reaches its end, they have still not met in person. There are no possibilities for actual infidelity on Tina’s part, but she has come to invest a great deal of emotional capital in this relationship – which she has kept secret from her husband. That there is something wrong in her marriage becomes increasingly clear as the story progresses, and her relationship with Anders becomes both a wellspring of solace and a source of guilt as her life reaches its crisis. She has to take time out to recognize that the depth of her correspondence with Anders is a symptom of what is wrong and not its cause – but it isn’t easy.

Then again, nothing worth having or doing ever is truly easy. But Tina and Anders are marvelous and sympathetic characters. As they get to know each other, we get to know them – and we want them to find the answers to all those important questions – and to find their own best happiness.

Both the story and the way it is presented remind me very much of 84 Charing Cross Road, of which I have extremely fond memories. It may also remind readers of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which is unfortunately lost in the depths of my towering TBR pile.

But I like the comparison to 84 Charing Cross Road a bit better, although where Charing Cross has a definitive and slightly tragic ending, Meet Me at the Museum is both less definitive and more hopeful. I like leaving the book with the possibility that Tina and Anders may have brighter days ahead. And astonishingly, Meet Me at the Museum may be the first work of literary fiction that I have not merely liked, but actually, sincerely loved. I hope that you will, too.

Review: Clock Dance by Anne Tyler

Review: Clock Dance by Anne TylerClock Dance by Anne Tyler
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: literary fiction
Pages: 304
Published by Knopf Publishing Group on July 10, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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A bewitching new novel of family and self-discovery from the best-selling, award-winning author of A Spool of Blue Thread.

Willa Drake can count on one hand the defining moments of her life. In 1967, she is a schoolgirl coping with her mother's sudden disappearance. In 1977, she is a college coed considering a marriage proposal. In 1997, she is a young widow trying to piece her life back together. And in 2017, she yearns to be a grandmother, yet the prospect is dimming. So, when Willa receives a phone call from a stranger, telling her that her son's ex-girlfriend has been shot, she drops everything and flies across the country to Baltimore. The impulsive decision to look after this woman and her nine-year-old daughter will lead Willa into uncharted territory--surrounded by eccentric neighbors, plunged into the rituals that make a community a family, and forced to find solace in unexpected places. A bittersweet, probing novel of hope and grief, fulfillment and renewal, Clock Dance gives us Anne Tyler at the height of her powers.

My Review:

Willa Drake is living a life of such quiet desperation that she never quite realized just how desperate she’s become. And just how much of an apologetic doormat she is in her own life. Until circumstances, along with a tiny bit of her own once and future spark, finally crack open, not even a doorway, but at least a window out.

We all tend to marry types, and Willa’s first husband was a real jerk. Her second is an ass. Not quite an asshole, but certainly an ass. And her older son takes after his father – her first husband. But both of them condescend to Willa at every turn, and act like the world revolves around them, because Willa does everything she can to enable them to maintain that belief.

Her second son, who we don’t see all that much of, takes after her. She patterned her own behavior on her father, a quiet, saintly man who married a most likely bipolar or manic depressive drama queen.

The idea that a person either marries Gandhi or becomes Gandhi is depressing as hell, and it’s an idea that Willa seems to have embraced wholeheartedly. She’s been the Gandhi in every relationship – the saintly one who enables everything and forgives everyone all of their trespasses.

And, as one of the characters says, it must be frustrating to be married to such a person because the non-Gandhi always feels guilty, bitter or both pretty much all the time. It also means that the Gandhi-type enables all of their partner’s bad behavior, including abuse, and does not deal with the damage that is being done to any innocents in the household.

Like the children. Willa and her sister Elaine were both abused by their mother, but dealt with it in different ways. Elaine is distant and self-absorbed, Elaine makes peace at any and all costs. Neither is a particularly healthy way to deal.

But this story is finally about Willa breaking free. It happens almost by accident. Her son’s ex-girlfriend is hospitalized, leaving her 9-year-old daughter with nobody and no place. Not that little Cheryl isn’t surprisingly independent, but she’s still too young to be living by herself.

In a fluke, a neighbor calls Willa. And Willa, empty-nesting and looking for a purpose other than mollifying her husband, jumps at the chance to fly from Tucson to Baltimore to take care of a child she’s never even met.

Oh, so slowly, and oh so cautiously, Willa steps further and further out from that life of quiet self-effacement and desperation. And sets herself free.

Escape Rating C+: So many people love Anne Tyler, and I have so many friends who read literary fiction. It’s the stuff of the best seller lists after all. But I usually bounce right off of it, because the stories are so grim, the characters are so quiet, and so little happens.

And that’s kind of true in Clock Dance. The first half of the book was rough going for me. Until the point where Willa agrees to go to Baltimore, it’s so easy to see her making one mistake after another. The way that she gets into (and actually out of) her first marriage is depressing in its predictability. It’s sad to see that when we meet her again years later, she’s essentially recreated the same dynamic with her second husband.

It’s only when she goes to Baltimore to take care of Cheryl and her mother Denise that the story begins to move – just as Willa does. In her own life everyone treats her as a doormat. Her husband even calls her “little one” in a way that is as demeaning as it gets.

But with Cheryl and Denise and their working middle class neighborhood, Willa rediscovers the purpose that she lost along the way. It’s not that she becomes selfish, it’s that she’s helping others who also give back in return. She’s part of the community, not a servant to select members of it.

Her rebellion is as quiet as her desperation, and seems to take her forever to finally achieve – because it takes her forever to finally acknowledge her own wants and needs after years of looking after everyone else.

I wasn’t so much moved by this story as I was frustrated by it. A big part of me wanted this to be women’s fiction rather than literary fiction – because there would be more plot, more action, and more of a sense of resolution at the end. And the first depressing half would have ended a lot quicker.

The most forthright person in the story is young Cheryl. For a 9-year-old she’s pretty self-aware and knows who she is and what she wants. She’s certainly more self-aware than Willa. Willa has been such a cipher in her own life that she continues to be a cipher even when she’s the heroine. Most of her self-talk is utterly self-effacing. I’m not saying that she’s not realistic, because I’m all too aware that she is.

People, particularly women, often “settle” instead of striving. We’ve all done it at times in our lives, often for reasons that seem good at the time. But just because her character is ultra-realistic doesn’t make a book with her at the center all that enjoyable. More like a bit depressing until the very, very end.

If you love literary fiction, this is a book you’ll probably enjoy. If, like me, you have your doubts about litfic, this one won’t change your mind.

Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Review: Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

Review: Warlight by Michael OndaatjeWarlight by Michael Ondaatje
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, literary fiction, World War II
Pages: 304
Published by Knopf Publishing Group on May 8, 2018
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From the internationally acclaimed, best-selling author of The English Patient: a mesmerizing new novel that tells a dramatic story set in the decade after World War II through the lives of a small group of unexpected characters and two teenagers whose lives are indelibly shaped by their unwitting involvement.

In a narrative as beguiling and mysterious as memory itself--shadowed and luminous at once--we read the story of fourteen-year-old Nathaniel, and his older sister, Rachel. In 1945, just after World War II, they stay behind in London when their parents move to Singapore, leaving them in the care of a mysterious figure named The Moth. They suspect he might be a criminal, and they grow both more convinced and less concerned as they come to know his eccentric crew of friends: men and women joined by a shared history of unspecified service during the war, all of whom seem, in some way, determined now to protect, and educate (in rather unusual ways) Rachel and Nathaniel. But are they really what and who they claim to be? And what does it mean when the siblings' mother returns after months of silence without their father, explaining nothing, excusing nothing? A dozen years later, Nathaniel begins to uncover all that he didn't know and understand in that time, and it is this journey--through facts, recollection, and imagination--that he narrates in this masterwork from one of the great writers of our time.

My Review:

I picked this one up because of the World War II angle. It sounded like a combination of coming-of-age and voyage of discovery. At least it sounded like a boy with a murky past grows up and discovers what the murk was all about.

But it isn’t. Or he doesn’t. Perhaps a little bit of both.

The beginning is certainly promising. 14-year-old Nathaniel and his 16-year-old sister Rachel are left in the guardianship of someone who begins as a temporary lodger in their house – at least as far as the children know. It is 1945 and the war is over. But for Nathaniel and Rachel, it seems as if the peace is going to be even more dangerous than the war.

Warlight is the semi-luminous shadowed darkness that existed at night, in Britain, under the blackout of World War II. Things were only seen in shadow, and people acted in that shadow.

In this story, the shadowy deeds conducted in that warlight continue to haunt the post-war period, and it is the warlight of his memory that Nathaniel attempts to navigate.

The first part of the book takes place during that immediate post-war period, when Nathaniel and Rachel are abandoned in the care of a man they nickname ‘The Moth’. They believe he might be a criminal. Certainly the lives that Nathaniel and Rachel lead while under his care are highly irregular, as are the characters that come to inhabit that life.

Those post-war, post-Blitz years are highly chaotic, and so is everything that surrounds them. But our perspective of those years is through Nathaniel’s memories, viewed through the lens of his adulthood in the 1950s, and his work with an unnamed secret agency, probably MI5 or MI6. His job is to sanitize the parts of the war that were conducted in a grey area. Probably in very deep shades of grey. Shades that seemed as if they were conducted ‘for the greater good’ in wartime, but that in peacetime are going to appear pretty damning. If they ever come to light.

It’s part of Nathaniel’s job to see that they don’t.

But his real purpose in the depths of that nameless agency is to hunt for traces of his mother. Because during the war, she was one of those people who operated in that grey. And during the peace, the results of those actions eventually came for her.

Nathaniel wants to learn why. Not just that why, but all the whys. And his search leads him back into his memories – and back into the grey warlight.

Escape Rating B-: I’m not actually sure I escaped anywhere with this one. It’s a weird book. From the description, I expected something more definitive, at least in the part of the book where Nathaniel is an adult and is searching for the past and the truth about that past.

But it doesn’t feel like there are any truly definitive events, at least until the very end when Nathaniel reconstructs what he thinks happened. But even then, he doesn’t really know, he’s only guessing.

And he is a very unreliable narrator. He doesn’t find much in the way of names and dates and places and documentation of any of the above. He finds bits and pieces and suppositions and suggestive blank spaces, both because his mother deliberately tried to erase her past and because the agency she worked for has erased anything murky in its past, and a lot of that murk is wrapped around his mother and her colleagues – many of whom were people that Nathaniel knew and didn’t know, both at the same time.

This is a book that I think people are either going to love or hate, but not much in the middle. It is very much literary fiction, in that it meanders a lot and not a lot clearly happens. But underneath that it says a lot of interesting things about what is condoned in war and condemned in peace, and the lengths that people and governments will go to in order to make sure that certain truths don’t ever see the full light of day.

Review: The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

Review: The Female Persuasion by Meg WolitzerThe Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by 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.