I need to choose wisely.
In a world full of echo-chambers and short attention spans, this is not easy; it is important that I do not get swayed by the easiness of a book, its ideas, and its readability. And that is where the Female Persuasion worried me. This book belongs in my particular echo-chamber. And it is a very easy read – highly relatable and full of interesting vignettes.
But correct for these, and you realise the book is nothing much. I will not go so far as to say it is soulless like The Little Bee – the author Meg Wolitzer is after all a woman and there is a lot of lived through experience flowing from there – but it is formulaic in its premise and falls short of its promise.
The female persuasion tracks the lives and histories of a motley group of characters. The central character is Greer (!), who apparently is gifted and hardworking and manages to find some semblance of actualisation. The other characters in the book are people who matter to her – her BFF Zee (earlier called Franny, yes), her long-time boyfriend Cory Pinto, her mentor Faith Frank who she adores. The book is an examination of the Female question through the eyes of Faith, the older woman, the seasoned veteran of the second wave of feminism and Greer who looks at the feminist question today. It ends up being a superficial look at people engaged at a superficial level on issues that matter. I wonder if Wolitzer is making a meta point of the pointlessness of what the feminist movement is today. That would be too good to be true (but who knows - the author uses a failed mentoring initiative as a device to bring about a mentor-mentee meltdown elsewhere, so there is some meta stuff going on there!)
Yet it is carefully observed and well-written. Here are the bits I liked for one reason or the other in no particular order-
- Negotiation or power play is delineated in all its uncomfortable glory, whether it is Greer’s interaction with Faith or Faith’s with Emmett or Zee and Noelle initially. The sense of connecting with someone for a purpose other than friendship – this rarely gets portrayed and comes off very well in the book.
- Stiff Elizabethan ruffle of kale. Of course, it is! Thank you Meg Wolitzer for that description.
- Men with slicked-back shower hair and suits and all business, women- fragrant and blow-dried hair and all business. Oh, how much she manages to convey in that sentence.
- It’s not that I hate myself, it’s that I’ve learned to adopt the views of men as my own. That was interesting. I have always wondered if Mrs. Bennett was not the real heroine of Pride and Prejudice and if Austen aka E.B. had not adopted the views of men as her own.
- The betrayal of Zee. This was all too relatable and is probably the basis for the frenemy syndrome. I would have loved more on it, rather than give it a facile resolution as is done in the book.
- The love story that could have been, between Faith and Emmett. Wolitzer could have taken this forward. There was something wistful and heart-breaking, and also something very Sidney Sheldonish (Rage of Angels anyone?) going on here.
- Some of the characterisations were awful. Noelle is a stock character as is Zee. But worst was that of the Pinto family. Even the demographic was confusing. No one from socialist Europe emigrated in the late 70’s to clean toilets in America. And Wolitzer need not have made cleaning jobs so terrible - she gives away who she is writing for when she goes on and on about it.
- Also, woke millenials do not go around announcing “We are only applying to Ivies”!
- Carbonation of desire? Just say fizz and be done with it. This over crafting does no good to anyone.
At the end of it,
For millennial perspectives read Sally Rooney. For Female perspectives, get a job in the real world, earn some money and mentor more women, to the point where you forget manicures and blowouts. I am serious. This is no third wave – this is the top one percent in its ivory tower not even seeing what is keeping them there. No better than the harem favorites who thought they were powerful until their men came tumbling down. Noor Jahan like.