Reviewed by Jean Arboleda
THE FEMALE PERSUASION
By Meg Wolitzer
464 pp. Riverhead Books.
In Meg Wolitzer’s latest novel The Female Persuasion, the lives of several characters intertwine in a complicated, multi-layered story about power and ambition, feminism and identity, and what it really means to do good in this world.
Shy college freshman Greer Kadetsky’s life is changed irrevocably when she meets feminist icon Faith Frank for the first time. Greer, the overachieving daughter of hippie parents, is still sulking from missing out on an Ivy League education thanks to her parents’ slip-up, and is suffering from the injustice of a string of sexual assault incidents on campus that have gone unpunished. Her hometown boyfriend Cory is climbing the ladder of success at Princeton, and her best friend Zee is a loud-mouthed political activist. Faith, a Gloria Steinem-like pillar of the feminist movement for decades, inspires her to keep going, find her purpose, and maybe start using her ‘outside voice’. Greer begins to take the first tentative steps outside her comfort zone, and after graduation joins a women’s foundation that Faith sets up. Faith takes Greer under her wing, and introduces her to a whole new kind of life, where she helps launch conferences and projects for women in need.
“She took me in and she taught me things, and more than that she gave me permission. I think that’s what the people who change our lives always do. They give us permission to be the person we secretly really long to be but maybe don’t feel we’re allowed to be.”
You can read The Female Persuasion as a novel about meeting your mentor, the person who guides you towards who you want to be, and how you eventually pass this on. Or you can read it as a cautionary tale of how easy it is to place someone on a pedestal, and mistake their experience for enlightenment, and forget that they are just as mortal and flawed as you are. The beauty is in the nuance.
Each character is ambitious in their own way, and it’s shown how their true character comes out when their power is stripped, or compromised. Greer, Faith, Cory, and Zee all start out knowing what they want, and eventually realize that maybe that’s not what they need. We each pursue our own ideals of success and making a mark in the world, and forget that sometimes this can mean just the simple act of staying, when everyone else has left.
“Your twenties was a time when you still felt young, but the groundwork was being laid in a serious way, crisscrossing beneath the surface. It was being laid even while you slept. What you did, where you lived, who you loved, all of it was like pieces of track being put down in the middle of the night by stealth workers.“
In the end, The Female Persuasion is more than just about what it means to be a woman, but a compelling look at what it means to find your way and live a good life.
The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer will soon be available at Fully Booked. To reserve a copy in advance, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jean will try anything once. She has, at different points in her life, worked in government, interviewed international celebrities, and been the social media manager for several brands. On any given day, she would rather be reading, preferably surrounded by puppies. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @jeanarboleda.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]