Reviewed by Kai Jimenez
THE FEMALE PERSUASION
By Meg Wolitzer
464 pp. Riverhead Books.
Greer Kadetsky did not realize it at first, but all she wanted, no, all she needed was to be given permission – permission to do what made her heart sing, permission to be somebody she never thought she could be, permission to use her outside voice to insist upon her female persuasion.
For Greer, the permission she sought came twofold. First, a rousing speech about keeping up the fight to make the world a little kinder to women delivered no less than the brilliant and charismatic feminist figurehead Faith Frank. Second and more significantly, a brief encounter in the toilet when it quickly became obvious that Faith Frank saw something in Greer, something perhaps even this highly intelligent but perpetually tentative college freshman had yet to see in herself. And even as the night was unfolding, Greer knew that she would always look back and think that it was this moment that forced her out of her middle-class inertia and thrust her into the world of feminist foundations where she would find her voice telling the stories of women who were still out looking for their own.
The Female Persuasion is the latest novel of New York Times-bestselling author Meg Wolitzer. It follows the interwoven stories of five protagonists – three women and two men – delving into their struggles du jour, but also exploring the millions of smaller choices made in a lifetime that led them to exactly where they are in their now. Of the five, we learn most about the paradox that was Greer, how she had balanced her ambition with her meekness, her childhood love with her sexual curiosity, her admiration for the big and bold person who had once given her permission to be with her startling realization that Faith Frank was, after all this time, still only human.
As the title suggests, this novel focuses on the female experience and all that entailed – oppression and misogyny, fear and betrayal, but also friendship and romance, ambition and success, and the burning desire to transcend the unfair weight that women had to carry by virtue of being female. There were many ideas and ideologies thrown into the narrative that admittedly at times, it would read a little sanctimonious. Still, the raw honesty that shone in the compelling prose written in a casual and vividly descriptive style made this book a hard one to put down.
But beyond the trappings of feminism, I find The Female Persuasion to be ultimately a story about the burden of expectations that we put on others. We meet people, and we project unto them our wants and needs, and then expect them to fill the voids in our lives with their shapes, without really pausing to ask ourselves whether they actually fit. It’s about choosing for ourselves the heroes we yearned for but never had, but also about the shock and heartbreak of finding out that our heroes aren’t all we built them up to be inside our heads.
At the end of it, there will be no one to blame but ourselves for our disappointment. It was our fault we couldn’t see that these figures we have on pedestals are real people who, like us, are just doing the best they can with the hands they’re dealt, and end up, also like us, doing great things in between making terrible choice, changing the lives of those around them in between hurting the people that love them the most. After all, people are under no obligation to motivate us, or inspire us, or give us permission to be.
Wolitzer might not have intended it, but in many ways, The Female Persuasion is a coming-of-age novel. Through the pangs and throes of real life and adulthood, our younger protagonists realize (and remind us) that maybe it’s okay to let go of the should-have-beens that our young and naive selves insisted on, that maybe life refused to unfold as we had planned because it is not yet what we need or deserve, and most importantly that maybe all of the wildest dreams of our younger selves fall out of reach because we are meant for greater things; we just didn’t know it yet, that’s all.
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.
Kai keeps an infinite fondness for curiosities under her pillow at night. She finds narratives and tells stories for a living, and is in constant search for fascination in worlds both real and imagined. You can find her on Instagram @rustwithstardust and on Medium @kai.jimenez
[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.]