The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
With her usual prescience for the zeitgeist, Meg Wolitzer begins her latest novel with an incident of sexual assault on campus. It’s 2006, and a young and naïve coed named Greer is groped at a frat party. At first she hesitates to act, then decides to take action, spurred on by her hero and mentor, a feminist writer and editor named Faith Frank. The relationship between the two women becomes the cornerstone of the narrative. And, as always, Wolitzer’s wit and common sense combine to look at the chasm between the ideal and the real. As the story unfolds, Greer ends up betraying her best friend, Faith betrays her own ideals, and Greer and Faith both end up betraying each other. But in the end, both women just carry on. Because that’s what good feminists do.
The year 2019, in which the novel concludes, is described as a time when “Misogyny stormed the world now in an all-out, undisguised raid; few people would question its presence anymore.” But when the groper reappears at the end of the novel, unrepentant, Greer thinks: “A man who degraded and threatened women made you want to do everything possible. Howl and scream; march; give a speech; call Congress around the clock; fall in love with someone decent; show a young woman that all is not lost, despite the evidence; change the way it feels to be a woman walking down a street at night anywhere in the world….She wouldn’t have to think anything physical or sexual about herself at all unless she wanted to. She could dress the way she liked. She could feel capable and safe and free, which was what Faith Frank had always wanted for women.”
Amen to that.
“Once inside, Greer couldn’t even fully take in all the particulars of Faith Frank’s weekend house. Objects radiated various degrees of meaning, some of it probably imagined.” 164
Faith on motherhood:
“In my experience, the rewards don’t necessarily come when you think they will with your kids. And sometimes they come very, very infrequently.”
She confesses “Sometimes I was ashamed of how much I liked it when he was asleep. He was a good kid, but it was just so much work. And at least when he was asleep I knew where he was and exactly what was happening with him.”
When Greer asks about their adult relationship, Faith describes it as distant. “Not sure he needs me too much. And I never get to watch him sleep. I’ve decided that there should be a national holiday once a year, when grown children have to let their parents tuck them in one more time.”
(deer scene) 173
Wolitzer’s characteristic irony is in evidence, as in this description NY cuisine at the Gilded Quail, “a restaurant in Chelsea that had the ambience of a private railroad car from the nineteenth century.
Waiters came bearing plates dotted with examples of molecular gastronomy: horseradish “air,” sous-vide trout with a “root infusion,” a shot glass filled with three layers of intensely flavoured soups that went from icy-cold to hot as you threw back your head and drank.”
Suddenly Emmet wondered why Faith hadn’t found a man to be with her all these years, after having been widowed so young. Why did a strong woman need to be her own shield? Or maybe that was just the way Faith wanted it, because men were a distraction, or too high-maintenance. Or maybe having a man in her life was just one thing too many.” 405
401: Emmett says to Faith: “Someone once called me a ‘monster of privilege’ in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. I guess it’s true sometimes.” He thought, but didn’t say, that people like him needed someone to remind them not to be monsters of privilege. They needed a monster whisperer, maybe.
Faith’s hard compromises. (Like the character in Franzen’s freedom)