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The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer: My take on the book

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer


I wanted to read Meg Wolitzer's The Female Persuasion almost before I knew Nicole Kidman was going to star in the adaptation of the book. Especially as I loved Wolitzer's novel The Wife which also deals with a feminist theme, although less obviously. The Female Persuasion has to be the ultimate book for your average feminist—heck it's practically in the title—and the storyline about a young contemporary woman who comes to work for an inspiring 2nd wave feminist sounded empowering. 

Here's how the publisher describes the book—which has received rave reviews:

From the New York Times-bestselling author of The Interestings, an electric novel not just about who we want to be with, but who we want to be.
To be admired by someone we admire - we all yearn for this: the private, electrifying pleasure of being singled out by someone of esteem. But sometimes it can also mean entry to a new kind of life, a bigger world. 
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. And 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. 
Charming and wise, knowing and witty, Meg Wolitzer delivers a novel about power and influence, ego and loyalty, womanhood and ambition. At its heart, The Female Persuasion is about the flame we all believe is flickering inside of us, waiting to be seen and fanned by the right person at the right time. It's a story about the people who guide and the people who follow (and how those roles evolve over time), and the desire within all of us to be pulled into the light.
Those rave reviews might be part of my lackluster response to the book. It was good, without being great. By that I mean it didn't transport me, it didn't take me to any new places. If anything it affirmed what I already know without giving me any great delight or insight as it did so. It's that obvious feminist theme that feels less than compelling in this fictional setting. While I was initially captivated with Greer's story, she disappointed me with her responses throughout the novel. And what the overview doesn't tell you is that fabulous Faith Frank also has a tiny problem with integrity. Not to mention that holding Frank up as a leader in the women's movement with a huge career without giving her the power to have a long, satisfying relationship with a man—or woman—was disappointing, to say the least. Does a woman have to lead a solitary life to be successful in it? 

I found the novel just a tad too stuffed in its feminist themes —which are very much in the news right now, themes of women's empowerment and equality I adhere to and have believed in ever since I marched for the ERA back in 1972!—and a tad shy of the elements of fiction that keep us reading. Characters we're emotionally invested in and whose lives we want to know more of. The novel worked best when we followed the secondary character's stories, that of Zee, her best friend who happens to be a lesbian, and especially Cory, Greer's boyfriend,  whose arc I followed with happy anticipation. 

I found myself wondering if Greer had big dreams for herself or does she simply want to coattail onto Faith's foundation, a foundation that makes a business out of feminism. 

Feminism, as the quote below from Greer's mother would seem to indicate in the quote below, isn't just about marching and carrying signs. 
"It seems to me," said her mother, "and this is really outside my sphere of knowledge, since I'm not the one who's been working at a feminist foundation. But here's this person who gave up his plans when his family fell apart. He moves back in with his mother and takes care of her. Oh, and he cleans his own house, and the ones she used to clean. I don't know. But I feel like Cory is kind of a big feminist, right?"
Sounds like equality to me.

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