An addictively readable masterwork about inter-generational feminism and three bright, earnest young people trying to make their way in the world. This is a rich, engrossing feast of a novel you will lose yourself in. Simon McDonald reviews The Female Persuasion.
This could be my book of the year.
I know, I know. It’s April, we’re only four months into the year, and I’ve already thrown Naima Coster’s Halsey Street (which needs to be published in Australia, dammit!), Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists, and Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage into the ring as contenders for the top honour. So I suppose I should clarify that when I say this is potentially my book of the year, I mean it’s in that upper echelon of books that get highlighted in green in my Excel spreadsheet aptly named 2018 Reading List. A rare honour.
The Female Persuasion is ostensibly about feminism, but is less focused on its political motivations and ideals, instead more concerned with why its two core characters turned to it in the first place. We are introduced to Greer Kadetsky during her first weekend at Ryland College—a mediocre school she’s attending because of a dumb mistake her parents made—when she is groped at a frat party, and finds the College’s response inadequate, to put it mildly. Soon afterwards at a college rally, she meets Faith Frank, a second-wave feminist icon, and despite her ever-present nerves at speaking out, finds her voice and recounts her assault to the crowd. Faith, impressed by Greer’s articulation, hands over a business card. It’s a defining moment. Years later after graduation, Greer gets a job working for Faith’s foundation, Loci, which sponsors conferences about women’s issues, and forms a special bond with its founder. Although cognisant Faith’s approach to feminism isn’t exactly cutting-edge, Greer nonetheless latches on to her opportunity to enter the conversation and make her presence known.
The Female Persuasion charts ten years in the life of Greer and Faith’s relationship, and those closest to them. In fact, it’s these “side characters” — Greer’s boyfriend, Cory, and her best friend, Zee — who provide some of the novel’s most poignant and affecting moments. Wolitzer vividly evokes their similar, yet disparate lives, presenting them as deeply interesting young people who leave college with a desire to make a difference, but whose paths divert along their way to adulthood, Cory in particular a victim of a horrible happenstance. Greer, Faith, Cory and Zee — these are all characters easy to fall in love with — and how their lives intertwine makes for brilliant, compelling reading. Their emotional depth is astounding; Wolitzer left me wishing she’d extend her narrative to reveal the next decade of their lives, too.
Meg Wolitzer’s latest novel captures the tumultuous and aspirational days of youth, detailing the inevitable compromises and treacheries that take inevitably occur — the small brutalities we inflict on each other, sometimes consciously, other times not — and the lessons learned from them. The story of this young trio trying to find themselves in the midst of so many conflicting influences and personal crises swallowed me whole.