It’s officially summer: the farmer’s market is open, the humidity is threatening to melt my brain…and my kids are out of school, which means I am lucky to get fifteen minutes of uninterrupted reading before someone shouts out “I REQUIRE SUSTENANCE!” or asks me to admire their latest Lego creation. Even so, I’m not yet ready to transition to full-on fluff reading. Right now, I want a book that’s accessible yet smart, that lingers but doesn’t leave me depressed. (Summer is not the time for bleak books, my friends.)
Enter Meg Wolitzer’s latest novel, The Female Persuasion. It follows Greer Kadetsky, a college freshman whose Ivy League future is knocked off course by her stoner parents’ ineptitude. While her boyfriend, Cory, heads to Princeton, Greer struggles to find her voice — and her path. When she meets Zee, another freshman, and Faith Frank, a charismatic feminist icon, her way forward gradually becomes clearer. What starts out as a celebrity encounter transforms into mentorship, as Greer works at Faith’s feminist magazine and eventually helps her launch a foundation dedicated to helping women. Meanwhile, Zee searches for her own purpose and Cory copes with a family tragedy. It’s the trajectory of Greer’s and Faith’s relationship, however, that makes up the heart of the book. The two women are never in competition — rather, Faith alternately supports and challenges Greer as she grows, and their relationship is rich, complex, and achingly realistic. Both women are trying to make their way in a world that isn’t particularly welcoming; both are guided by a desire to do good. As Greer matures, their methods diverge and tension builds between them. It’s a study in how hero worship can shift, grow, and then turn sour; how women relate to each other, and how small decisions can ripple outward and alter lives.
At more than 450 pages, The Female Persuasion is not a slim volume by any means, but the characters are so fully-realized, and their stories so engaging, that the pages seem to slip by. As I read, I found myself frequently having one of two reactions:
- Nodding (or cringing) in recognition at the characters’ struggles. Faith, Greer, Cory, Zee — I could see myself in all of them, for good or ill.
- Laughing at how perfectly Wolitzer skewers academia, publishing, and corporate America. She’s got a keen eye and a sharp tongue.
- Adding names to my mental list of friends who should read this book. (Spoiler: it’s a LONG list.)
Here’s the thing: The Female Persuasion is a good book if you’re interested in female friendships, feminism, and complicated, well-drawn characters. But it’s a GREAT book to pass along to your friends so you can discuss it later, preferably at a coffee shop that won’t mind if you linger — because you absolutely will. There’s so much to talk about here: Friendship and mentors and family and partners; what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated career; how we respond to betrayal, loss, and success; what we sacrifice for the people and ideas we care about; how we react when dreams and plans bump up against cold reality. It’s what my friends and I call a “big” book, not because of the page count or the lofty prose, but because it’s jammed full of ideas that beg to be unpacked. If you’re looking for a summer read that balances entertainment and big ideas, grab a copy and persuade your best friend to do the same. It’ll give you plenty to talk about from now until Labor Day — and beyond.