I’m still pondering this eleventh novel by heavenly novelist, Meg Wolitzer. From Wolitzer I can normally expect a kind of fast-paced tour-de-force of the human condition…. Often with very young characters coming into adulthood. The Female Persuasion feels more grown up, more of a thinker, but certainly it lacked the obsessive must-read quality many of her other novels have been characterised by.
In a well-timed move, The Female Persuasion looks at women – their relationships with each other, and beyond this, the women’s movement. At the centre of the novel is Faith Frank, a 60-year-old iconic feminist known for her sexy high boots – a women who has meant a lot to the movement over the years, but is approaching the point of irrelevance. The main character, Greer Kadetsky, meets her at a talk as a Freshman at Ryland University, where her feminism is just awakening after being sexually harassed by an older classmate. Greer’s best friend Zee introduces her to Frank’s work and legacy, but when Frank and Greer make a connection during the event, it is Greer who eventually goes on to work in Faith’s new organisation, sponsored by big business. Zee is left somewhat behind to forge a new meaning in her life, shut out by Greer from access to Faith and as such, the feminist world she longs to live in.
All the women struggle with definitions of feminism here – Zee must find a new way of making a difference without being an activist. In the end, she is the most balanced of the three. Frank’s big business backers radically change her practices as she finds she need to make compromises to keep the money rolling in. Greer’s naivety leads to an inevitable clash with Frank, although doesn’t stop her from having to re-evaluate herself and her attitude to feminism throughout the text – especially in regards to Zee and to her long-time boyfriend Cory whose life is derailed by an unexpected death.
The story is definitely a journey, particularly for Greer who steps into the spotlight of the new feminism at the end of the novel. Finely crafted and thought-provoking, an interesting change of pace from this author.