Book Review

The Female Persuasion – Meg Wolitzer

Greer Kadetsky, a shy but ambitious young woman, meets famous feminist Faith Frank in a random encounter at her college and falls under her spell. When she’s offered a chance to work for Frank at a new foundation she’s starting focusing on women’s issues dear to Greer’s heart, she enthusiastically joins the team of this charismatic icon and finds herself growing closer to Faith through their work together. (We also follow two other important relationships: Greer’s up-and-down love affair with her long-time boyfriend Cory and her strained friendship with her best pal Zee).

Wolitzer, a long-time literary hero of mine, does not disappoint. She expertly fleshes out what could have been stereotypical characters by giving each a complex history, a moral dilemma, and by examining how we can’t always live up to our best selves. In addition to interesting forays into what it means to be a feminist in the modern world, the author deftly puts us inside the head of a young woman desperately wanting to believe in the higher ideals of altruism, sisterhood, and the power of right over the interests of the moneyed and the privileged, only to bump up against disappointment when she takes off her rose-colored glasses.  I clearly remember what it was like to be on the cusp of womanhood and seeking a role model as to how to behave in the wider world, and Greer’s struggles echoed my own.

On a personal note: In the middle of writing what was to become my debut novel, I suddenly began getting emails from friends telling me a famous woman author had just published a novel that was very similar to  Truth and Other Lies, and that I might want to consider abandoning the story I’d been working on for over two years. Panicked, I immediately bought Persuasion, my heart thumping in my chest as I read.  Yes, there were similarities but no, it wasn’t my novel and in fact, I wound up using it as a comp when I approached agents a year later.  While Faith Frank and my character Jocelyn Jones (and yes, I did find it interesting we both created women with alliterative names) share much in common, these are different novels in many significant ways. But it did reinforce my thinking that the time was ripe to examine whether the female mentors who young women look up to and admire might not always be who they seem.