I’ve found it difficult to write about this book, but I loved it so much it’s impossible not to try. The problem is, I think, that attempting to explain what makes it so good by describing the basic outline of the story grossly oversimplifies it and robs the book of what makes it beautiful and powerful. On the other hand, painting it with brush strokes that are too broad isn’t all that helpful. My natural inclination then, is to get overly specific, which is annoying, and at which point you should just read the novel anyway.
With that said, here we go. This is my shameless attempt to get you to read Meg Wolitzer’s book.
The Female Persuasion fools you, at first, by making you believe it will be exclusively about its main character — a young woman named Greer Kadetsky, who we meet at the beginning of the novel as a freshman in college. But well into the story, Wolitzer begins giving you chapters specifically about many of the people that surround Greer, including her boyfriend, her best friend, an older feminist woman who inadvertently ends up shaping much of Greer’s life, and others.
Jumping from character to character can frustrate me sometimes, but in this case, it worked incredibly well because I cared about every single character so much. They all feel like real, flawed, relatable people, and I could not stop myself from devouring page after page, desperate to get to know them as much as possible. I wanted to talk to them, have dinner with them, ask them about their childhoods, learn from their mistakes, and be inspired by their successes. I was completely swept away. Wolitzer understands humans on a level that left me in complete awe of her.
The scope and breadth of the novel expertly sneaks up on you. By the time I finished, I had lived multiple lives, complete with growth, heartbreak, and love. Generally speaking, I start a new book almost immediately after finishing a previous one, but it has been almost a week since I’ve finished The Female Persuasion, and I keep ruminating about this one instead of picking up something else.
Wolitzer’s writing itself is magical. She dances around the reader, effortlessly sliding forwards and backwards in time to add context and mystery. She is impressive and hypnotizing without feeling overly showy — her delicate subtlety allows both big and small moments to land more effectively than they would have in the hands of a less capable writer.
Big picture, this book is about growing up, falling in and out of love, the ups and downs of family, loss, betrayal, friendship (specifically friendship among women), getting old, and making uncomfortable compromises. I’d also be seriously remiss not to mention the importance of the feminism movement in this book. It’s always present — in a way it is the setting itself — the connective tissue between most of the major characters. I certainly took something away from the novel in this regard, but I don’t think of this book as anything like a feminist manifesto. It is, first and foremost, a story about people. Some of those people just happen to be involved in the women’s rights movement.
I can practically already see the eyes of my friends, family members, and coworkers glazing over as I bring up Wolitzer’s incredible novel around them again, in desperate hopes that someone will finally break and read it so I have someone to share my more specific feelings and reactions with.
This is one of the best books I have read this year. Probably the best. You should read it.