Meg Wolitzer’s The Female Persuasion is one of those books that is full of big ideas but never really lands any of them. Greer Kadetsky is the Type A daughter of two hippie-esq parents who botched her financial aid paperwork to Yale so she was forced to go to her safety school, Ryland. Her boyfriend, Cory, is the son of Portuguese immigrants who goes off to Princeton while Greer miserably attends Ryland. During Greer’s first weekend at school she is sexually assaulted by a frat boy who goes on to sexually harass and assault numerous girls on campus before he is reprimanded with a slap on the wrist. This, along with Greer’s new politically charged best friend Zee, leads Greer to a campus lecture by notable feminist Faith Frank. Greer shares her experience with Faith who later gives Greer her business card and four years later Greer turns that connection into a job.
The first third of the novel is a pretty generic coming of age story focusing on Greer but the next two parts shift the focus back and forth between Greer, Zee, Cory and Faith Frank. This includes abbreviated backstories and flash forwards into their lives following Greer’s college graduation and the nature of her new role within the Faith Frank machine. I really didn’t understand why Wolitzer chose to format the story this way. It wasn’t that Cory, Faith and to a lesser extent Zee’s life stories weren’t interesting, I particularly liked the sections focused on Cory’s post-collegiate struggles, they just seemed like unnecessary tangents for a story that started out focusing solely on Greer. My preference for linear story telling is well documented but I don’t mind when narration shifts focus or jumps in time if it serves a purpose and enhances the story. This did not.
“The thing that really gets me,” she said, “is that the worst kind of man, the kind that you would never allow yourself to be alone with, because you would know he was a danger to you, was left alone with all of us.”
In the end there were a lot of great ideas about feminism and equality but nothing really takes off and lands. This has been billed as a #MeToo book and as the story makes its way into 2016 it touches on some of the hot button issues women are facing in an unfictionalized America. Perhaps Wolitzer rushed publication to capitalize on the movement’s moment and didn’t take look at her manuscript with a critical enough eye.