counter on blogger

Pickle Me This

June 20, 2018

Us.

Kent Monkman, The Scream

‘Politically speaking, tribal nationalism always insists that its own people is surrounded by “a world of enemies,” “one against all,” that a fundamental difference exists between this people and all others. It claims its people to be unique, individual, incompatible with all others, and denies theoretically the very possibility of a common mankind long before it is used to destroy the humanity of man.’ —Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

“Not they. Us” —Hassan Ahmed

Please forgive me for stealing my epigraphs from Rebecca Woolf’s Instagram feed. But I just want to take a moment to think about books, to think about Zlata’s Diary, a book about a young girl being a young girl during the siege of Sarajevo in 1993, a book that was compared to The Diary of Anne Frank, much to Zlata Filipovic’s consternation, I recall—because Anne Frank died and Filipovic didn’t want to. I remember reading both these books and imagining my way into the lives of their writers, the recognizable landmarks of girlhood, childhood. There was nothing extraordinary about their lives or their worlds, and that was the very point—how perilous was safety, was everything. How easily these people could be me, and didn’t you think this too when you read book like this? When I used to think that books about the Holocaust were even over-taught (my childhood was absolutely saturated with Holocaust novels), although I don’t think that anymore. Not since I learned that not everyone is reading, or at least reading and realizing how easily it could be any of us. Which is what I thought when I read Sharon Bala’s The Boat People, or even An Ocean of Minutes, which is also about being a refugee, about that desperation. I’ve read so many of these stories that imagining my way into the minds of people who risk everything for the chance of a better life is like a reflex—there is no difference between that mother and me. And I’ve seen enough of the world during these last two years politically and even in terms of climate that has undermined all my certainties about who we are and where we’re going that I’m unwilling to be sure that my own safety will never be in peril, that I will never be the kind of person who has to run. We are all that kind of person, or we all could be, and that’s only my selfish reason for condemning the separation of children and their families at US borders. Let alone the humanitarian one. Acknowledging too that I live in a country with a shameful history of separating children from their parents, a history that lingers on into the present—so this “not them. us.” as well. The Thomas King quote: “You see my problem. The history I offered to forget, the past I offered to burn, turns out to be our present. It may well be our future.” Let’s be as loud and brave as girls in storybooks and ensure that’s not the case.

‘In grade school we studied WWII. Learning about the genocide and the concentration camps and the way a whole group of people were dehumanized and carted off like cattle, many of us said, very earnestly: “I’d never let that happen.” Well now we are adults and guess what? It is happening. We are watching it happen.’ —Sharon Bala. (And now read her blog post, “What to do.”)

June 19, 2018

Ayesha At Last, by Uzma Jalaluddin

True confession: I’m not a huge fan of Jane Austen and think Colin Firth is kind of drippy, so while the Pride and Prejudice connections to Uzma Jalaluddin’s debut novel Ayesha at Last might get some readers going, it was never going to be me. But thankfully Jalaluddin doesn’t stop at Austen while giving her novel its literary underpinnings—her main character Ayesha’s grandfather is an English professor who peppers his speech with allusions to Shakespeare and he’s the one who points out the similar framework between Ayesha’s own story and many of Shakespeare’s plays—”Shakespeare enjoyed a good farce. Separated twins, love triangles and mistaken identity were his specialty. Yet it is through his tragedies that one learns the price of silence.” He implores his granddaughter, “Promise you will always choose laughter over tears. Promise you will choose to live in a comedy instead of a tragedy.” But any life, of course, will always be a bit of both.

In Ayesha at Last, the shenanigans begin when Khalid, a very conservative Muslim, takes an interest in the woman who lives across the street in his new neighbourhood, which sounds like no big thing, except Khalid is devoutly uninterested in women in general because he’s waiting for his mother to arrange his marriage. He also refuses to shake his new boss’s hand, because touching women goes against his beliefs, which causes his boss to turn against him with brutal results. And then later at a meeting at his mosque to help organize a youth conference, he finds himself face-to-face with the woman he’s been watching…except he thinks she’s her cousin, and attraction sparks between them before some inevitable mishaps ensue.

And the woman, of course, is Ayesha herself, who’s starting a new career as a teacher to pay back a debt to her uncle, although she’d rather be writing poetry or doing anything but standing in front of a classroom of high school students. She gets roped into organizing the youth conference because of her flighty cousin Hafza who is currently entertaining several potential husbands (mostly because she’s longing to kickstart her career as an event planner, and feels her own wedding would be the best place to start). Her best friend is Clara, who works with Khalid (in HR, which doesn’t make it easy when Khalid’s boss goes on her vindictive rampage). And Ayesha has absolutely no interest in Khalid, with his robes and untrimmed beard and archaic ideas of what it means to be a proper woman or a proper Muslim. But when the two of them are together, something happens and the force is unstoppable.

There are a couple of instances of awkward maneuvering at the beginning of the story to get all the players in their proper places, but once the story starts, Ayesha At Last becomes very difficult to put down. Neither Ayesha nor Khalid is a perfect human, and at first they tend to bring out each other’s worst tendencies, and then there’s the matter of Khalid not knowing Ayesha’s actual identity, and when he gets to engaged to the actual Hafsa (thinking she is Ayesha) it all begins to go wrong. The story is further complicated with the involvement of Khalid’s sister, who was sent away to India years before under dubious circumstances and Khalid is too afraid of his mother to ask the right questions about what happened to her, and also Ayesha’s own mother who is bitter about marriage after her husband’s mysterious death, so Ayesha doesn’t have the answers in her own family history either. And what is the role of love then, and is it a blessing or a curse, and does it have a role at all in communities that adhere to traditional values?

Ayesha at Last is completely a delight, more farce than tragedy, but with depth and poignancy and a willingness to grapple with big questions. It’s a smart and assured debut that is deliciously devourable and deserves space on everyone’s reading list this summer.

June 18, 2018

Day Curator

This line from Behind the Scenes at the Museum continues to mean a lot to me, years after I first encountered it: “Albert collected good days the way other people collected coins, or sets of postcards.” I’ve quoted it in blog posts so many times. Running counter to that cliched phrase you can buy embroidered on decorative pillows about how we don’t remember days, we remember moments. But no way, because for me it’s days all the way, and this weekend we had two of them, both of which I documented extensively via Instagram. And of course it does strike me as peculiar, not to mention not cool, nine Instagram posts in a day, I mean.

But then I read Shawna Lemay’s wonderful post this morning on blogging for writers, and she writes, “I think what keeps me blogging is this need to share both pictures, and stuff that I find uplifting or thought provoking or beautiful. Yes, I could share all of this on social media, but I like that on a personal blog, I can save it all in one place, as one used to do with a commonplace book. I like to think of the blog as a work of art unto itself, and one, that I really don’t think has been fully explored as of yet. What I’m saying, is that there’s room. There’s space. An openness.” Which is why I’m writing this post at all, I think, because the Instagram posts are not quite enough, but the impulse behind the blog and Instagram alike are the same: I want to save these moments, add them to my collection, and have the opportunity later to recall exactly what the light looked like then.

Remember that point about midway through the last decade where the economy still worked and people weren’t completely disillusioned, and cities were thriving, and Richard Florida was a prophet? What I remember about that cultural moment was that creative people kept making up weird job titles and people were even buying it, and I really missed a key opportunity to get in there and brand myself as a Day Curator. In 2006, someone would have paid for me to do that, and if they had, this weekend I would have earned my bonus.

On Saturday we went to Toronto Island, which was especially exciting because we’d planned the same for the May 24 long weekend, but then everyone kept getting sick, and the closest we came was a picnic beside an empty wading pool at the park down the street. But this Saturday we actually made it to the ferry, and there we were on the lake and it’s one of my favourite journeys and never gets dull, the coolness of the breeze, holding onto our hats, and the city skyline to the north of us—this majestic place that is home.

We headed to the amusement park first to get some rides in before the lineups started, and were happy to discover that both kids can mostly ride independently now, which is a big deal for us. I love Centreville, its smallness and charm, how it doesn’t depress me the way that every other amusement park does, is not overwhelming, employees are always lovely, and I have such fond memories of visiting there as a child so I love that my children get to experience it too. Plus, the log flume.

Afterwards, we walked to the south side of the island and spread our blanket in the shade of a tree conveniently located between the playground and the splash-pad. We had a delightful picnic (thanks to a baguette and cheese from grocery store) and then children played while we read our books, and I revelled in my sun-dappled pages. When they were finished, we packed up and did a bit of exploring, and then began the long walk to Ward’s Island, with its beach and popsicle, and I only had to piggyback Iris 3/4 of the way. The beach was not ideal—the water level was Yuck, although it was too cold for swimming anyway. But we did get to feel sand under our feet, and collect a few pieces of beach glass (which I think about similarly to how I think about think about good days).

By the end of an island day, I am always unfathomably exhausted, cannot muster the strength to climb the stairs to the second deck of the ferry, and contemplate napping on the bench until we arrive back in the city. The subway ride home passes in a blur, and lastly, we have to shake the sand out of everything.

Sunday was Father’s Day, which is historically (in our family) the day somebody throws up, and so we’ve learned that “nobody threw up” actually means a really good day no matter what else happened—but this year we managed to take it to the next level. (A lot of this goodness is because our children are five and nine. Have I mentioned how much I love having children who are five and nine?) It was also going to be 40 degrees celsius after the humidex, so we decided to keep the day air-con’d. So we went to the movies to see Incredibles 2, which was enjoyed by all, and we’d packed swimsuits and towels so we could head to the pool after, which just opened this weekend for summer. But then we checked the schedule and found out the pool closed for a bit in the afternoon, which gave us time to head to Summers Ice Cream in Yorkville for fancy cones, and then to the ROM for some air-conditioned goodness as we took in their brand new amazing exhibit on spiders. And then by then the pool was open again, and we hopped on the subway (all the air-con!) for a swim. And oh, it was glorious. I love public pools, where everybody just shows up on hot days. I love all the bodies, the splashing, the obnoxious people, the towels spread out on the deck, the way the water cools you down just like that, and how my children have turned into little fish. The swimming pool is everything I love about living the city.

And then we came home and made dinner, school lunches, and our children were exhausted, and we put them to bed as soon as we could. And then I headed outside to my hammock to read by what remained of daylight, which lasted until nearly ten o’clock. And if I could preserve in a jar these perfect pre-solstice days, those hours, that light—well, I would. Which is kind of what I’ve done here anyway, with relish.

June 15, 2018

The Steves, by Morag Hood

A thought that occurs to me sometimes is that there are an awful lot of Steves in general, and definitely too many Stevens in Canadian Literature (but not you, Steven, I’m talking about the other ones, unless you are that one, then I am definitely talking about you), and then yesterday I got this package in the mail, so the whole situation has definitely become alarming. Which seemed like the perfect occasion to make The Steves, by Morag Hood, my picture book Friday selection, I thought, even though Hood’s Steves are not Canadian and therefore can’t be held responsible for CanLit Steveness (but they would probably get along well with Kelly Collier’s Horse Named Steve, who has a new book out this fall called Team Steve [YAY!!!]).

Morag Hood’s Steves are puffins, naturally, each is surprised to find another Steve on his turf. “But I was here first,” declares Steve. “BY ONE PAGE,” declares Steve in a different typeface. Neither is content to let the other be Steve the First. Who is the oldest? Who is the wisest? Who is the greatest? Yes indeed, this becomes just another Steve-measuring contest. Which one is the Stevest Steve? They even turn to insults: “WEIRD FEET STEVE.” “SMELLS OF POO STEVE.” Which takes the whole thing just a step too far, and then the friends apologize, shortly before running into a third puffin, and guys, you’re never going to guess what his name is…

June 13, 2018

An Ocean of Minutes, by Thea Lim

So the book whose spell I’m currently under is Thea Lim’s An Ocean of Minutes, which is just another one of your usual time travel/flu pandemic/post-apocalyptic fare. (Ambitious, yes?) It’s 1981, and Polly and her boyfriend Frank are stuck in Texas where he comes down with the illness that will kill him unless they can secure life-saving treatment. And the only way to pay for this treatment is possible is for Polly to sign a contract to travel into the future and becoming a bonded worker for TimeRaiser, the company that invented time travel and which is now bringing workers from pre-pandemic America into the future to help rebuild the nation. So Frank and Polly agree to meet again in 1993 and she departs from 1981 at the Houston International Airport: “The only thing remaining of familiar airport protocol is the logistical thoughtlessness of the curb: once you reach it, the line of unfeeling motorists waiting behind you means only seconds to say goodbye.” Twelve years. “It’s a quarter of a blink of an eye in the life of the universe.”

But the process is not straightforward (and there have been rumours about TimeRaiser; plus Polly is one of the few skilled workers—an upholsterer—on the journey, and most of her fellow travellers are women Polly thinks might be Mexican, women who don’t speak English, who are even more desperate than she is) and Polly arrives not in 1993, but in 1998, and in a reality nothing like she’d expected. The pandemic has destroyed infrastructure and industry, societal order has collapsed, and the only hope for Texas is health-tourism for the affluent, and Polly will be employed refurbishing furniture for the new resorts because there are no means to manufacture new things. She’d last seen Frank in 1981, just days ago, and then weeks, then months—but it’s been seventeen years for him in a world that’s become a nightmare. Will he even be waiting for her? And if he is, how will she even find him?

There is nothing straightforward about the passage of time, which is why stories about defying chronology through time travel continue to fascinate, and why a telling a story outside of chronology can add such richness to a text (i.e. how Lim’s novel moves back and forth between Polly and Frank’s life in Buffalo from 1978-1981, and to Polly’s journey alone in 1998 Galveston). What it means too that the future Polly travels to in An Ocean of Minutes is set twenty years in our past—historical speculative fiction? And the metaphor that the seventeen years Frank has to wait is but moments for Polly—but isn’t time like that? And isn’t love? How long does one wait? How far does love go?

The people Polly encounters in 1998 are ruthless and awful, which is probably why they’ve survived, but at what price? There is no beauty in this craven new world, in which workers are slaves to the TimeRaiser corporation. Polly enjoys brief moments of connection with the people she encounters, but many of them end up betraying her—mostly to save themselves, or boost themselves, at least. She ends up losing her privileged job and accommodations, and going to live among the women she’d come across at the beginning of her journey, working to cut tiles for swimming pools. And although everyone she encounters has stories of people they were to expecting but failed to be reunited with, Polly refuses to give up on Frank, and it seems like she’s keeping the faith for everyone.

There’s so much going on this book, including passages of wondrous prose and attempts to answer the question of where love goes when it’s over. What are we do with memories? And what about mementos? Early in their relationship, Polly wonders by Frank’s tendency to keep things, souvenirs of their love—does he think their love will end, she wonders? Does he hold on things because of a lack of faith? And yet even Polly longs to preserve their perfect moments, just to hold them. And yet the hours, the minutes, the seconds—they just go and go and go. So is it remotely reasonable to expect love to be a thing that stays the same?

I had to know what happened, so I kept reading, reading, gripped. But (unusual for me) I didn’t flip to the end, just to check. I didn’t want spoilers. I wanted to find out what would happen, but all in good time, and I had faith in Lim’s storytelling—so I held on, and was so impressed by the extent of the allegory, about race and gender, migration, capitalism, environmental and the perilous balance of so much that we take for granted.

I loved this book, and how it turns another time into another country, but doesn’t it always seem that way? So far away, and yesterday, and it’s as though you could almost get back there, and you nearly know the way.

June 11, 2018

Hanging On The Telephone

I used to talk on the phone the way I browse the internet today, aimlessly, for ages and because I was bored. I used to lie on my bed and talk for hours, winding the coiled cord around my fist and then unwinding it over and over again until the cord lost its coils altogether. I used to call up people for absolutely no reason, and if nobody answered, I’d move on to the next number in my phone book, and then the one after that. I used to talk so long on the phone that my parents would come on the line and yell at me, which was always mortifying, but that wasn’t so bad because everybody’s parents were yelling at them on the phone sometime. Sometimes in the late 1990s, it was difficult to call people with big brothers because the line would be busy and the brothers were on the internet.

When I was small, the phone was mounted on the wall in the kitchen, and eventually I would be taught to answer it, to say things like, “Yes, just a minute please,” or, “No, she isn’t, but can I take a message?” (although in my teenage years, I would have difficulty taking a message and then actually delivering it). In the mid-1980s, my family got “portable phones”, which were large with antennas, and at least once someone left one on the car and then drove away and lost it. A few years after that, I used to go to sleepovers where we’d go through the phonebook and call random people we sort of knew from school, or just dial strange numbers altogether, and say provocative things like, “Hi! Is this Kentucky Fried Chicken? Do you have any breasts?” I used to also spend hours perusing the phone book, tracking down vital info about the people I knew, like what their dad’s name was, and what their address was. Some of the people listed in the phonebook were our teachers.

I remember rotary dial, and my fascination with the little piece on the end of the dial that caught your finger and kept you from dialling around and around and around. I loved the way you could poke your fingers in the holes, and the letters attached to each number, whose purpose I could not understand. My grandparents’ phone was not attached to the wall, and it had a long cord, so you could carry it into the next room and even close a door for privacy. I remember, “Please hang up and try your call again. This is a recording.”

My parents had an antique telephone that still hangs on the wall in my mother’s house, a big wooden box with a face (bells for eyes, a big honking speaker for a nose) and I loved that phone’s expression, and how you could make the bell ring by turning a crank on the side. This phone has confused my children’s sense of chronology, however, as they now associate it with my mother, and imagine it was the kind of phone they had when she was a little girl, and therefore she is approximately 170 years old.

I used to have a plastic Fisher Price phone with a face that you pulled on a a string, but so did everybody, so I don’t have to tell you about this.

Some of the very best song about phone calls are “Sylvia’s Mother”, “Tell Laura I Love Her”, “Hanging On the Telephone”, “Beechwood4-5789”, “867-5309 Jenny,” “Hotline Bling,” and “Hello.”

When I was a teenager, my yearning for a phone in my room was overwhelming, and I wrote out a detailed three page plan in order to convince my parents I was responsible enough for this privilege. When I went to university, I had to stand in a very long line-up in order to secure a telephone line of my own, and this was amazing because then I got to record musical messages on my voicemail that I changed weekly and usually were thematic. It was at this point too that the telephone company put a $20 limit on monthly long-distance charges, which was revolutionary, and also meant that you could call people before 6:00 and not have to declare bankruptcy. And therefore I could call my friends in their university dormitories across the country, because this was still easier than having to go to the library to send them an email.

Around this time, some people started getting cell phones, but it was complicated, because they were wary of you calling them because they could be charged for the phone calls. Which I think was the beginning of me being put off phoning people. After university, I moved to England and then Japan, which were miles ahead of Canada in terms of mobile phone technology (like the phones had cameras, guys!) and maybe it was living in radically different time zones from the people I loved that got me accustomed to not receiving phone calls. When we moved to Canada, phones were crappier and plans were expensive, so I didn’t have a cell phone for years, which was fine, and here was the point where the only people who ever phoned me were my parents. I used to have everybody’s phone number in my head, but I don’t even know my own cell phone number. There was about two years where I did have a cell phone, but it didn’t have a SIM card, so basically my cell phone was a tiny expensive computer whose Wifi I utilized and carried around in my handbag.

(I phone my husband at work all day long, and he phones me in the half-hours in between that. We generally talk about nothing. I am always delighted when the phone rings and call display tells me it is him. This is how I know it’s love, fifteen years and a half years after we met. He is mostly the only reason I still have a phone.)

I hate talking on the phone now. I don’t like being bothered. I don’t like to call anyone, because I don’t want to bother somebody else. Sometimes there is a sweet spot where I’m making dinner or washing dishes, and you can phone me then and I’ll be glad to talk, but otherwise, I’d rather you didn’t.

My children don’t know how to use the phone. The only people they talk to on the phone is their grandparents, and they lack the skills to have a proper conversation this way. Recently I watched my daughter attempt to dial a number, and realized she’d never done it before. And last week our phone kept ringing off the hook because there was an election on Thursday and we’re one of the handful of people left in the province with a landline, and everyone wanted to make sure we got out to vote. The phone rang on Wednesday and I was indisposed (i.e. sitting on the toilet scrolling through Instagram) and I called to Harriet to answer it. I heard her say, “Hello,” and then nothing else. I came back downstairs and asked her what happened. She said they’d asked to speak to her mother, and she didn’t know what to do. “So I hung up,” she said. She didn’t see why this was unreasonable.

June 7, 2018

but it’s your existence I love you for…

“… but it’s your existence I love you for, mainly. Existence seems to me now the most remarkable thing that could ever be imagined.” —Marilyn Robinson, Gilead

My children turned nine and five in the least week and a half, which is exciting, because this is the only year in which their ages accord with the title of a 1980 feminist film starring Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda. And as they get older, it becomes harder (and less necessary, it seems) to encapsulate their respective beings in a blog post—but also it gets easier to to find joy and wonder in everything they do (except the annoying things, which is no small percentage of the total, but still). They are two of the most interesting people I’ve ever met, and they fill our home with light, song, and messiness, they each tend to blow my mind at least three times daily, and it is the greatest privilege of my life to get to live with them and watch them grow. And yes, I will miss them—and their crumbs—very much when they’re gone. But we’ve got a while until then…

June 6, 2018

Summer Books on the Radio

A bumper crop of  summer book recommendations! I’ve read half these books, and the other half are coming up on my nightstand. But I’m excited to recommend them all to you. You can listen again to my CBC Ontario Morning books column on their podcast. I come in at 32.00. And learn more about all these titles over at 49thShelf.com.

June 5, 2018

Comedy Girl

A thing I’ve learned recently is that a really good pair of sunglasses (plus lipstick) can do remarkable things for one’s self-esteem. Pictured above is me en-route to my comedy debut (and retirement) last week, the recital for the Comedy Girl Toronto class I signed up for way back in the fall and was terrifically unnerved for when April came around and the class was no longer theoretical. But I did it, slowly, slowly. In the first week, I learned that telling a funny story was not the same as telling a joke, and by the fourth week I was concerned because my jokes still seemed at risk of never becoming funny. It was also a remarkable thing to be a novice, to be a student in a classroom for the first time in years. The first class was strange because I had to swallow my instinct to be a smart-ass and make wisecracks, because I was not the funny one. None of us were the funny ones, although we all secretly fancied we were, or else why be there in the first place—but if we were already funny, what was the point. And so I shut up, and listened, and followed directions, and piece by piece our acts started coming together (although only half of our class would make it to the finish line). I worked so hard on my jokes, changing word orders, recording it over and over again—and I began to identify with the adult students in my university classes who I always resented because they were such keeners and made the rest of us look bad. If I can’t be funny, I thought (because the lesson of the class is that I’m less hilarious than I think I am) at least I can be unbridledly enthusiastic? Two weeks before the end though, I came up with a joke that was actually funny, which was a tremendous milestone—maybe one day I’ll tell it to you. I also memorized my whole set, which was a feat I didn’t think I was capable of, because I have a hard time remembering a ten-digit-phone number. And Wednesday night was the triumph, our grad show, which was so terrific because the audience was kind and generous. It was the best, and I’m pretty proud of having risen to the challenge. Grateful to the friends who came to the show as well, because taking an evening out for someone’s amateur comedy show is no small thing. I am certainly a lucky lady.

June 4, 2018

The Female Persuasion, by Meg Wolitzer

“And didn’t it always go like that–body parts not quite lining up the way you wanted them to, all of it a little bit off, as if the world itself were an animated sequence of longing and envy and self-hatred and grandiosity and failure and success, a strange and endless cartoon loop that you couldn’t stop watching, because, despite all you knew by now, it was still so interesting.” –Meg Wolitzer, The Interestings

I’m still not resolved on what to make of Meg Wolitzer’s latest novel, The Female Persuasion, and how to write about it here, and so I’ve decided to just go for it and see if I can work it out by doing—and all the better if I manage to get it done before I have to go fetch my children in 45 minutes. I loved this novel, but I don’t know how to grasp it. It doesn’t have handles. Its narrative isn’t a line, and it’s stories packed inside of stories, and also a series of waves that keep coming to wash up on shore. Most writers create a narrative, but Wolitzer creates a universe, dense and rich, and its difficult to parse out the story. By which I mean that it’s difficult to parse out just one.

Last week we received a message from our children’s school of a sexual assault of two children in our neighbourhood, and I’m thinking of starting a campaign for better street lighting, not for safety per se, but instead because we’re running out of room on the lampposts we currently have for posters of all the men wanted for assaulting women on our streets. All this is happening in light (or lack thereof) of the misogynistic van attack a few weeks back, and the weight of this is heavy, and when I read the email I literally fell down weeping. I’m so tired of this, of the backlash and misogyny, that it’s considered “political” for a person to profess to caring about gender equality, when there’s an active movement to restrict women’s reproductive choices, and that there continue to be people who don’t think we need feminism.

“‘It’s like we keep trying to use the same rules,” Greer said, “and these people keep saying to us, ‘Don’t you get it? I will not live by your rules.'” She took a breath. “They always get to set the terms. I mean, they just come in and set them. They don’t ask, they just do it. It’s still true. I don’t want to keep repeating this forever. I don’t want to keep having to live in the buildings they make. And in the circles they draw. I know I’m being overly descriptive, but you get the point.”‘ —The Female Persuasion, p. 447.

“‘I assumed there would always be a little progress and then a little slipping, you know? And then a little more progress. But instead the whole idea of progress was taken away, and who knew that could happen, right?” said this vociferous woman.’ —The Female Persuasion, p. 438

“Because our history is constantly overwritten and blanked out…., we are always reinventing the wheel when we fight for equality.” —Michele Landsberg, Writing the Revolution

I mean, on one hand this is a book about what happened when second-wave feminism marched into the twenty-first century, about what happens when feminism meets capitalism, it’s about sexual assault, and friendship, and betrayal, and the possible inevitability of the betrayal. “Possible,” because I’m not sure exactly. This novel is not a polemic, a treatise, but more of an interrogation…of everything. It’s also about coming of age, and getting old, and having ideals, and then losing them. It’s about compromise, about the necessity and danger of. It’s about making friends with one’s worst tendencies. Small towns and big cities. It’s telescopic, and kaleidoscopic too, the story of just a few years in the life of Greer Kadetsky who is transformed by an encounter with famous feminist Faith Frank at her middling college one night in the early twenty-first century. Greer ends up working for Faith’s feminist foundation, and choices she makes in her professional life complicates her relationship with her best friend and her boyfriend. And the narrative takes in both these characters too, as well as Faith Frank, pitching us forward and backward through decades, these same stories that keep happening over and over again.

The Female Persuasion does not have the answers, and reminded me of one of my favourite books about feminism, Unless, by Carol Shields, which similarly interrogates one’s certainties and dares to suggest its protagonist might be wrong. Though not entirely, or perhaps it’s more that right and wrong don’t quite matter, that the world and life itself is too textured for anything as straightforward as binaries. Or for anything like a single narrative thread, either, but instead there is noise, cacophony, as brilliant and loud as the cover of this splendid novel.

Next Page »

Mitzi Bytes

Sign up for Pickle Me This: The Digest

Best of the blog delivered to your inbox each month!
Twitter Pinterest Pinterest Good Reads RSS Post