The Female Persuasion
Novels live and die on love stories: romantic, platonic, epic, spurred by friendship or family or political ideals. Of those many forms, The Female Persuasion contains multitudes, but it hinges on another kind of love most books don’t touch: the passion, as intense as any crush, for the first grown-up who shows you a window into the life you want to lead, the sort of person you want to be.
Greer Kadetsky is a small brown mouse of a girl, the studious only child of suburban-stoner parents so hapless they fail to fill out her financial-aid forms for Yale, consigning her to a backwater Connecticut college instead. Her only real ally is her high school boyfriend, Cory Pinto, the brainy outsider son of blue-collar Portuguese immigrants. But Cory is also handsome and confident and NBA-tall, and already shedding his small-town skin at Princeton. Greer’s freshman year is less kind, a grim study in social Darwinism — including an ugly sexual encounter with another student that goes casually unpunished by the university. So she’s feeling freshly awakened and angry when a new friend, Zee, invites her to come hear a woman named Faith Frank speak on campus. A sort of second-string Gloria Steinem, the glamorous, sympathetic Faith stirs something in her — and unknowingly hands her her fate along with a business card in the ladies’ room afterward.
It’s not wrong to say that Wolitzer, the author of a dozen novels including 2013’s best-selling The Interestings, writes “women’s fiction,” in that she draws fully formed female characters who speak to each other and have faceted ambitions and inner lives. But she’s also a keen humanist with a singular gift for social observation. (“People’s marriages,” she notes, “were like two-person religious cults, impossible to understand.”) And though Greer’s story may be ripe for timely 2018 hashtags, it’s not really just hers. Persuasion has three other often more compelling narratives inside it: Cory, Zee, and Faith, supporting players who become, in their own ways, the book’s thrumming heart. B+