The Female Persuasion
By Meg Wolitzer
As with her very good previous novel, The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer builds her new novel around people, four of them, moving through life and a few themes, among them inspiration, mentorship, betrayal, disillusionment, and reconciliation.
Of the four characters—Greer, Faith, Zee, and Cory, Greer proves the most interesting and relatable. The most compelling relation is that of Greer, the maturing young woman, with Faith, the established and much admired feminist leader. Here, Wolitzer addresses the power an inspiring leader can exert over a young, quiet woman (or man) without much self-direction, a soul flailing about. Also, in this relationship, Wolitzer shows how one woman can mentor another and help her grow and make a difference in the world. Perhaps more important, is showing how a leader leads by example. The path here, however, isn’t straight and without challenges, as someone like Greer can find herself the thrall of her guide, willing to compromise herself in small ways, until at some point she finds something big that feels like betrayal, and that reminds her in vivid terms of her own betrayal of close friends.
Faith, whom Greer meets at a speaking engagement sponsored by her college, strikes you from the beginning as an inspirational leader. Though you know nobody can go as far in life as Faith has looking beautiful and well turned out without some compromises, still, like Greer, you feel the strength of the fealty she receives from those in her sphere. As Greer learns very dramatically and bitterly, confronting the admired’s flaws can be shattering and change the course of your life.
Disillusionment, though, can strike in other ways. Zee, for example, has accomplished parents, two judges, who expect a certain conventionality from her. In the Greer-Zee college friendship, Zee is the radical firebrand. She’s the one who wants to be the radical feminist, to make the most impact and difference. She’s the one who insists on Greer attending Faith’s college appearance, who encourages Greer to ask her question, who hopes later to work with Faith through Greer’s intercession. Though it doesn’t work out, Zee gets her chance to make a difference, but not in the way she expected.
For Cory, a wunderkind, not to mention tall and good looking, life goes along very well, until tragedy overwhelms him. He and Greer become a couple their senior year in high school. Both extremely bright and hardworking, they apply to the Ivies, and, as hoped, Yale accepts both of them. However, through a misunderstanding related to her parents, she can’t attend Yale, and has to settle for a small second-tier school. That frees Cory to accept a free ride to Princeton, develop a new business idea with friends, and go into the consulting world, as do his friend, to earn funds to transform the idea into reality. The tragedy prevents this from happening and throws Cory into a tailspin for years. Readers may have mixed feelings about Cory related to his choices and to him as a character late in the novel revolving around strength or weakness of resolve, especially measured against the male stereotype (of which VC magnate Emmett Shrader stands as prime example).
In Wolitzer fashion, the lives of these characters weave in and out of the story, with each receiving chapters devoted to them, chapters in which incidents reappear viewed from each’s vantage point. In the end, things turn out as most expect them to, though with Wolitzer the journey is the whole point. Maybe not as good as The Interestings, but nonetheless a top-notch read for both genders. w/c