This One’s for the Girls

My feminist awakening wasn’t spurred by some emotional moment that shook my whole being. Rather, my awakening happened in the driveway of my parents’ house as I lounged in a lawn chair reading The Scarlet Letter. My 17-year-old self was nearing the end of the book when I had my ah-ha moment. The injustice of Hester Prynne’s plight sickened me, but the way she endured and owned her predicament empowered me. I even texted the guy I was sort-of-but-not-really seeing at the time and essentially said “I GET IT NOW.” (I think he wrote back “lol” as one high school boy does.)

The main character in The Female Persuasion happened upon her feminist awakening in a much bigger, more significant way: after she was sexually assaulted at a fraternity party her freshman year of college. In the midst of the #metoo movement, Meg Wolitzer’s most recent novel speaks to a society that also needs to be roused awake. It’s calculated and necessary; the only downfall is the book doesn’t carry the spunk and power needed to really make its mark. Where her novel soars with meaning and relevance, it lacks in poignancy. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite do the topic justice.

The Female Persuasion

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Just Because You Feel It

  • What: There There
  • Who: Tommy Orange
  • Pages: 290, hard cover
  • Genre: Contemporary fiction
  • Published: 2018
  • The lit: 1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px of 5 flames

Wow. Some books just hit you where your emotions run deep. Some books bring unspoken conflict right into your hands. Some books make you question everything around you. And some books make you say “Wow.” There There is all of those, right from the beginning.

Read 10 pages of this powerful novel, and you’ll understand why it was on the best-of-2018 lists from Barack Obama, the New York Times, the Washington PostEntertainment WeeklyEsquire, ThrillistTime … you get my point. It’s easy to scoff a little at some of these lists. Reviewers (cough *me*) don’t know everything, and they’ve let readers down before (see here). But There There and its genius author, Tommy Orange, deserve every bit of prestige and attention they garnered in 2018. Orange’s heartbreaking story about Native American identity and experience is just that good.

There There

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Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

  • What: Forest Dark
  • Who: Nicole Krauss
  • Pages: 290, hard cover
  • Genre: Contemporary fiction
  • Published: 2017
  • The lit: 1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px of 5 flames

Sometimes flipping the last page of a book leaves us absolutely befuddled.

“What exactly happened here in these few hundred pages to which I devoted significant time, energy, and brain power?”

Fortunately, only a few books spur this thought. Nicole Krauss’ 2017 hit was one of them. For a novel that garnered much attention and praise and made many best-of lists, I was ready to be blown away. Forest Dark, however, left me lost and grasping for more clarity and purpose … not unlike the main characters.

Forest Dark

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Can’t Stop Won’t Stop

Every so often I come across a book that I just can.not.put.down.

Kevin Kwan had already given me one of those masterpieces in the first book of his showstopping series, Crazy Rich Asians. After feeling slightly disappointed with the sequel, Kwan lifted me back up in a triumph that completely took over one weekend.

You’re batting .667, Kwan, which is not too shabby.

Rich People Problems is a culmination of everything great about its predecessors: crazy characters, hilarious encounters, jaw-dropping money, exquisite details, twisting plots, and did I say jaw-dropping money? It’s almost as if Crazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend were the opening acts for this grand finale that possesses all the signs of a classic.

Rich People Problems

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Go Your Own Way

  • What: The Wife
  • Who: Meg Wolitzer
  • Pages: 219, soft cover
  • Genre: Contemporary fiction
  • Published: 2003
  • The lit: 1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px of 5 flames

You’d think it would be hard to find humor in a 50-year relationship coming to a close. Meg Wolitzer makes it look easy though. As someone who is known for having little emotion, I fully appreciate that skill and enjoy seeing it at work. The ability to laugh at a divorce and the messed-up flaws of a relationship that’s become way too comfortable is not only refreshing, but it’s a necessary change in literature. That’s why you need to read The Wife.

Giggles aside, Wolitzer’s 2003 novel further demonstrates an interesting conundrum and one that so many couples are familiar with: Leaving is never easy when being together is all you’ve ever known. She flawlessly presents this internal struggle in a witty drama, which details the unpleasant feelings that can develop after being with someone for half of a century. It’s the perfect combination of humor and reality, and literature could certainly use more of it.

*PSA: No disrespect to Glenn Close because I have not seen the 2017 movie adaptation of The Wife, but do not skip the book for the movie. Writing like this needs to be experienced on its own, away from the dramatics and artistry of the silver screen.*

The Wife

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Beautifully Broken

Loneliness comes in many forms. It can be bestowed upon us by our peers, it can be a solace we seek, and it can also be all we’ve ever known. I’m a 26-year-old woman with a solid group of friends across the country, who’s in a happy three-year relationship, and who considers her family dear confidantes. Do I ever get lonely? Of course I do.

Nobody can evade loneliness, but author Gail Honeyman wrote to its all-consuming effects in her debut novel, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. She told British bookstore Foyles that the idea for her debut novel came to her after reading an article about loneliness.

“When I thought more about it, I realised that there were plenty of potential routes to a young person finding themselves in those circumstances, through no fault of their own, and how hard it can be, at any age, to forge meaningful connections.”

Honeyman’s approach isn’t all somber and sympathy though. Just as the title suggests, the main character is just fine; it’s not her that is different. It’s everyone else and the social norms that confine them that are mind-boggling. (Read Eleanor’s opinion of wedding registries, and you won’t disagree.) What Honeyman gives us is a beautiful novel that’s equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking, something that evokes laughter while you simultaneously reach for a box of tissues.

Eleanor Oliphant

Thanks for the inspo, Idea Coffee NYC!

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Back to that Material World

Reading about a life you don’t lead can be pure pleasure. That’s the main reason Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians series is so intoxicating. When you don’t own a private jet with a movie theater, botanical garden, koi pond, and a karaoke lounge, you get a certain thrill pretending you could do so in another life. When you live in a 400-sq.-ft. apartment without dozens of reflecting pools, you’d gladly be swept away to where and how the other half (OK maybe the 0.5%) lives.

This escape and the hilarity that accompanies it are why we fell for the the first in this trilogy. The sequel, China Rich Girlfriend, amps up the drama to match the extravagance of the characters’ lives, yet the spectacle is a bit far-fetched. Is it possible for so many ridiculous moments to occur in lives that are almost unbelievably luxurious? To be fair, I mostly enjoyed Kwan’s second novel, but I’m choosing to be a tough critic here, and in comparison to Crazy Rich Asians, China Rich Girlfriend felt too unrealistic to really light me up.

China Rich Girlfriend

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