Women on the march in the US

Meg Wolitzer's incisive and very funny new novel on modern feminism

Wolitzer has been unjustly overshadowed by her male rivals
May 16, 2018

Meg Wolitzer’s clever and entertaining new novel about what feminism might mean to the millennial generation ought to add weight to the argument that she’s been unjustly overshadowed by male big beasts such as Jonathan Franzen and Jeffrey Eugenides when critics debate candidates for today’s best US novelists.

Roaming fluently between five main characters over a span of half a century, the book centres on the diverging career paths of high-school sweethearts Greer and Cory, who bond in their sleepy New England town over their academic precocity and unusual upbringing (she’s the only child of neglectful hippies, he’s the eldest son of Portuguese migrants who call him “Genius One”).

The pair appear on track to meet their ambitions when, after university, Cory lands an overseas post with a consulting firm while Greer, a budding writer, becomes a protégé of Faith Frank, a Gloria Steinem-like editor and activist who rose to fame as an icon of the women’s movement and now runs TED-style motivational talks and foreign aid schemes, funded by a controversial venture capitalist, Emmett, with whom she once had an affair.

But when tragedy brings Cory back to his family home to look after his mother, his seemingly unbreakable relationship with Greer founders in the face of her inability to fathom his apparent loss of ambition.

So much of the action unfolds from Greer’s perspective that we’re encouraged to see things her way even as we gradually realise that Wolitzer is gently sending her up, as the plot puts a wry twist on the familiar equation between the personal and the political—not least when Greer betrays a close friend, Zee, by lying about a coveted job opportunity with Faith. Yet while verging on satire, the book never damns any of its characters, who are plausibly complex. Incisive without being acerbic, Wolitzer’s novel is unpredictably plotted, persuasively observed and often very funny.

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer (Chatto & Windus, £14.99)