Maybe the World Isn’t Such a Bad Place
In my last post, I mentioned “determining moments” quoting from a Charles Wright poem. And it’s something that I imagine most novelists think about when writing their books. Or they arise in the fictional world, and then the author must spin out the ramifications. As happens in life. There’s an incident in Meg Wolitzer’s latest book, The Female Persuasion, maybe more than one, but especially one, that’s like this. I don’t want to give away what it is, but it’s definitely sticking with me, haunting me, this thing that happens to one of the characters which changes so much for others.
Anyway, I was reading Jenny Offill’s book, Dept. of Speculation, at the same time as at the Wolitzer book, because I’d started TFP, and then remembered I needed to read DOS for my book club at the library. I pretty much always read more than one book at a time, but not two novels, and so these two will be forever intertwined for me. They work very well, side by side, that I can tell you. TFP is an expansive, readable, thoughtful book about feminisms and relationships and being human, written in that lovely generous readable style that Wolitzer is so well known for. And then DOS is quirky and odd and fragmented and full of ordinary bits and pieces and beauty and frantic loneliness. Which I know tells you very little about either books. The fact that I don’t like giving plot summaries means I didn’t miss my calling as a book reviewer though.
Here’s the thing though, when I put them both down, I thought to myself, if people are reading these two books, and both have been very popular, maybe the world isn’t such a bad place after all. I mean, maybe it is, since I’m writing this in a literal cloud of smoke.
But there’s something about good writing by women that makes me feel less despondent.
I’ll leave you with two quotations, one from each book, which for me, made each of them worth spending time with. The first is by Offill, and I remember people talking about it when the book came out, and I thought, hey, nice, but then forgot about buying the book. (SO glad it surfaced again).
“My plan was to never get married. I was going to be an art monster instead. Women almost never become art monsters because art monsters only concern themselves with art, never mundane things. Nabokov didn’t even fold his own umbrella. Vera licked his stamps for him.”
And now from the Wolitzer book:
“It seemed, once again, that hopelessness had clarified how valuable the fight had always been. “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.
TFP is full of things that I want to be thinking about right now, things that are unavoidable. But it’s such a good thing to have someone like Wolitzer to travel with, and to navigate these waters with. I feel like we’re going to look back some day in the future and this is one of the books that will define our times.