Female Persuasion (Wolitzer)

The Female Persuasion 
Meg Wolitzer, 2018
Penguin Publishing
464 pp.
ISBN-13:
9781594488405


Summary
An electric, multilayered novel about ambition, power, friendship, and mentorship, and the romantic ideals we all follow deep into adulthood, not just about who we want to be with, but who we want to be.

To be admired by someone we admire—we all yearn for this: the private, electrifying pleasure of being singled out by someone of esteem.

But sometimes it can also mean entry to a new kind of life, a bigger world.

Greer Kadetsky is a shy college freshman when she meets the woman she hopes will change her life. Faith Frank, dazzlingly persuasive and elegant at sixty-three, has been a central pillar of the women's movement for decades, a figure who inspires others to influence the world.

Upon hearing Faith speak for the first time, Greer—madly in love with her boyfriend, Cory, but still full of longing for an ambition that she can't quite place—feels her inner world light up.

And then, astonishingly, Faith invites Greer to make something out of that sense of purpose, leading Greer down the most exciting path of her life as it winds toward and away from her meant-to-be love story with Cory and the future she'd always imagined.

Charming and wise, knowing and witty, Meg Wolitzer delivers a novel about power and influence, ego and loyalty, womanhood and ambition. At its heart, The Female Persuasion is about the flame we all believe is flickering inside of us, waiting to be seen and fanned by the right person at the right time.

It's a story about the people who guide and the people who follow (and how those roles evolve over time), and the desire within all of us to be pulled into the light. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—May 28, 1959
Where—Brooklyn, New York, USA
Education—B.A., Brown University
Awards—National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1994; Best
   American Short Stories, 1999; Pushcart Prize; 1998
Currently—New York, New York


Meg Wolitzer grew up around books. Her mother, Hilma Wolitzer, published two novels while Meg was still in school, and weekly trips to the library were a ritual the entire family looked forward to. Not surprisingly, Meg served as editor for her junior high and high school literary magazines.

She graduated from Brown University in 1981. One year later, she published her debut novel, Sleepwalking, the story of three college girls bonded by an unhealthy fascination with suicidal women poets. It marked the beginning of a successful writing career that shows no sign of slacking.

Over the years, Wolitzer has proven herself a deft chronicler of intense, unconventional relationships, especially among women. She has explored with wit and sensitivity the dynamics of fractured families (This Is Your Life, The Position); the devastating effects of death (Surrender, Dorothy), the challenges of friendship (Friends for Life), and the prospective minefield of gender, identity, and dashed expectations (Hidden Pictures, The Wife, The Ten-Year Nap, The Interestings).

In addition to her bestselling novels, Wolitzer has written a number of screenplays. Her short fiction has appeared in The Best American Short Stories and The Pushcart Prize, and she has also taught writing at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop and at Skidmore College.

Extras
From a Barnes & Noble interview:

• First of all, I am obsessed with playing Scrabble. It relaxes me between fits of writing, and I play online, in a bizarro world of anonymous, competitive players. It's my version of smoking or drinking—a guilty pleasure. The thing is, I love words, anagrams, wordplay, cryptic crossword puzzles, and anything to do with the language.

• I also love children's books, and feel a great deal of nostalgia for some of them from my own childhood (Harriet the Spy and The Phantom Tollbooth among others) as well as from my children's current lives. I have an idea for a kids' book that I might do someday, though right now my writing schedule is full up.

• Humor is very important to me in life and work. I take pleasure from laughing at movies, and crying at books, and sometimes vice versa. I also have recently learned that I like performing. I think that writers shouldn't get up at a reading and give a dull, chant-like reading from their book. They should perform; they should do what they need to do to keep readers really listening. I've lately had the opportunity to do some performing on public radio, as well as singing with a singer I admire, Suzzy Roche, formerly of the Roches, a great group that started in 1979. Being onstage provides a dose of gratification that most writers never get to experience.

• But mostly, writing a powerful novel—whether funny or serious, or of course both—is my primary goal. When I hear that readers have been affected by something I've written, it's a relief. I finally have come to no longer fear that I'm going to have to go to law school someday....

When asked what book most influenced her career as a writer, here is her response:

Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell—this is the perfect modern novel. Short, concise, moving, and about a character you come to care about, despite her limitations. It reminds me of life. It takes place over a span of time, and it's hilarious, tragic, and always stirring.



Book Reviews
Of Greer's interest in language, Wolitzer…writes, "All written words danced in a chain for her." And the same could be said of the author herself, who writes in warm, specific prose that neither calls attention to itself nor ignores the mandate of the best books: to tell us things we know in ways we never thought to know them.… [The Female Persuasion] is an ambitious 456 pages, tight but inclusive, and deserves to be placed on shelves alongside such ornate modern novels beginning in college as A Little Life, The Secret History and The Marriage Plot.… When all is said and done, Wolitzer is an infinitely capable creator of human identities that are as real as the type on this page, and her love of her characters shines more brightly than any agenda.
Lena Denham - New York Times Book Review


[Wolitzer is] old-fashioned in the best sense, a spiritual descendant of writers like Elizabeth Gaskell and Charlotte Brontë. Her novels blend philosophical matters with acute social commentary, grappling with ideas as robust as the characters she brings to life.
Wall Street Journal Magazine


Wolitzer understands—seemingly on a cellular level—the puzzled, needy heart that beats within any teenager.… [T]he book is full of Wolitzer’s trademark wit and insight.
Washington Post

A big, fat, delicious book about feminism and the power of female mentorship.
Los Angeles Times


Wolitzer is at her best when dropping wry but casual observations. The pages are peppered with little bonbons of accuracy.
Chicago Tribune


Wit and description are a few of Wolitzer's many strengths. … The work masterfully captures the highs, lows and unexpected twists of the idealistic life.
Minneapolis Star Tribune


Wolitzer’s social commentary can be as funny as it is queasily on target.
USA Today
 

Wolitzer's talent as a writer shines in lines that say more in a sentence than most writers do in paragraphs.… One can only hope that her readers—of the male and female persuasion—will keep the conversation going after the last page.
Associated Press


Wolitzer’s ultra-readable latest illuminates the oceanic complexity of growing up female and ambitious—and reveals the author’s substantial insight into the tangles of gender and power.
Vogue


It takes readers to that sweet spot where fiction mirrors reality.… Filled with lighthearted moments and romantic detours, it’s equal parts cotton candy and red meat, in the best way.
People
 

[Wolitzer is] a keen humanist with a singular gift for social observation.
Entertainment Weekly
 

Wolitzer’s engrossing new novel, The Female Persuasion, is something of a rebel yell, slapping gender right in the title and confronting the question, What does a feminist look like?…So when you’re done binge-reading your copy, hand it off to a fellow literature lover. He’ll thank you for it.
Elle


(Starred review) Wolitzer writes with an easy, engrossing style and… seamlessly connects all the dots in the… four major story lines. This insightful and resonant novel explores what it is to both embrace womanhood and suffer because of it.
Publishers Weekly


The three true-to-life protagonists face struggles that will interest young adult readers because of the book's weighty and relevant themes. Here, they will also find a powerful character-driven coming-of-age story told in a stark, wry voice. —Suzanne Gordon, Lanier High School, Sugar Hill, GA
School Library Journal


(Starred review) Sweeping yet intimate.… In a complex web of friends, lovers, mentors, and rivals, Wolitzer compassionately and artfully discerns the subtle strengths at the core of these essential connections.
Booklist


(Starred review) A decade in the life of a smart, earnest young woman trying to make her way in the world.…  This symphonic book feels both completely up-to-the-minute …with a can't-put-it-down plot that illuminates both its characters and larger social issues. The perfect feminist blockbuster for our times.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. The Female Persuasion is about the relationship between a young woman and her mentor. What does Greer learn from Faith, and vice versa? In what ways do Greer and Faith surprise or disappoint each other? Have you ever had someone come into your life and change it forever?

2. Greer and Cory are high school sweethearts, but their romance is much deeper than their age might suggest. How do the social settings of their hometown and their families turn them into the couple that they are? Discuss the class differences between Greer’s family and Cory’s. How do family origins affect the characters’ ambitions?

3. Cory is entirely consumed by grief after a family tragedy. Talk about the ways in which grief can change a person’s goals. How does it alter Cory’s life path? What do you think about Greer’s reaction to Cory’s grief-induced changes? Is she right to give him space? Is he right to push her away? Could this moment in their relationship have gone any other way?

4. Compare Zee’s childhood with Greer’s. Have their backgrounds influenced the people they have grown up to be, or the decisions they make, or the ambitions they follow?

5. What do you think about Greer’s treatment of Zee and its effect on their friendship and their lives? Do you recognize Greer’s emotional response to the idea of sharing her job with Zee? Were you surprised by Zee’s reaction when she found out what really happened?

6. How has feminism changed between Faith’s youth and Greer’s youth? What do their generational differences show about the nature of progress? Discuss the portrayal of women’s advocacy as it evolves over the course of the book.

7. Faith Frank and Emmett Shrader have a long and complicated history. Do you empathize with Emmett’s character at any point? Do you judge Faith for accepting his funding?

8. At the end of the novel, Greer is forced to make a difficult decision about the Ecuador project. Do you think she makes the right choice? Would Faith have made the same choice if their roles were reversed?

9. Think about the way Faith and Greer’s relationship comes to an end. Do you think it’s for the best? Was it inevitable? By the end of the book, did you still love Faith Frank the way Greer did, despite her flaws, or had your opinion changed? Do you think it’s possible for Greer to move past her love for Faith, or will she always be haunted by it?

10. Wolitzer suggests that there are certain key people, events, and relationships that change the course of our lives. Obviously, Faith does this for Greer. Which other relationships might illustrate this kind of power? Think about Greer’s influence on Cory, and his on her; think about Zee’s life; think about Faith and Emmett. You might even think about Alby’s influence, long-term, on all of them.
(Questions issued by the publishers.)
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