Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Women's Room

1977, 1978 Jove/HBJ edition
Marilyn French
The Women's Room
Original price $2.50, purchase price unknown
Poor condition paperback

This is an improvement over Piercy's Small Changes (1973), but as I noted in my review of Cass Timberlane (1945), the view of marriage is incredibly bleak.  The relationships of the single people (straight or gay) aren't much better.  Friendship is surprisingly put on a pedestal, although the friends don't always come through for each other.  And while the book shows the necessity for feminism, the parts set in the late '60s/early '70s are sometimes just as depressing as those from the '50s.

The story is mainly that of Mira, who's also the narrator.  This is awkwardly done.  The narrator tries to see Mira from a distance, yet sometimes acts as if she's the same person and sometimes as if they're different.  It isn't explained till the end, and it would've been better if she had just said she was Mira in the beginning, and spared us scenes where "we" includes Mira and the narrator and their friends.  There are many other women's stories as subplots, and it was hard to keep track of them.

As with Small Changes, none of the men are particularly likable, although some have nice moments, and Ben is presented as sensitive and caring, although even he has a sexist side.  French does a tricky job of balancing the relationship of sex and power, which works sometimes and not others.

I appreciate her going deeper and more personal than Piercy, or McCarthy and Lessing back in the '50s.  Ironically though, I couldn't really relate to anyone, not even to the extent I identified with adolescent Martha Quest.  I'd come across a line that would go something like, "Yes, I am a man-hater.  But the men I know are awful.  And all the women are fantastic," and I'd think, "That's not my experience.  I've known horrible men, and horrible women.  And fantastic of each.  But mostly lots of folks in between."  It's not that my life has been untouched by sexism, but my life has been both more complex (seeing a greater range of human behavior), and simpler.  (No rape, pregnancy, beatings, starvation, suicide attempts, alcoholism.  Just an amicable divorce and mild job- or relationship-related stress.  OK, and my mom's death when I was three.)

I believe that this was the first of French's novels I read.  I much preferred Her Mother's Daughter.  I've got that and two or three other of her works coming up, but sadly I have to reserve the "French" label for works originally written in the French language.

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