I highly recommend this book for women who are extreme feminists and ultra liberals. They may like it far more than I did. It highlights the differences between generations and genders in the way they think, react and function. I did not like a single one of the characters. Every woman had a mean, nasty disposition. They didn’t speak to each other as much as they attacked each other or fenced with each other, parrying back and forth.
The female characters were far better developed than any of the males, however, they were all ultimately in the same mold, selfish and self-centered in their need to succeed and demand their rightful place in the world. It struck me that those people who marched for various causes rarely wanted equality, rather they wanted superiority, the same superiority they resented in the groups they protested against.
The book’s title takes its name from the main character, a woman with not much vanity who is an independent, no-nonsense, fiercely opinionated, crotchety, rude, bordering on malicious, writer of some stature. She has published books of essays for several decades, and although she had not had recent successes, she was once the trailblazer of the feminist movement. Suddenly, at 75, she appeared on the front page of the NY Times Book Review. The limelight had found her again. Florence was divorced from Saul Gordon, also an author, a man with a gruff appearance and personality. His fame had also occurred in the past, and he resented being forgotten, especially when she was suddenly remembered in again with such a tribute.
As parents to Daniel, Florence and Saul left a lot to be desired. They were too selfish and wrapped up in their own needs to care much about anyone else. Even when it came to their grandchild, Emily, there was no long lasting feeling of love lost. Emily was the child of Daniel and his wife Janine. They resided in Seattle where he was a policeman specializing in crisis intervention. Janine was currently, temporarily, living in NYC where she had taken a job doing behavioral research for a year. Emily had left college, theoretically, also temporarily, and is living with her mother.
When Daniel came to New York for an extended visit, making good use of his accrued vacation time, his family found his visit a little disruptive and intrusive. His mother preferred her solitude. His daughter had a romantic secret, and Janine was contemplating an elicit affair. He was the only character presented with any sense of morality and/or ethics. Most of the other characters, male and female were manipulative and even malicious at times.
There is a common thread in this book and that is that almost every character had a secret that they were keeping from one or another. Almost every one was rude at times, and few showed true appreciation for anything done for them by anyone or for what life had offered them. Rather they took and abused their gifts without any sense of gratitude. I found it a bit scary to think that these selfish, one-dimensional characters might and actually do resemble real live people. Each woman was a liar. Each sneaked around and disobeyed rules they didn’t like. Each tested the water of illicit desires. While each of the women seemed to believe they were superior in some way, they behaved poorly and seemed to want to be rewarded for their poor behavior, for their desire to party and misbehave as well as fight for their rights as equals in the workplace and the world. The author has painted an ugly picture of the independent woman. It would seem that the biggest effort expended by all is the effort to betray someone in some way. Left handed compliments, direct insults and self-serving behavior was the norm.
Perhaps this is supposed to be a funny critique of the feminist movement, but the tongue in cheek remarks and attempts at humor did not work for me. In addition, each of the male characters was also painted as flawed. They were largely unfaithful and some showed a distinct lack of ambition and/or desire to work hard and accomplish something worthwhile, rather they wanted to be rewarded for their efforts whether or not they had real value, and they were dependent on others for their happiness.
In the end, the book leaves the characters hanging in limbo, what does Janine do going forward, what does Emily eventually do, what does Daniel wind up doing? What really happens to Florence? Regardless of the questions raised and left unanswered, one thing is probably certain; it would appear that Florence never let anyone but herself rule her own destiny even when faced with the most traumatic of decisions.
When the book ended, I thought to myself, who wants a world dominated by these unfeeling, cold, thoughtless, sarcastic and relatively sadistic men and women, who concentrated only on their own needs always, first and foremost, without any consideration for the needs of anyone else? None of the characters were portrayed with nice character traits. One was addle-brained, one was too controlling, one was rude, one was crude, one was a letch, one seemed unbalanced and disturbed. A person’s shortcoming became the magnet for a display of discourteous behavior, for sarcasm and ridicule.
I can’t think of one character that I would choose to be with, as a matter of fact, although, at first I thought the granddaughter Emily might be a good character, or even Daniel the son, they turned out to have just as mean a streak as the others. None had enough redeeming features to make them likeable. Any character that appeared nice, was also stupid or naïve, take your pick! To think that those are the people who achieve the most fame and success was not very funny to me. Rather, it was a sad commentary on their lives.
The book is presented in short vignettes, with more than 100 chapters, which is a bit distracting, and the scenes and timeline are all over the place as they jump from character to character and event to event. The reader was not that effective at defining each individual character or moment in time so that they were sometimes not very recognizable. Sometimes the character’s voice actually seemed to slip out of character, and sometimes more than one resembled another. Political Correctness has run amok in this novel along with morality. Perhaps this author has a finger on the pulse of our world today, or is the media, the publishing world and the intellectual world actually creating the ugly reality we find so prevalent today?