Square Haunting: Five Writers in London Between the Wars by Francesca Wade

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“Though they arrived at Mecklenburgh Square at different stages in life, moving there provided each of them a fresh start at a critical moment: the way they each chose to set up home in the square was a bold declaration of who they were, and of the life they wanted to lead.”

Square Haunting focuses on the influence living at Mecklenburgh Square in London’s Bloomsbury had on the poet H. D., detective novelist Dorothy L. Sayers, classicist Jane Harrison, economic historian Eileen Power, and author and publisher Virginia Woolf. Each lived here at different times, choosing not the expected path for women, marriage and children, but feeding their ambitions, a break for freedom from the social norms of their time. Here they could ‘follow their own pursuits’, and meet with like minds. They had to work to earn the lives they wanted, of course some had the wealth of family but money was a necessity one always had to fret over. Geography matters, it is always conducive to one’s education to be at the heart of things, politics, revolutions, and around people and places that ‘stimulate the intellect.’ 

We remember these women as established writers but it is the making of them that is often forgotten. Their fears and of course the fight to be more that their mothers before them were ‘allowed’. To reach for the things their fathers and brothers were given simply for being born male, all those opportunities women were shamed for wanting.  In the midst of wars, modern culture on the rise, bohemian life, Bloomsbury was often thought of as a ‘vulgar place’. Here was a changing society, moving fast, too fast for some. But for women, it truly ‘offered a room of one’s own.” Our great authors wanted a different life, Mecklenburgh Square is where they would be shaped, a common thread in their world. Or it is where they were meant to find refuge, and engage with others to escape their own mind.

H.D.’s time spent in Mecklenburgh Square tinted her whole life, writing of how men hindered her (a female) as an artist. Disinterested in being Pounds protégé writing autobiographical work, exposing real people with her pen, layered truths and fiction. Born an outsider, understanding all too well how unrealized dreams could hinder a woman, as with her own mother, she would never confine herself so. Playing with her gender, shirking rules, rebellious and vulnerable, London was just the place Hilda would belong. Enthralled with suffragettes, finding a perfect circle of friends, London itself was a place in her writing that her characters, heroines too could find confidence in ‘work and herself’. H.D’s hungry mind could feed on manuscripts at the British museum, marriage with Aldington was a joining of like minds, but the Bloomsbury sets pleasures were interrupted by war, patriotism. No one could remain untouched. Devastation would come soon enough, personally as well. A place is both freedom and later, “four walls about to crush her”, when her marriage began to crumble with infidelity, and deep loss.  Mecklenburgh was formative, even when she was wrapped in misery, for it is here she found herself.

One common theme is women deciding to be neither male nor female. For “it is fatal to be man or woman pure and simple”, particularly for a writer. For these famous women it reduced them to be one or the other, to be defined, to carry the weight of expectations, of one’s sex, better to be both- to have an ‘androgynous mind’ is the only way to a limitless existence.

Dorothy L. Sayers seemed to torture her long suffering parents with her big dreams, ‘yearning to achieve success through her writing’, she didn’t want to be a teacher. Not surprising from a woman who was one of the first females educated at Oxford. She felt “her brain growing rusty” when she settled upon teaching, so she followed her heart and a man to France and with the sour end of that venture, knew it was London that shined with possibilities. She felt at home immediately at Mecklenburgh Square, where for H.D. it was collapse of her marriage, it was independence for the single Dorothy. Living life differently in London left her with a brave feeling. working on translations for extra money so she could continue to write her poetry and chilling stories. Here she wrote her first novel featuring Lord Peter Wimsey, and everything in her surroundings supplied her with plenty of material for the future of her work. This was the only place that could guarantee her artistic success. In time, love would test her too, and her feelings about her work and social norms. Sayers, just like H.D., would discover the cost of freedom for a woman is much harsher than for any man. Work is where a woman like Sayers healed, and she pored herself into it.

Jane Ellen Harrison is this books enigma, a woman who came to Mecklenburgh Square at the advanced age of 75, “having renounced her comfortable life as a Cambridge don”. She destroyed evidence of the life she led before and as Francesca Wade notes, for Harrison it was a rebirth, not a beginning as it was for H.D. and Sayers before her. It would also be her final home, as she died there. A bit of a myth maker about her own life, what mattered most wasn’t intimate revelations and exposure about herself but that it’s possible to shake off and discard anything that doesn’t provide what is needed, for one’s work or happiness. Many lives, regardless of age, are always possible. Once called one of the cleverest women in England, she too chose of life of intellectual stimulation and  struggled with the in between time of success and uncertainty about her future. She was passed over often, as women often are, for posts that she certainly deserved even if she didn’t like such a fact to be known, never one for being pitied. From Archaeological digs and her study on man-made hierarchies and ” the gradual erosion of women’s importance in Greek society” she drove home with factual evidence the vital roles women played in history, challenging the institutions run by men. What a greater inspiration to other young ladies, and female writers coming of age, then the findings of Jane Ellen Harrison and learned ladies like her? Of course, she was accused of debauching young minds. A woman’s education could go further, and should, then motherhood alone. A staunch believer in being a ‘free woman’, but much like the others also was adamant about not categorizing brains into male/female. Eventually into her life came Hope Mirrlees, a relationship that gave her so much of what she needed.

Eileen Power is another whose history has been partially erased ‘for reasons unknown’ by her own sisters after her death. A serious scholar, but as a woman seen by her male peers as ‘an anomaly’ for women surely aren’t this clever. Subordination seems to be a role women like Power and Harrison fought against and yet understood all too well. Her years in Mecklenburgh Square showed other women there was much open to them, a feminist, a pacifistic, who ‘owned her independence.’  She wanted her work to prosper and her surroundings, home should allow for it. She wasn’t one to let her personal life interfere with her important professional work, but it was vital for her to find like minded female friends with whom she could be herself. Her biggest cause, she said, was the cause of women. That women keep their individuality after marriage, ‘that love is not the only thing in the world’. 

For all the important women in this book, their thoughts echo many of the same things. That they are a person, that love isn’t the only thing in life, that an education, intellectual stimulation, a profession, passion is vital for every human being. Mecklenburgh Square was a hive of activity that fed them with the very things they needed to grow and to freely be themselves. Despite their intelligence, each saw the same “unchallenged assumptions” again and again. Maybe this is why they were found walking straight into what had always been predominately male territory. In London, they were able to cultivate friendships, connections to make the life they wanted a reality, despite the expectations of their time.

Virginia Woolf is the last, her time in Mecklenburgh Square was tense, with ‘political crisis’. There wasn’t fresh hope to be had, for Woolf a cloud of grief followed she and her husband Leonard after a wretched year. They were to manage their time going through a war. Back and forth, solitude and city- for her ‘peace of mind’ during a deep depression. When in Mecklenburgh Square they could entertain and debate with fellow writers. The lively discussions lifted the mood but her storms always returned. Not unlike the women before her, her love life was complicated and non-conventional in it’s own right. Partaking in an affair of her own with Vita Sackville-West, their marriage had it’s problems. Leonard was the one that tried to nourish her so she could write, despite her fragile mind. Like the others, she too was invested in defying conventions, in exploring how such things effect people, their life choices, their happiness, work and love life. It seemed she too was influenced by the environment of Mecklenburgh Square, tacking questions of womanhood, personhood. Yet with the destruction and looming threat, she couldn’t be truly at ease there. She still hadn’t truly found a room of one’s own.

This book is about women shaping their own worlds, trying to be self-sufficient in incredibly  difficult, often chaotic, war-torn times,  breaking with social norms. Wanting nothing more than to be a person, not confined by gender or any other roles society seems fit for them. They struggle with work and relationships, with family and destiny, and some with the state of their own mind. Sometimes the women are contrary, but always curious, intelligent and inspiring. It is an engaging read, sometimes heavy and sad, but it couldn’t be any other way when you strike out to change the world, or discover your place in it.

This is how one place shaped the lives of these famous women. Yes, read it, my review is flimsy by comparison to Wade’s work.

Publication Date: April 7, 2020

Crown Publishing

Tim Duggan Books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982: A Novel by Cho Nam-Joo

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Jiyoung’s lack of response to his lecture prompted the father to say, “You just stay out of trouble and get married.”

Jiyoung’s abnormal behavior is first detected on 8 September. Suddenly she seems to be channeling other women, to the point she downright becomes them. Shrinking in her own life, even sucking her thumb, becoming infantile again one night next to her newborn, something is really wrong. Sometimes she is old, and in another eerie instant she is her dead friend from college who tries to tell Jiyoung’s husband that she needs a break, some support, and maybe a little praise- raising their child. Is his wife losing her mind? Is she having a nervous breakdown? Then it’s too much, she insults her in-laws when she voices her own mother’s feelings, admitted that Jiyoung is exhausted and wouldn’t it be nice for a change for her to be able to give time and energy to her own family. How dare she speak up, in any woman’s voice? This is forbidden, women do not give their in-laws a talking down to. They respect their husband, his family, they cook, clean, serve with a pleasure, fulfilling every expectation. It is dishonorable to demand  special treatment. It is frightening what is happening, what is wrong with her, why is she speaking for other women? Not quite herself anymore? Why is she insulting her in-laws in such a way, she should be honored to cater to their needs!

He seeks the help of a psychiatrist for his wife, who doesn’t quite recall anything out of the ordinary. It is through her past we begin to see what it means for Jiyoung, submitting to men, from her cherished brother to her in-laws, and husband. How a woman’s needs always ranks below the male. The girls learn to make do with whatever is available. So ordinary, this special treatment for the sons, that nothing seems unfair or imbalanced this is just the way of their culture. Grief filled births are sorrows women face, producing girls in place of much preferred boys. Abortion, often the solution to unwanted female fetuses in the 90’s and 80’s are one solution but they leave terrible scars of their own on the body and the soul. Mother always working hard at odd jobs but that is the least of her weight, caring for her mother-in-law and children without complaint. In her youth, forced to work in a factory, often women sick with illnesses from such work, all in support of the male siblings and husbands.

Oh Mistook, her mother, stood no chance for her big dreams. Despite her fantastic grades and promise, her future was open for only sacrifice, in supporting others. As Jyyoung learns, boys have the freedom to brutalize and bully. Children stuff there mouths to stay in line at lunch, boys are always elected over girls as class monitors. There is a sexual imbalance, girls the unwanted children. Even clothing alone confines them, playing sports in school, wishing for a more realistic, comfortable dress code. But nothing feels worse than sexual harassment, touched inappropriately by the male teachers, and not a thing to be said about it. You just take it all, don’t you?

In Korea, through her childhood and college, there is only so far she can rise. Always it’s the male students who get recommended. She truly works hard, does her very best, behaves honorably, yet it comes to nothing really. Her mother doesn’t want her settling for marriage, to continue on the backwards way of women having no career, no dreams. Despite fighting, working hard for her place in her career, the men still get paid better- it’s a huge gender pay gap. When she marries, gets pregnant, it’s still a boy everyone is hoping for. What of the sacrifice to her career, to being the one that is the stay at home parent, certainly a given for the mother? She speaks without her own voice, because women aren’t meant to be heard. It is only through others she can speak up about this discrimination, sexism, and misogamy.

Is it postnatal depression that makes Jiyoung become other women, from time to time, or is it the state of being a woman in the world in general? What a hassle these women are with their demands, their exhaustion, when they should just buck up and carry on just like their mother and grandmothers before them. What does the doctor know, he himself needs female workers whose childcare doesn’t interfere with a successful business. So much for change.

A feminist movement indeed, how far they’ve come, how far they still have to go.

Publication Date: April 14th, 2020

W.W. Norton & Company

Liveright

Indelicacy: A Novel by Amina Cain

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“You’re different from when I last saw you,” she said.

“I married someone rich. Is that what you mean?”

She nodded. “It agrees with you.”

Vitória has been working since she was a child of twelve years old, years spent earning her keep, working her hands raw. Now a cleaner in an art museum alongside her friend Antoinette, she yearns for the freedom to think, write, exist for more than tidying up after the rest of the world. They spend their days dreaming of a time when Vitória can write and Antoinette will finally have a man to love, though sadly she is sure if she is lucky enough to marry her suitor will be dirt poor. Despite her ragtag life, Vitória finds pleasure in the small things, like the luxury of simply reading a book before bed at night. She has never felt she deserved anything, and even after her luck turns and she marries into wealth and comfort, she still imagines she is better fit to scrub the museum floors than peruse it’s paintings. She is too ashamed to face Antoinette, embarrassed by the easy wealth- after all, marriage was always her friend’s dream, not hers!

Through marriage she tries on being someone else, with creature comforts and time on her hands, will her writing unfurl? If it’s not love, then maybe rescue is enough. She will soon learn there are many ways a woman can be confined. She is much like a bug trapped in a jar, despite her windfall of luck. She finds time just as demanding, but now it’s about entertaining guests, decorating herself in the finest dresses and jewelry (a far cry from the ugly things she and Antoinette so hated). Struggling now with her husbands lack of faith in her intelligence, missing her dear friend she didn’t even say goodbye to, suspicious of the maid Solange who makes her feel like an impostor in her new life (there is no sisterhood bonding to be had there), the dream isn’t quite as she imagined. She enjoys the lovemaking, despite not being in love but is it enough? Vitória knows all too well what many women in her former life would give to be in her shoes. But would they too be as disturbed to learn pretty, expensive shoes pinch?

She is free, but has to ask her husband for everything, much like a spoiled child. She turns to dancing classes trying to flow with her new life. Luxury starts to feel so good, something to sink into and yet happiness eludes her still. She gets inventive in the bedroom and she tries to think of ways to become more worldly, to fit better into her husband’s world. After a time she finds her friend Antoinette again, which gets her thinking more about what she truly desires. So the cogs of her mind begin turning, is this the house she should be in or is there something else out there?

This is a novel about class which affords one opportunity or not. It is an exploration of desire, hope, and the chains of dreams. What does it take to get where you want to be? It’s distasteful to imagine someone marrying without love in their heart, but what if it’s a means to escape drudgery, poverty and hope to better your life? Is it really so shocking Vitória would prefer marrying a rich man over scrubbing floors and living with the threat of the streets nipping at her heels? Yet, gilded cages have their trappings too. It’s an old story. In both lives, she is looking for escape yet it should be easier with a full belly and money. The feminist theme swims throughout the chapters, she doesn’t feel she deserves a good turn, her writing is silly to her husband (what gravity could there be in her words, this slip of a thing, a poor, little female he rescued), that in a privileged life there is still a role to dress for, expectations and the sexual exploration (goes without saying). The shame, the shame for grabbing whatever she could.

I think the struggle I had was connecting with Vitória, I liked her friend Antoinette better. I think Vitória was distant which is strange because if I were to connect with any woman in this novel it should have been her. I actually would have liked more of Solange’s story, but it’s still well written. I liked it but the only fable, to my mind, was how fast the marriage happened.

Publication Date: Febraury 11, 2020

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 

 

Virtuoso by Yelena Moskovich

 

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And yet, there is an extra weight within the room, like a movement finishing itself.

This novel shifts so much from story and perspective that it may lose a few readers in the process but for those of us that like these little roller coaster reads, hang on! Two Dollar Radio serves up another gem of a novel in Yelena Moskovich’s latest madness. The novel starts with a dead body, but hang on…. This is a coming of age at the end of the Soviet era,  Jana tells us for 19 years she was ‘a simple Czech girl’ living under severe rule of tapped telephones, letters steamed open, people disappearing- soviet domination holding the people down. She was a ‘clean-handed little girl’, a very bored one, so bored that even dust stirring in the sunlight would be interesting until the new girl enters the scene. A little raven-girl named Zorka, the “Mala Narcis” a little Narcissus who can’t get enough of herself. This Zorka suddenly lights up Jana’s life with her feral behavior, what could be more thrilling? Where Zorka is wild and angry Jana is ‘solid, smart’. With communism cracking, people are free to entertain big plans, and Zorka has a future somewhere beyond, beyond making her depressed mother uncomfortable with her ‘weird behavior’, a place where her father’s fade from sickness doesn’t hover. Jana finds strength in Zorka, until she disappears.

To the future we go and find Parisian Aimée married to an older actress Dominique, lovebirds from the start but lately something is weighing her wife down. Something is souring. It seems to be a separate story-line but naturally will find itself weaved into Jana’s. Jana working is as an interpreter in Paris, she too finally had her own destiny to fulfill. Someone else knows all about her friend, the Mala Narcis, it’s time Zorka is back in her life, but did she ever really leave her?

The story of Zorka’s mother and her mental illness is told in Part two where we finally discover just where Zorka was sent, to America to live with her uncle Gejza and his wife Tammie. Too hot for her mother to handle after the grief of losing her husband and her grip, it’s a culture shock for Zorka. But even America can’t reign her in, she finds a band of misfits like herself, explores her sexuality, strikes out on her own.

Did I mention the chatroom? Who the hell are these two? How do they fit? HotgirlAmy and a very miserable wife Domminxxika? Chapters throw you around, which usually makes me dizzy and irritates the hell out of me, but for some reason it doesn’t in this novel and it builds until finally at the end there is a picture where the characters fit. How does Moskovich keep up with her own creations? This novel made me feel jittery trying to keep up.

Past, present, dream or no dream, full circle, broken cirlcle, a dead wife, a dying mother, a sick father, broken friendship, abandonment, communism, love… there is so much happening. This writer is all over the place, but I remained riveted. My happiest reading was spent on Zorka’s childhood and the electric thrum of her. What antics, what sorrows! No wonder Jana clung to the memory of the Mala Narcis.

Read it if you can keep up, it’s meaty even though I admit I am not fully sure I have it all figured out. It will exhaust some readers, but I can’t wait to read her next novel. I have a thing for strange fiction. It is beyond genre, a weird read for winter.

Publication Date: January 14, 2020

Two Dollar Radio

The Girl at the Door: A Novel by Veronica Raimo

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“After the girl came to see me, I couldn’t get rid of her presence in the house.”

Utopian islands can be just as corrupt as the imperfect, filthy, declining societies people long to escape, all it takes is a germ in their midst, but is the germ a false accusation or a rapist?  Miden and it’s citizens must never transgress against their rules, their society runs on adherence to it’s beliefs, and what’s a bigger violation than the accusation of rape? This act is a stain that can spread and destroy this perfect world. Here they live in a blanket of security, peace after the mysterious “Crash”, something happened in the larger world, and though ‘the worst is over’, according to politicians, it is Miden that “SHE” ( first just a tourist) tells us she wanted to live in, to be safe from the threat of the outside. “He” (the successful professor)  was already a citizen with ‘a prospect of a solid future’ when they met and fell in love.  Miden, where they are obsessed with statistics and the best place for “Quality of life”, encompassing “trust in the future, social equality, human rights, etc” but the most telling for this story is its supply of  “women’s freedom”.

The novel opens with “She” answering the knock of a visitor at their door, who asks her “Are you the professor’s wife?” 

“She” the girlfriend, doesn’t yet realize the enormity of what this former student, this skinny, pretty young girl is about to reveal. Pregnant with the professor’s child (carrying his very future in her belly), how does she face the ugliness of what this stranger is accusing him of, what it will do to this sheltered life they live, that they worked so hard for? Certainly the man she loves isn’t capable of such things, and why now? It was two years ago, in the past, right?

“Because I didn’t know then. Now I know.”

What is a crime, how do we come to understand that we have been a victim? What if youth was a blinder, and we didn’t know how sorely we were being wronged? What if the awakening to the crime happens when the wisdom of a few years sheds light on it? Is it then still a crime? Do crimes have an expiration date? Do people get to escape punishment because time was on their side, because someone didn’t know better how to protect themselves, if they didn’t realize what was happening at the time?  Is it a crime if someone met with you willingly, if you allowed it, didn’t have the sense to prevent it, to say no? What if it becomes a crime in the telling and others examine it and help you see the ‘affair’ framed darker? After all, she was a ‘young student’, isn’t that crime enough? Her youth, his position of power as her teacher?

Through “Him” it’s a wildly different story, from the very act of saving her panties ‘for months’. For “Him” it was a wildly erotic time and he can’t believe the ‘Commission” and most especially his girlfriend is taking any of this seriously. The absurdity of it all! This could cost him his enviable life in Miden, his very relationship with his pregnant girlfriend, his future! To him it was an affair (in the sense it goes against the student/ teacher rules, a sordid thing), ‘wrong’ sure, but an affair, not anything violent or criminal.

Who do we believe? With the accusation “She” goes back and chews on their relationship, from their first meeting to the pregnancy and everything in between, as if picking for clues for or against his character. “She” has a bigger role in the entire investigation, in whether he is ‘unworthy’ of being a citizen or not, to be banished or not. The accuser, and how “She”(the girlfriend) is irritated, annoyed by her, curious about her behavior, looking for ‘theater’, almost as an escape out of believing the worst about”Him” or as evidence of his innocence. This is a provocative moment in the novel. If you attribute it to our current news, wonder at the women who stand by their man, why, why the anger is often aimed at the alleged victim, it begins to make sense. It also lends people insight into why in some cases women wait, until they are adults, until they are braver- to take the steps to search for justice. On the flip side of the coin, what about the men? Are they monsters, are they guilty if in their head they are reading the situation, the acts completely wrong?

This is an engaging novel, but Miden itself sort of got in the way for me. I didn’t see it as a Utopia personally, the people came off as holier than thou, above humanity as trying to strive for some flawless society, I mean- who decides? Then again, what sort of world do we live in now, where people still blame women when they are assaulted? Hmmm… What about cases where there is consent, if you consent, how is a man to know he is hurting you? That is a question people still pick over. Throw youth into the mix, the awe of those in power, shouldn’t someone be reigning in their desires? Shouldn’t it be the person with the power, and yet too we are all humans and flawed. It’s a slippery slope.

What beats in me is the “WHY NOW”… that’s a current question in many cases, allowing disbelief, doubt in the accuser to slip in for many people. There isn’t just one answer.

It’s interesting to me that there isn’t naming of the characters, they remain HIM/HER, the accuser… I don’t know if it’s intended but it’s like you protect all parties without thinking about them beyond their sexual identity (male, female). Then I went off the rails and in my thinking, naming is vital- isn’t it? Particularly if that name is loaded, ‘rich, successful, beloved’ it absolutely alters how strangers look at an accusation. Naming changes things, for good and bad.  The reader feels sympathy for each of them, and disgust here and there. Just who risks the most? There is selfish thought, of course there is, we are the center of our story, anyone that disrupts our security, our future can easily be seen as the guilty party. It was engaging, but Miden was a weird society. You believe each of their views, even if they discredit themselves too.

Publication Date: October 18, 2019

Grove Atlantic

Grove Press, Black Cat

 

 

 

The Book of X: A Novel by Sarah Rose Etter

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“I’M NOT RELIGIOUS, but I damn well prayed”, my mother says, exhaling smoke over the kitchen table. “I rubbed the rosaries raw that you would take after your father.”

Cassie doesn’t take after her father, despite her mother’s desperately raw prayers. Born, like her mother and her mother before her, cursed by a rare inheritance of twisted stomachs in the shape of a knot that they conceal beneath their clothing. Living on a farm in the acres, Cassie’s father’s inheritance, isolated from the rest of town, the one place she doesn’t have to ‘stomach’ the shame of the stares of others. The thought circling my mind through reading was this, there is a time in many a young girls life that her stomach is twisted, in fear, in shame. On the land, their lifeblood is the meat quarry where her father and brother harvest meat from the walls of the canyon. Cassie’s curiosity about the place is a hunger, but like so many other things in the world, it’s not meant for the eyes of females.

Can I just take a moment to point out her mother’s unbearable unhappiness and disappointment about her life, her knot? The prayer and how devastating it truly is, just take away the knot and think on it. A mother that prays for her daughter not to be like her, that self-hatred passed down through generations. The “It’s time to take a look at ourselves with honesty” comment from her mother. Somehow looking at ourselves with honesty is to examine all the ways in which we fail to measure up to the physical perfection the world demands a worthy women has. The impossibility of resembling all those flat-stomached women in magazines… The knot is symbolic, well of course.

Most of Cassie’s school days are spent shrinking, keeping quiet, the only way those who are different can hope to be left alone- the shield of invisibility. Always though, there is trouble, the cruelty of peers, especially when you’re a born freak, a medical curiosity. Her escape are in visions of a happier existence, but the horrors of reality always await her. She studies the other students and there perfectly normal bodies, desperate to be like Sophia. Sophia is a friend, kind of, right? Isn’t she? Is she? As Cassie’s sexuality blooms, her body burning with the same desires as all young girls, she is shamed by her knot, even when a boy she’s had her eyes on secretly seems to return her interest.

The rawness of the meat, her entrance into the quarry like some wild animal, you can almost smell the bloodied mass, the ‘masculinity’ of it haunts the pages. “I like it when you listen to me,” Jared says. Doesn’t he just? Throughout the novel she wants to be loved, she wants to feel normal, to cure the knot because then… then everything will be perfect, she will be worthy of love. Because as things stand, she is only a thing to be used and discarded, a dirty secret desire. She better like whatever she can get. Sound familiar ladies?

Later, she lives her life going through the motions, disappearing, anonymous in the city. Just being a woman in the world and all the rotten luck that entails. She knows better than to ask for anything better than this, until there may be a chance for a cure. From this point on the novel left a lump in my throat, there is a moment where she is feeling great and a man shouts from the street, “What are you smiling about, you ugly bitch?”  Someone is always ready to steal your confidence, happiness. Cassie is absolutely shaped by her knot, denigrated by lovers, the ones not too horrified to touch her, apologetic for having that ‘woman’s burden, her knot’. All women have their own knot, it just isn’t physically visible.  The Book of X  exposes how society sinks it’s fangs into females of all ages, rips them to a bloody pulp and all the while she’s meant to apologize for what is done to her, as if there is a why.

In fact, women do it to each other too, in her co-worker who knows a guy that can fix her. Just fix what the world decides is ugly about you, then you will be of value, you will be over the moon with happiness and find a man to love you. Right. Because the world won’t just find something else to be repulsed by. I think it will hit women in what it doesn’t have to spell out about Cassie navigating her life, like all of us. There are moments as raw as the meat in the quarry. This is a hell of a book! A book too loud to ignore!

Publication Date: July 16, 2019

Two Dollar Radio

Mrs. Everything: A Novel by Jennifer Weiner

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“This life,” Cal said. “You have to give up a lot, I have family who won’t see me. It’s hard. It’s not for everyone.”

In the beginning, it is older sister  Jo “tall and gangly and everything she did was wrong” and little sister Bethie ” chubbie and cute” a child who “always said exactly the right thing” that complete the makeup of the Kaufman family.  Where Jo is closer to her father, Bethie is Mommie’s perfect darling, a child who doesn’t behave in the unnatural manner her older ‘tom boy’ sister Jo does. It is 1950’s Detroit and their new home is surrounded by families just like them, “birds of a feather” all perfectly flocking together in rhythm and God forbid you are “different.” No one tests their mother more than Josette, who doesn’t mean to be so difficult and really cannot explain why things that come easy to others is so hard for her. She can’t help but be herself, even when she tries to be the good girl her mother desires, catastrophe follows and boy does her mother make sure she knows just how much she fails to be the daughter she wants.

It isn’t only within her family that her nature brushes against societal norms. Friendships with other girls mean more than they should, her wants and desires for her future are thwarted by the times Jo lives in, and will chip away at her dreams of freedom. An athlete, a writer, liberal minded coming of age in a conservative world will whip her into an acceptable shape. Through betrayal of those she loves most, and of course responsibility to her little sister and impossible to please mother, Jo (like countless women before her) will forget herself in order to fit in. Marriage, children… she is finally a good girl, right? The world isn’t ready to accept a woman like her, to let her live freely. It’s not safe to be her true self.

Bethie’s beauty should make her world a tasty confection and guarantee her most fevered dreams come true. Her mother knows she’s meant to be something special one day!  A girl who everyone loves immediately, the perfect lil’ helper, people pleaser, someone whose very nature charms everyone in her orbit, why… what could possibly derail her future? Sometimes, a girl with so much appeal attracts nothing but danger, through no fault of her own. Bethie learns nothing stays sweet in an ugly world, and before long becomes the subversive daughter that Jo once was, refusing to settle in one place nor with a man. There is so much to taste in the forbidden elsewhere! If Josette wants to spend her life being content, tied to convention… well bully for her. No one is going to tame Bethie. Let Jo pretend!

This is a book about women, their options, the opportunities and lack thereof. The shaming when a daughter, mother, sister dares to look beyond the plans other’s have made for her. The disapproval she will encounter when she strikes out on her own, against the will of her mother/father or husband. The ever looming threat of losing your family if you chose anything for yourself that isn’t ‘approved’. The lessening that is expected when one becomes a wife, mother. Before long, you’ve lost yourself. Too it is about the abuse that girls welcome (according to the world, at least) or have to accept for the sake of survival.

The sisters who once had to support each other drift apart, each denying themselves their true natures. Life happens, it brutalizes and punishes in unequal measure. From an early loss both find themselves sacrificing their dreams and even innocence. It is a story about sisterhood, motherhood and in a sense, self-hood and how every choice or the transgressions of others, and the demands the world puts on us makes us who we are, for better or worse. The question is, can we come back to the self we once buried in order to be accepted?

What is more heartbreaking than thinking about the deaths we suffer, internally, of our many selves? The times Josette and Bethie came of age in were full of strife and civil unrest. Children who questioned their parents ways, be it a mild irritation such as why the fuss of dressing like some cookie cutter family, or the heavy, senseless, shameful weight of their parents racism weren’t exactly the ideal child. Children didn’t question the ways of the adult world, period. Step out of line, and you will be tarred and feathered. You were not free to love where you wanted, with so many constraints, this is why free love (social, sexual movement) was born. Many people bucked convention. Yet children eventually want to please, to have their mother/father’s love, sadly at the expense of their real selves. Other little boys and girls, they get too much unwanted love from some adults. It’s hard to write about this novel without giving away everything that happens, but it truly is a novel full of heartbreak and hope. When it’s your turn to be a parent, despite promising yourself you will do better than your mother/father, you can bet a child will introduce you to your weaker self. Life happens, and comes full circle and at heart it is a tale of two sisters that find their way back to each other.

Publication Date: June 11, 2019  Out Tomorrow!

Atria Books