Genre: Literary Fiction/Women’s Fiction
Publisher: Atria Book (Simon & Schuster)
Pub. Date: June 11, 2019
This multigenerational novel spans the 1940s to the present. The weight of the novel is devoted to how women’s roles in society have changed and yet remained the same over the decades. The author states in her prologue that after the 2016 election she wanted to write about a woman like her mother. A woman, who married, had children, divorced, fell in love with another woman and married her. This reviewer applauds Weiner for her honesty and ambitious effort. The novel takes on many issues: ethnicity, race, bias, class, religion, sexual assault. Most of all, the relationships between mothers, daughters, and sisters—shades of “Little Women.” The reader will go through the civil rights movement to the #MeToo movement. Fittingly, Weiner tries to work everything into “Mrs. Everything,” but the result often feels bloated with detail and explanation. Overkill.
The novel is narrated by two sisters, Jo and Bethie. The reader will follow them from their childhoods until they are senior citizens. Jo is a tomboy. She prefers playing sports rather than with dolls. Her choice of clothing is masculine. Bethie is content with being pretty, loving all things girlie, and being her mother’s favorite. The family is Jewish, and the parents’ immigration, due to persecution in Europe, plays a large role in the novel. The religious and cultural parts of their lives did not read like overkill. Weiner manages to ‘show’ their heritage, rather than ‘telling’ it. Meaning it doesn’t feel jammed in. If all 500 pages were written in this manner, the book may have become a classic as well as a (probable) bestseller.
Sometimes Weiner seems to struggle with making her characters’ arcs believable, or how the story’s developments can feel forced, at times, by the author’s desire to subvert expectations. (Spoiler: In the early 1970s, Beth will find drugs in college, drops out, and worst of all, for her mother, Beth gets fat.) Since Joe marries and has children she now becomes the apple of her mother’s eye. This is hard to swallow because the mother is cringe-worthy cruel towards Jo as she was growing up. The mom always guessed Jo’s sexuality and couldn’t make peace with it.
Oddly, with so much packed into the story, it is still a fast read. The novel is marketed as Literary Fiction/Women’s Fiction. It is really more Women’s Fiction—good women’s fiction, well researched. If you enjoy the genre you may feel this critique is too hard on the author. Indeed, there are parts in this sweeping saga where Weiner nails women’s personal struggles spot on. She especially shines when writing about sexual assault or how hard it can be for females to like their bodies or simply like themselves for who they are. Her book has a very important message. If you can get through the information overload, it is worth the read.
I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.
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