Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.


Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Meg Wolitzer, underestimated writer

I just finished re-reading The Wife and The Position. The Wife was a New York Times Notable Book, but good old Michiko dissed The Position. I remember reading that review and wanting to write Meg Wolitzer immediately, in all caps: SHE'S WRONG! SHE'S WRONG!

The Wife is the story of Joan Ames Castleman, spouse of eminent writer Joe. Without giving away the book's central secret, I can say Joan gives us a withering assessment of the state of women's rights, married life, and her own culpability. Wolitzer's charactization is enviable--you cannot help but root for Joan, even as she offers of guided tour of her own misdeeds, and her dead-on take of academia, writers, and their foibles will make you laugh aloud. All of this delivered in lovely, smooth prose, the kind that vanishes so you can see through into the story.

The Position is the story of the Mellow family. Parents Roz and Paul decide the write a book about sex, Pleasuring, complete with illustrations of themselves. The fame and fallout are played out against the past--the seventies--and the present, where the adult Mellow children, Claudia, Dashiell, Michael, and Holly, try (and sometimes fail) to find their respective ways. Wolitzer manages to work in details about the seventies you forgot--the huge station wagons, Carvel Ice Cream shops, sideburns, Yes albums, whilst neatly skewering the Republican party and the Iraq war. The ending, which I will not divulge, will make you cry.

After reading the above for the first time, I sought out Wolitzer's earlier novels. I didn't like them nearly as much; a few, through no fault of her own, are dated. But they show us a writer's evolution, how raw talent becomes honed by years of hard work. In this, Wolitzer reminds me of Margaret Atwood--the earlier work is good, but the later stuff is incredible.


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