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Mrs. Everything

August 30, 2019

When I get a Jennifer Weiner book out of the library, I expect a fun story with a romance plot and some kind of oversized heroine. Mrs. Everything is not that. I guess this book represents Weiner’s bid to be taken more seriously, but it’s hard for me to see how plowing over the same tired baby-boomers-growing-up ground is going to do that, especially the way she does it.

Mrs. Everything is the story of Jo and, peripherally, her sister Bethie. Like her literary namesake from Little Women, Jo is awkward and tomboyish and does not grow out of it. She is of course ahead of her time in terms of playing with her black maid’s daughter and once noticing that when she goes to a swimming pool there are black kids outside the fence: “the kids hadn’t said anything, and of course they hadn’t tried to get into the pool, but the look of longing on their faces had stayed with Jo all through the summer.” Jo realizes that her mother’s argument that they’re discriminated against because they’re Jewish doesn’t compare to the racial discrimination of the 1960’s.

Although she is attracted to women, Jo marries a man because she wants “to not be the one making plans, to not be the one attempting to propel an unwilling partner forward, to not have to push through a hostile world. If she married a man, she could let him plan, let him push, let him maneuver; and the world they inhabited would welcome them.”

Bethie survives sexual abuse and learns what her mother meant when she said “it’s a shande, the way she’s let herself go. Bethie puzzled over that phrase, wondering how you could let your own body get away from you, like it was a car speeding away out of control. Now she understood. You stopped weighing yourself, stopped restricting yourself to small meals and salads, stopped picking French fries off your friend’s plate and started ordering your own.” Bethie triumphs over disordered eating with a smattering of self-acceptance and the assertion of her will. So true to life.

As a young mother, Jo thinks “no matter how much the bra-tossers and the National Organization for Women and the Society for Cutting Up Men had done to point out the tedium of marriage and motherhood, they hadn’t done much about offering other possibilities or smoothing other paths. The only option she could see was paying some other woman—most likely an African American or Hispanic one—to do it for her, the way her mother had, and that did not feel like progress at all.” This is a thought I’ve also had, about the baby boomer generation. In the eleven years between getting married and having my first child, I used to half-jokingly reply to queries about when we were going to produce children by saying that I was waiting for the baby boomers to work out decent child care options.

The title comes from Bethie’s perception that Jo missed the 1960’s: “while I was roaming around, protesting the war and dancing at Woodstock, she was married. When the world started to change—for everyone, but especially for women—she was already a mother. She missed everything.” Jo’s daughter responds “misses everything….It’s like a joke. Like, there should be a Mister Everything somewhere.”

The end of the novel comes with the end of Jo’s life, as Hillary Clinton announces her presidential run. And the novel stays uncomplicated, since the pervasive misogyny displayed by American voters in November 2016 is not a part of the story.

I kept waiting for this novel to get better, to say something relevant to the present day, and to see Jo break out of her chains. One of the three happens, I guess, if you can call slipping her hands out of discarded wrist cuffs at an advanced age “breaking out.”

This is a novel the world didn’t need and it’s not going to advance Weiner to the rank of serious novelist.


7 Comments leave one →
  1. August 30, 2019 12:31 am

    I also read this book. I can see other women doing what Jo does in real life. When Jo was growing up, liking another woman was not very open as it is today so I can see why she marries a man to keep her personal life in the closet. Though it’s irresponsible of her to marry a man so he can plan while she sit back and watch life goes by. I do like how Bethie’s life turned out. I didn’t like those wasted time living on the streets and went where the wind blows.. have you read other books by this author? This is my first read from her..

    • August 30, 2019 8:06 am

      I have read other books by this author. She’s a good writer, and they’ve all been very readable but lightweight, usually a romance plot with a heroine who is overweight and struggling with her self-esteem.

  2. August 30, 2019 8:10 am

    I know a lot of people who love Weiner’s work but I gave up on it a long time ago because she rehashes the same things over and over. Several people have said this is her best book but I still decided to skip it and it sounds like I made the right decision.

    • August 30, 2019 8:15 am

      I guess sometimes I like authors who rehash the same issues over and over, or maybe just the overweight/self esteem issue!
      This is definitely not her best book. It’s just a more “serious” book for her.

  3. Rohan Maitzen permalink
    August 30, 2019 8:12 am

    The only one of her novels I’ve liked is In Her Shoes; it sounds like I should not try this one.

  4. August 30, 2019 8:07 pm

    Being a serious writer comes from being a serious reader, from having a serious life. It isn’t a choice – it is who you are.

    Everyone out there has depths no one can imagine, so trying something can be a progression. I’d have trouble writing light-hearted chick lit – and if you know my background, you’d never expect me to. I don’t even enjoy reading it – I want the women portrayed to take control of their own lives, stop doing what they do in those books, grow up.

    There are relatively so few fans of literature that the immediate reaction is, “I don’t go after your readers – leave the few who might be mine alone!” Silly, but there it is.

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