Saturday, August 31, 2019

Mrs. Everything

Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner (2019)

This decades-long family saga opens in 2015, with just a couple of pages letting you know that Jo's breast cancer is back and it's probably not good this time. You learn little else, except that she has a wife who isn't named, and a few daughters, who are. After the opening, it begins again in the 50s when Jo is a kid living with her parents and sister, Bethie. Jo is the difficult one who doesn't quite fit in and wants to be a writer rather than a wife and mother. Bethie is practically perfect in every way, always behaving the way her parents expect her to.

We go through formative events in both sisters' lives, and watch how it changes them and the resulting directions their lives take. They both have complicated relationships with their mother, Sarah, whose own life appears very confined. Jo wrestles with her sexuality and Bethie struggles with the effects of sexual assault, neither of which are easy to deal with, especially in the time period in which they first come about. Both women have relationships that are unconventional in some way, and of which their mother is not supportive.

As the novel spans decades we see various cultural movements and trends, including hippie flower children and the proliferation of 1980s home exercise videos. Some criticize the timing of certain styles and other cultural references, saying they weren't showing up at the right time, but I didn't notice that and I'd be surprised if Weiner didn't research styles and trends while writing this. Another criticism was the inconsistencies - for example, early in the book the girls' father worked for Ford and bought the latest model every year, but later in the book when this is referred to, it says Chevrolet. There were a couple of things of this nature, but this is about the editing not the writing so they felt pretty minor.

Overall, it was a pretty engrossing family saga and I was fascinated by the twists and turns that Bethie's and Jo's lives took and how their relationship changed and grew over time. Despite complications and fights and setbacks, the sisters really took care of each other. One of my favorite things was how, when they were growing up, Jo would tell Bethie fairy tales in which Bethie was the heroine and it gave her self-confidence that she was able to draw on later when she really needed it. I just felt like there was a lot of thought put into this book and in turn it gave me a lot to think about.

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