It’s been hard for critics to write about Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings and Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs without leaving fictional territory a
I’m not unsympathetic to the arguments recently raised by Meg Wolitzer in The New York Times Book Review, and by my colleague Ruth Franklin, regarding the marginalization of “women’s fiction.” Yet both their pieces contained an irksome assumption: Female authors don’t want “women stuff” on their book covers. All that girly junk is just a means of marginalization. “Look at some of the jackets of novels by women,” Wolitzer writes: Laundry hanging on a line. A little girl in a field of wildflowers. A pair of shoes on a beach. An empty swing on the porch of an old yellow house.
Watching the outpouring of grief and reflection over the death of Adrienne Rich last week, I admit, to my shame, that I was surprised. Surprised not because of any judgment about Rich’s poetry, which I barely know, but because I had thought of her as an icon of another era. That era, of course, was the era of the women’s movement, of which Rich was a brash troubadour, asserting the value and distinctiveness of women’s experience and lamenting their—our—submission to patriarchy. But when I came of age intellectually, in the 1990s, this mode of expression had fallen out of fashion.