Thursday, September 3, 2015

Review: Spinster by Kate Bolick

The word spinster has very negative connotations to it. It is not used as often in this day and age as it used to be but it still carries the suggestion that the woman to whom it refers is a failure. She has failed to get married, which must, of course, be the goal of any right thinking woman. Except that marriage is no longer necessarily a goal; nor is it expected. Once upon a time, women did have to rely on men financially and so marriage made sense. With women fully able to support themselves, you would expect that marriage would no longer be such a coveted goal, and yet, in many cases, it still is. Kate Bolick has set out to examine why, to find inspirational women who point to another way, to reclaim the word spinster, and to share her own experience as an unmarried woman in her new book Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own.

This book is part memoir, part biography, part sociology. As she discusses her own life and the societal expectations up against which she runs time and time again, she talks about five women who inspire her, the women she calls "awakeners," whose own paths were unconventional, who helped her find her voice and to stay on the path she's chosen. Essayist Maeve Brennan, columnist Neith Boyce, poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, novelist Edith Wharton, and social visionary Charlotte Perkins Gilman are the women who guided her, whose lives she examines not only in conjunction with her own but also in contrast to the world they lived in as well. Interestingly, all of her awakeners did in fact marry at some point in their lives albeit unhappily so while they might have been disapproved of in their own times, they would not have been called spinsters.

It is very clear that Bolick greatly admires the women she's chosen but trying to knit her own life into the mix felt forced and as if it all didn't fit nearly as well as she wanted it to do. The narrative tone is inconsistent with portions of the book sounding quite pedantic while others were much more personal, perhaps a result of too many foci here. Also, the fact that she talks about her own status as always single is a bit disingenuous given her almost constant involvement in long term monogamous relationships, one after the other. If she's calling that single, she has a very narrow definition of coupled, one narrower than most people these days. There are some interesting tidbits buried here and she has clearly done a huge amount of research to compile the sociological and biographical portions of the book. An interesting concept for sure, I really wanted to like and be engaged by this a whole lot more than I did.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.

1 comment:

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