“I never wanted to write a novel that felt ripped from the headlines,” says Meg Wolitzer — but in her latest, “The Female Persuasion” (Riverhead, $28), she couldn’t avoid it. With the explosion of the #MeToo movement in late 2017 and early 2018, the feminist concerns that have occupied the Long Island-raised author throughout her career also dominated the national discussion. Few reviews could avoid the use of the word prescient.
A year later, those discussions are both more widespread and more nuanced — promising conditions for the selection of the book by Long Island Reads. Every April since 2002, LI Reads has invited readers across Nassau and Suffolk counties to read a single book and participate in library-sponsored events and conversations. Wolitzer discussed this honor with Newsday by phone; the conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
LI Reads picked “The Female Persuasion” partly because you grew up in Syosset. Do you still live in the area?
Not anymore, so when I go the Plainview Public Library on the 7th [the opening event], it will be a homecoming. My family were big library-goers, we went to both Syosset and Plainview, and it was always a whole outing for us — Chinese food, Baskin-Robbins and new fiction. Or the children’s room for me.
The novel holds appeal for both adult and young adult readers, because of the ages of the main characters. Greer Kadetsky is a college student and Faith Frank is a famous feminist, a sort of Gloria Steinem character, who speaks at Greer’s campus.
One of the issues that came up around these particular characters was the tensions that might exist between younger and older feminists. In the book, there are younger feminists online who criticize Faith’s work, calling it #whiteladyfeminism and #fingersandwichfeminism. But both age groups share a desire for equality, and in my book it’s not just any older woman, any younger woman. It’s about how each of these particular characters uses feminism to create meaning in their lives, and how that unfolds and unravels over the years.
“The Female Persuasion” was heralded as a #MeToo novel. Why?
Greer goes to a party the first weekend of college. She meets a frat brother, he gropes her breast, and she doesn’t understand whether this is this something she has a right to be upset about — whether it was an assault, whether she should tell people, whether this is something girls and women just have to roll their eyes and deal with. The #MeToo movement has brought forward those questions — what is acceptable, what should we should expect and demand from men, what is fair and just.
In light of the success of “The Wife” [based on Wolitzer’s 2003 novel], are there film plans for “The Female Persuasion”?
It’s been optioned by Amazon, and Nicole Kidman is producing it with Lynda Obst. But “The Wife” took almost 15 years, so . . .
What are you working on now?
My current fiction project is in a very early phase, since I lost some time this year helping with “The Wife” — if I talk about it, I’ll just end up changing it. Also, I’m a member of MFA faculty at Stony Brook, Southampton. The novelist Susan Scarf Merrell and I created a yearlong nondegree program called BookEnds, where writers who are working on a novel can work intensively one-on-one with established novelists like Karen Bender, Amy Hempel, Matthew Klam, me and others.
That’s perfect, since one of the themes of “The Female Persuasion” is mentorship; the book is dedicated to your own mentors, Nora Ephron, Mary Gordon and your mother, the novelist Hilma Wolitzer.
Actually, my mother is coming to the event at Plainview, and I’m hoping to yank her up on stage with me. She and I have been talking about writing ever since I was really young.
LONG ISLAND READS EVENTS
WHAT Meg Wolitzer talks about and signs copies of “The Female Persuasion”
WHEN | WHERE Sunday, April 7, at 2 p.m., Plainview-Old Bethpage Public Library, 999 Old Country Rd., Plainview
INFO Free; limited number of tickets available but overflow attendees can watch a livestream and have books signed; longislandreads.wordpress.com
WHAT North Shore Reads discussion of “The Female Persuasion” for patrons of Bayville, Bryant (Roslyn), Glen Cove, Gold Coast, Locust Valley, Manhasset, Oyster Bay - East Norwich and Sea Cliff libraries
WHEN | WHERE April 9 at 6:45 p.m., The Metropolitan Caterers, 3 Pratt Blvd., Glen Cove
INFO Free but registration required; 516-759-8300, northshorereads.org
WHAT Dramatic reading of “The Female Persuasion” with David Houston and Diana Heinlein
WHEN | WHERE April 15 at 2 p.m., Bethpage Public Library, 47 Powell Ave., Bethpage
INFO Free; 516-931-3907, bethpagelibrary.info
WHAT Discussion of “The Female Persuasion”
WHEN | WHERE April 23 at 7 p.m., West Islip Public Library 3 Higbie Lane, West Islip
INFO Free; 631-661-7080, westisliplibrary.org
WHAT Screening and discussion of “The Wife”
WHEN | WHERE May 17 at 2 p.m., Syosset Public Library, 225 South Oyster Bay Rd., Syosset
INFO Free; 516-921-7161, syossetlibrary.org
For a complete listing of Long Island Reads events: longislandreads.wordpress.com