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Mrs. Everything

Review

Mrs. Everything

MRS. EVERYTHING might be Jennifer Weiner's most ambitious novel yet. She takes readers into the lives of two sisters, Jo and Bethie Kaufman, who grow up in Detroit during the ’50s. Although very different in terms of personality and temperament, they love each other --- much of the time.

Bethie, the younger of the two, seems to do no wrong. She wears the frilly dresses her mother picks out and never gets dirty. Jo, on the other hand, prefers pants and comfortable shirts. She wants to play outside and roughhouse with the maid's daughter, and has no interest in dolls like Bethie does. Yet each night in their shared bedroom, Jo tells Bethie stories --- not too scary --- in which Bethie's life always turns out perfect.

But life is never perfect, and fiction mirrors reality in showing the sadness that families often experience. Their father dies when they are young, and their mother, never an overly affectionate person, goes to work and becomes even more distant from them, especially Jo. Jo is troubled that her mother never shows her any affection. Her mother cannot understand why she is different and disapproves of her life choices.

"MRS. EVERYTHING might be Jennifer Weiner's most ambitious novel yet...[and] will cause readers to think about their own lives and relationships."

In high school, Jo realizes that she is not attracted to boys and finds a girlfriend. But for the girl she adores, Jo is merely a dalliance on her way to the altar with a local boy. Jo goes to college, and again she meets someone with whom she falls in love. But Shelley Finkelbein seems out of her league and insists that they keep their relationship a secret. When Shelley breaks her heart, Jo marries and becomes a mother.

The novel also follows Bethie to college. She does not fare as well as Jo, hanging out with drug dealers and not concentrating on her studies at all. She returns home a broken person, relying on her mother and sister to help her. As the years go by --- labeled by Weiner so the passage of time is clear --- the siblings grow and change. Their relationships with each other and with others are the key to understanding the motivations behind the choices they make. And at times, their roles become reversed, with Jo becoming the dutiful wife and Bethie the outcast.

MRS. EVERYTHING is not just a story of two sisters and, eventually, their extended families, but also a novel about the coming of age of women in America. It's about the ’60s, civil rights and the drug culture; it's about the ’70s and Vietnam; and it's about struggles with weight, the Jewish culture, feminism and sexual freedom. By the end of the book, almost 70 years later, there is a #MeToo moment, as well as Hillary Clinton accepting the Democratic nomination to be the first female presidential candidate. The expectations of women that the girls knew as children have changed greatly. Weiner writes about how the more women's place in society and the family changes because of social pressure and social mores, the more they aren't necessarily freer and happier because of it.

In fact, with the "you can be a mother and have a successful job" attitude of today, many extremely successful women are questioned about their choices. "How do you feel about missing so much of your child's life?" might be asked of a female executive who works long hours and travels, but that question is never asked of a male executive. And what about the woman who just wants to be a mother? Is she made to feel that her decision makes her less of a woman, to be less valued?

However, in addition to the relationships between the women, the crux of the novel is that no matter what a parent does, no matter how good or not a mother strives to be, children are resilient. They often feel unloved, and both Jo and Bethie have felt unloved by their mother at times in their lives. But will the next generation feel the same way? Is there anything parents can do to make sure that their children always feel safe and secure and loved? What about divorce, death, sexual identity, and other events and conditions that profoundly affect lives?

The bottom line is that, while there is much that can derail relationships, the only thing that parents can do is to try their hardest to be the best they can be and to love their children, as well as their partners, with all their hearts. MRS. EVERYTHING will cause readers to think about their own lives and relationships.

Reviewed by Pamela Kramer on June 12, 2019

Mrs. Everything
by Jennifer Weiner

  • Publication Date: June 11, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books
  • ISBN-10: 1501133489
  • ISBN-13: 9781501133480