BrooklynFans Of Books: “Mrs. Everything” By Jennifer Weiner

Mrs. Everything

By Jennifer Weiner

Atria Books; hardcover; $28.00

Jennifer Weiner is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of sixteen books, including Good in Bed, In Her Shoes, and her memoir, Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing. With over 11 million copies of her books in print in 36 countries, Weiner has established herself as a writing powerhouse that creates plenty of discussion.

Weiner’s new book is a work of fiction that will resonate in these times, Mrs. Everything. An exploration of women’s rights, sexual freedom, and the changing landscape of American politics, it is the perfect mix of poignancy and levity.

Jo and Bethie Kaufman were born into a world full of promise. They grew up in 1950s Detroit, in a perfect “Dick and Jane” house with their roles in the family clearly defined.

Jo is the tomboy, a bookish rebel who has a passion to make the world a fairer place. Bethie is the pretty good girl, a would-be star who enjoys the power her beauty confers and dreams of a traditional life.

Jennifer Weiner.

Weiner writes of a typical day for them growing up, “‘Josette Kaufman, get back here right this minute!’

“Jo raced down the hall, feet flying, arms pumping, chest tight and her breath coming in short, painful gasps. She ran to the bedroom, slammed the door, and locked it, startling her sister, who was lying on her bed, paging through The Bobbsey Twins on Blueberry Island. Before Bethie could ask what was going on, Jo opened the closet, climbed onto the dresser, reached onto the top shelf, and nudged her blue suitcase with its shiny brass clasps until it fell on the floor.

“‘Jo!’ Sarah was hammering on the door, sounding furious.

“Jo ignored her, tossing her suitcase onto her bed. The suitcase, made of cardboard and covered in a blue tweedy fabric, had a stretchy pale-blue satin pocket stitched inside for underwear and socks. Jo threw in three pairs of underwear, two shirts, a sweater, her dungarees and socks and sneakers, her brown leather vest with a sheriff’s gold star on the front, and her two new library books. She put the robin’s egg that she’d found the previous summer and kept wrapped in a handkerchief on the bedside table into the suitcase’s satin pouch and clicked the gold-covered clasps suit. As Bethie stared and Sarah banged and shouted, Jo climbed on top of the dresser again, opened the window, pushed the suitcase onto the lawn, then shimmied through the gap between the sill and the screen, scraping her belly as she went, until her sneakered feet hit the grass. She grabbed the suitcase and ran down the driveway, onto Alhambra Street, crossing Clarita and Margareta Avenues, heading toward Livernois. Mae lived on Gratiot Street, in a neighborhood that Frieda said was called Black Bottom. Jo wasn’t exactly sure where that was, but she figured if she kept going on Livernois, she’d get there.

“After four blocks, Jo slowed from a run to a trot. After five, her arm started to ache, so she switched the suitcase to her other hand. She trudged around along the sidewalk, past drugstores and candy stores, feeling her shirt starting to stick to her back. It was May and already hot and humid, the sky is washed-out blue, the trees and grass a brilliant green. The suitcase bumped against her thigh with every step she took. She’d just crossed Thatcher Avenue when she heard a car behind her. When she walked faster, the car sped up ad someone called her name. Jo turned around and saw that it was her father. ‘Hey, Sport,’ he called through the open window. ‘Want to go to a Tigers game?’

“For a minute, Jo just stared. She and her father had listened to dozens of Tigers games together, on the car radio or in the backyard in the summer as the sky turned orange and gold and the smell of fresh-cut grass surrounded them, but she had never even imagined going to the stadium. Especially not when she was in trouble…but maybe her dad didn’t know.

“‘They’re playing the Yanks,’ he said, and looked at her expectantly.

“‘Really?’ She could hardly believe it. A chance to actually go to Briggs Stadium and see Hoot Evers and Vic Wertz in person? A chance to spend an entire afternoon with her father, just the two of them?

“Jo decided she could find MaeĀ  some other time. She raced around the car, threw her suitcase into the back seat, and jumped into the front seat, next to her dad. Her father handled the car easily, slipping through the rush-hour traffic until they reached the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. He paid a quarter to park behind Brooks Lumber, right in the shadow of the stadium. ‘Hold my hand,’ he said, and Jo slipped her small hand into his big one, gripping tight, as they joined the crowd. Jo could smell gasoline and bus exhaust, newsprint from the stacks of papers and hot dogs from the carts. Everyone walked fast, like they had somewhere important to be and were in a big hurry to get there. Her father walked up to the ticket window, and Jo tugged on his sleeve, not wanting to be greedy but knowing she’d kick herself larter if she didn’t at least ask.

“‘Do they have seats for right field?’

“‘You think you could catch a fly ball?’ her father asked, and Jo felt her stomach lurch, realizing that, of course, she did not have her baseball glove, the one she’d begged and pestered her parents to buy her for Chanukah so she wouldn’t have to keep borrowing from the Stein boys across the street. It was still at home in the toy box at the foot of her bed.

“Her father reached into his suit jacket and, like a magician producing a rabbit, pulled out Jo’s glove. Jo stared at him in disbelief and jumped in the air, cheering. They walked through the dark, narrow tunnel, then climbed up and up and up through the bleachers, one flight of steep stairs after another. Jo gripped her father’s hand in the press of the crowd. The men wore shirt-sleeves and hats, or suits and loosened ties; the women had curled hair and lipstick-y smiles. Jo saw a young couple on a date, and watched as the young man took a sip of beer from a plastic cup and handed it to his girl. Down on the field, the lights were dazzling. The grass, far below them, was an emerald green so deep and vibrant that it seemed to glow, and the players, standing in a line, looked no larger than her sister’s paper dolls. Jo was overwhelmed with happiness, here, in the place she’d wanted most to be in the whole world, an enchanted kingdom she’d never imagined that she would visit.”

As time goes on, the truth turns out differently for them, as they survive traumas and tragedies. Their lives unfold amidst the backdrop of free love and Vietnam, Woodstock, and women’s liberation.

Bethie becomes an adventure-loving wild child who dives headlong into the counterculture and is up for anything – except settling down. Jo becomes a proper young mother in Connecticut, a witness, not a participant, to the world changing around her. Neither woman inhabits the world she dreams of, nor has a life that feels authentic or brings her joy.

Mrs. Everything takes us on a ride from 1951 to 2016 and beyond, telling 70 years of American history through the story of Jo and Bethie. Weiner explores not only the arc of two specific women’s lives, but also how the women’s place in society has changed over the course of the 20th century. It is a story centered on women’s freedom and fulfillment, and the paradigm-shifting power of women who tell the truth about their lives.

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