Reinventing The Woman
by Patty Rice, contemporary (2003)
Jove, $6.50, ISBN 0-515-13467-8


Hey, if Oprah can inspire this book, that means that Reinventing The Woman can't be anything but good, right? Not really. This humorless too-serious motivation-seminar in the early half of the book crossed with a women-are-bitches diatribe towards the later half is a very uneven read. When it gets good, it is however demonizing women to such an extent that I have to wonder why the author is so angry with her fellow women.

There is something very false about a woman who flees an abusive partner, pulls her life together, only to find her epiphany at the cost of the dignity and morals of the very women who help her pull together. In the end, Daddy Figures are still the best, and altogether now: Die, Mommy, die!

I should have seen this mommy-just-die-you-bitch nonsense coming when the author describes heroine Camille Foster's relationship with her father that comes off more creepy than anything. Camille, even when she is almost twelve, will curl herself into a ball at her father's lap and just cling tight, breathing in his smell and his skin, and enjoying his squeezing her so tight that she didn't tell him that she was being squeezed too hard. Eeuw. Her mother, the hapless Clytemnestra to Camille's Electra, favors Cam's sister, so Cam has always hated her and missing her father so much that she didn't attend the old man's deathbed even when he was croaking. Maybe she forgot.

Her guy is beating her. She, of course, with no self esteem and all, lets him abuse her until one day she just snaps and drives to her sister's place for sanctuary. When Cam's mother Catherine barges in, oh boy. But Cam gets involved with Reinventing The Woman, a motivational organization geared towards women, and her mentor Nora seems like her new best friend ever. Nora's assistant Greg is handsome and sets Cam's heart aflutter. There's no way from here but up. Right?

This part of the book is also the most emotionally resonating parts of the book. Perversely it is also the most poorly written. Cam is not a sympathetic figure. As her sister points out, Cam makes a career out of being a professional victim. But Cam's pulling her act together makes her a courageous if flawed person, and I enjoy reading about her. Yet the author also has her characters sprouting off speeches as if they are conducting a seminar. There is no spontaneity here. The author wants me to know that she is more intent on lecturing than telling a story.

Just as when Cam is getting her act together, I don't know why, but the author then chooses to tear apart Cam's world. Let's just say that if the first half of the book is all about the sisterhood of women, this second half violently rejects the concept and demonizes all the women around Cam. It is a man who steps in to give Cam hope. In this case, it isn't Cam as much as the author herself who is happily murdering the Clytemnestras in her story. This turnabout is so sudden that it's like I've stepped into a modern American version of the Greek tragedy. What happened to the motivational seminar I was close to dozing off pleasantly to?

Ironically, this parts of the book also see the characters talking like people for once. No fake-sounding arch speeches of hope here. I'm not sure, however, if the trail of blood that result from the author's voluntary character assassination is worth that tiny improvement in the story.

Actually, I'm with the mother in this one. I don't know if the author realizes how selfish she has made the father in this story, and she expects me to emphatize with Cam and her father instead of these women who have been, in a way, badly wronged by the father. But seeing how this book ends up glorifying fatherhood while ripping apart the concept of sisterhood and mother-daughter bondings, in hindsight, I probably shouldn't be so surprised.

Reinventing The Woman comes to a full circle in the end. Cam starts out hating her mother only to slowly love her before finally realizing that yes, mothers are really bitches from hell and daddies are the best. This is one purportedly inspirational book for the sisters that ends up putting down the sisterhood. Something has gone wrong somewhere, and I suggest we start by realizing that we can never marry our fathers so people like Cam, get over it.

Reinventing The Woman may wish to reinvent, but it only ends up reinforcing the Greek tragedy stereotypes of evil mothers. Poor Clytemnestra at least is avenged in the end. Mothers in their stories like this one could only wish to receive even a little of that brand of justice.

Rating: 59


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