A Short History of Women: A Novel looks at several women as the feminist movement evolved over the last century. Dorothy Townsend starves herself to death (literally) for women's suffrage. The women in her family are then portrayed in separate chapters as the author shows how they cope with being a woman in their own era. She does not do this chronologically, but jumps from the early 1900's to 2004 and then to the 1950's and then back to the early 1900's. This jumping, combined with the fact that Walbert gives the women extremely similar names, makes it difficult to keep track of whose story she is telling. It is confusing.
I'm all about persevering through hard books. After all, I kept a running list of all of the names in Anna Karenina. Tolstoy captivated me from the first page. A Short History of Women starts out with Dorothy Townsend (the suffragist) starving herself on purpose and leaving her children parent-less because "there was nothing else" she could do. This scene was strangely not captivating or motivating to me. I had to force myself to keep reading and I certainly felt no need to take notes.
I struggle with who I am supposed to be. Is it wife? Is it mother? Is it career woman? Is it housekeeper? Should I be outspoken? Should I be quiet? Should I like football? Should I stick to knitting? Am I a feminist? Am I not a feminist? Most days I think I am supposed to be all of the above, at the same time. Mentally, that's a rough place to be. I was hoping that this book would address the fact that our culture expects more from women while much of the culture still sees women as less. Ironic, isn't it? I'm on a quest to find a novel that addresses this irony well. If I don't find that novel, I'll just have a chat with my mother, who balanced all of these issues better than anyone else I know. And if remembering that fact was the only reason I read this book, the read was worth it.