By Ekta R. Garg
June 12, 2019
Genre: Women’s fiction
Release date: June 11, 2019
Rated: Bypass it / 2 stars
Two sisters face tragedies and challenges through the decades. Along the way, they will encounter the trials unique to women and learn to come to terms with how gender plays into their personal narratives. Author Jennifer Weiner gives her characters free rein, to the detriment of the plot, in her overly long novel Mrs. Everything.
It’s the 1950s, and Jo and Bethie Kaufman have just moved into a new house in a Detroit suburb. Jo hopes the change will distract her mother from all the rules. There seem to be so many of them, and Jo is sick of every single one. She can’t seem to sit quietly enough or wear the right clothes or do anything “ladylike,” the way Bethie can.
Bethie is the exact opposite of her big sister. Where Jo favors jeans and protest marches, Bethie devours fashion magazines and wants nothing more than a cute date for Saturday night. She possesses a clear picture of her future: a mother and wife, like her own mother.
When the girls’ father dies from a heart attack, however, their lives unspool in a different direction. Their mother gets a job in a department store, working long hours to pay the bills, and leaving Jo and Bethie to fend for themselves at home. The increased freedom means more chances for the girls to explore, but that exploration often leads to heartache.
Before either of them know it, Jo is the one married and settling down and Bethie has taken up the clarion call to save the earth and fight discrimination. Both sisters find that the compromises they made, sometimes on the most personal issues, lead them into unexplored territory. They lose and find one another several times over as they each explore the meaning of womanhood: how to define it, how to live by it, and, in some cases, how to fly in the very face of it.
Author Jennifer Weiner takes readers on a journey that spans decades. While the intention is admirable, the end result is a book that feels much longer than it needs to be. From their early childhood until a tragic end for one of the sisters, the novel digs into every major obstacle a woman could possibly face.
Therein lies its biggest flaw. A book that many will hail as fit for the current times, Mrs. Everything wants so much to deliver the message of empowerment. In order to do so, the story drags Jo and Bethie through rape, molestation, unwanted pregnancy, infidelity, broken hearts, discrimination based on gender, race, and sexual orientation, homelessness, sexual harassment in the workplace, and unfulfilled dreams. One of the sisters even experiences the betrayal of a best friend. If the title references all of the roles a woman tries to fill, it also implies all the bad its characters experience.
Weiner takes her time developing the girls’ individual stories—sometimes in excruciating detail—but the plot rushes through the challenges that the next generation faces. Jo shakes her head at her inability to help one of her own daughters, but that daughter’s angst in life is never fully explained. The jarring shift of approach will make readers feel like the end got shoehorned into the rest of the book.
Inconsistencies may also confuse readers. At one point, Bethie, looking back on her life, accuses Jo of not helping her through a difficult situation early in the book, when Jo was the one she turned to during that time. Jo was the one who stood up for Bethie and gave her the courage to face another day. Bethie’s accusations feel forced, as if she needed a reason to estrange herself from Jo to serve the story’s next section.
Graphic sexual scenes may turn off some readers, and others may find it a challenge to stick with the bulky book because of its length. I recommend readers Bypass Mrs. Everything.