08-22-15 UPDATE:Podcast Update: Time to Read Episode 212: Felicia Day, 'You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)'
Click image for audio link.
Here's the two-hundred and tweflth episode of my series of podcasts, which I'm calling Time to Read. Hitting the how many?-year mark, I'm going to make an effort to stay ahead hopelessly behind, so that podcast listeners can get the same sort of "sneak preview" effect that radio listeners get each Friday morning some kind of echo effect. This week, I seem to be on top of the game, but who knows what the hell might happen. Whatever ity was, its happened. I am hoping to stay back up and stumbling.
This particular Time to Read has lots of material not in the main interiew, so make sure you give it a listen.
Claire McCaskill wastes no time getting to the point in 'Plenty Ladylike.' In the opening passage, we meet a young woman seeking office for the first time, knocking on 11,432 doors. One potential constituent, a man (it matters), looks her up and down and then says, "You're too young. Your hair is too long. You're a girl. No way are you tough enough for politics. Those politicians in Jeff City'd eat you alive. Go find yourself a husband."
Suffice it to say she didn't follow his advice and instead turned it into energy and determination to help her maintain her drive. 'Plenty Ladylike' is a top-notch memoir that moves like lightning and keeps it's focus. Having set scene, McCaskill introduces us to her very deeply American family, men and women who all found the time to involve themselves in civic matters. From high school on, McCaskill learned that getting to know voters and their needs and desires was the best way to earn their votes.
But 'Plenty Ladylike' has a rather dark side as well. In her journeys through politics, most in the South (I think this matters), McCaskill encountered a steady stream of overt sexism. She was given very un-ladylike appellations by men who should have known better. While we are currently being slapped in the face by the visions of our incipient racism, we're clearly not past sexism either, not by a long shot. McCaskill's experiences are disturbingly eye-opening. Apparently we are not better than this.
All of this makes for a toe-tapping, tense read. even as she campaigned for the Senate as recently as 2012, McCaskill found herself in a battle where she her deep, smart knowledge of the political process to outwit her ultra-sexist opponents. We all know what he said. Finding out what she thought is a joyful revelation. Claire McCaskill reveals herself to be 'Plenty Ladylike,' and redefines the term at the same time. In her world, in our world, "ladylike" means smart, determined, unwavering, pragmatic and honorable. These are exactly the qualities I want to see in any politician, regardless of sex or party. There are plenty of scenes in this book that will make your hair stand on end. How you handle the styling afterward is up to you.
Hazel is talking to her unborn child, preparing that child for the world that is being undone and created anew right before her eyes. It begins in our workaday life when a blonde woman attacks a victim on the subway before Helen's eyes. It's the first observed evidence of what comes to be called Blonde Rabies, a plague that turns any woman with blonde hair into a crazed pretty unstoppable killer. It's the beginning of the end.
Complicating this is the fact that Helen, a grad student is pregnant with her married advisor's child. Sex in all its weird compulsions, proves to be our undoing. It's not as if this should be surprising.
What is surprising, and pleasantly so, is that Schultz does everything right to bring an almost absurd premise to life. Her characters are closely observed and seamlessly, simultaneously both likable and annoying. As her speculative premise unfolds she builds her world in a small scale but with big implications. 'The Blondes' is a very odd novel; it's very funny, very dark, both uncomfortably realistic and sarcastically surreal.
Schultz creates a compelling cast of characters and tells the story in a very engaging voice. We like Hazel, even if we disapprove of some of her decisions. And the angry blondes who seem capable of bringing an end to civilization are weirdly sympathetic. It's a true pleasure to read this novel and enjoy the page-turning plot, the mordant humor, the characters we care about and as well feel the rumblings intellectual and cultural fireworks underneath the surface fury. Here's a book that perfectly combines summer reading with the long thoughts of fall. No matter what color your hair is, it is true you'll have more fu when you're reading 'The Blondes.'
08-21-15: Agony Column Podcast News Report : Senator Claire McCaskill is 'Plenty Ladylike' : Internalizing Determination to Overcome Sexism [Incudes Time to Read EP 211: Claire McCaskill, Plenty Ladylike, plus A 2015 Interview with Senator Claire McCaskill]
Agony Column Podcast News Report : Emily Schultz Unleashes 'The Blondes' : A Cure by Color [Incudes Time to Read EP 210: Emily Schultz, The Blondes, plus A 2015 Interview with Emily Schultz]