Kate Bolick‘s Spinster is part memoir, part microhistory. It’s an examination of single women’s status and reputation throughout history, and the effects of that history on women today, framed with anecdotes from the author’s various romances. In Spinster, Bolick studies her – not always conscious – decision to remain unmarried using the lives of other, similar women as a lens. It’s an interesting, and somewhat unique, approach, but one that never seems out of place or ill-applied.
In fact, Bolick’s approach grants Spinster a wide appeal. Looking for a history of single women? The memoir of a successful editor? Questioning your own decision to marry, or not? The look no further.
Bolick’s approach leads naturally to a fragmented composition. Spinster takes turns addressing its memoir, historical, and biographical elements. A discussion on the author’s life segues into an account of a similar circumstance in the life of a famous single woman, which then leads to a discussion on the historical climate that shaped that woman’s experience. Although Bolick’s prose flows freely, fans of one aspect of Spinster may find these transitions off-putting.
The women Bolick terms “awakeners” – Neith Boyce, Maeve Brennan, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Edith Wharton – are all, like the author herself, well-to-do and white. Bolick dismisses Spinster‘s lack of racial diversity by stating – rightly – that singleness has a completely different meaning in minority communities. While this is true, the lack of racial and class diversity in Spinster may trouble readers in search of a more inclusive title.
However similar, Spinster‘s castmembers – particularly the last three listed above – have left their marks on our society. Wharton opened new doors for women’s self-sustainment, and Gilman imagined a secluded, all-female society half a century before Ursula K. LeGuin’s Hainish Cycle would play with gender in the same way.
Spinster isn’t perfect, but Bolick’s ingenuity fills in its cracks. I’d happily read a sequel, and – given the high praise the book has received so far – I don’t think I’m alone.
5 out of 5 stars
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.