Monday, November 06, 2006

Miss Understanding

Miss Understanding by Stephanie Lessing

Issues magazine is populated by a number of interesting characters: the ditzy "mental health editor" (read: advice columnist), the clueless fifty-year-old editor who dresses like she's twenty, and the classic evil-to-the-core boss, just to name a few. One of the country's premier women's magazines, Issues focuses on fashion, beauty, and all things superficial. Owner and managing editor, Dan Princely brings Zoe Rose, formerly of The Radical Mind, on board as deputy editor because he knows the magazine is ready for a change. His staff, on the other hand, disagree.

Miss Understanding chronicles Zoe's quest to change the way women relate to each other – to, as she puts it, "raid the locker room of the female psyche and rip open the frilly fa├žade of femininity once and for all" – using Issues (newly renamed Miss Understanding: A Girls Guide to Girls) as her platform.

The clash between feminism and the desire to be feminine is at the heart of this zany novel. Through Zoe, Lessing asks a number of difficult questions about what it means to be a woman today and why exactly women fight among themselves instead of helping each other to reach the top. The novel, while entertaining, does little to provide solutions to those problems. And, even more unfortunately, Zoe's over-the-top hypochondria and other neuroses take away both from her ability to affect solutions in that fictional world and from readers' ability to relate to her as a protagonist.

Read my full review at Armchair Interviews.

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