Second Bookses

It's like second breakfast. Only with books.

Small Changes

Small Changes - Marge Piercy Almost ten years ago I discovered the author Marge Piercy when I read her novel He, She, and It. As I do with any author whose book I really, really love, I ran right out and bought every other book of hers I could get my hands on, including Small Changes, which the cover blurb promised showcased two women and the changes they make in their lives.::: First Comes Love, Then Comes Marriage :::The first character we meet is Beth, a recent high school student who is apparently getting married to her boyfriend Jim fresh out of high school. Beth had been studious, and a good student, but her parents either didn't have the money for college, or, as the book insinuates, didn't see the point of sending a girl to college, as she mentions that her wedding would have paid for two years of school. The novel is told from a third-person omniscient perspective, and Beth is shown to be very disconnected from the events surrounding her on her wedding day, an almost unwilling participant. Small Changes having been written in the midst of the feminist movement, of course, Beth soon finds herself in a dead-end job, married to a man who forces her into the traditional "wife" role where she has to cook and clean while Jim sits around and watches her. She decides one day that she is desperate for escape, and takes as much as she can to work with her, then skips out on work and goes to the bank, where she forges her husband's signature, takes half their money (which should legally be hers, right?) and hies off to Boston.::: Bohemian Rhapsody :::In Boston, Beth begins an affair with a man she meets through her job at MIT. She is very disconnected with him as well, but seems to fall into the affair and continue it almost for a "learning experience." Through the man (Tom Ryan), she meets the other people in his shared apartment: Dorine and Lennie, who seem to have a decent relationship that started with Dorine posing for Lennie's art; and Jackson, an often angry Vietnam veteran who needles Beth mercilessly. Beth also befriends Miriam, a graduate student at MIT who is working in the relatively new field of computer science, who is independent, seems to need no man other than on her own terms, and bounces back and forth between Jackson and his friend Phil, a poet and bartender.When Beth ends her relationship with Ryan, she is more saddened at the loss of the others who surround the apartment, until Miriam gets together with Jackson again and gives Beth an in. It's at this point that the perspective switches over to Miriam, with huge chunks of exposition on her childhood in Flatbush. She is raised by an attention-demanding musician father and a subservient mother. She bucks their expectations that she will get married (marriage is referred to as her only "prospect") by going to college and planning on graduate school. She begins an affair with Phil while still in college, and ultimately, as her father is dying and she is sitting with Phil, who is on a bad acid trip, has to choose between her family and Phil.This section also includes background information on Phil's childhood, and brings Miriam's story up to speed with Beth's.::: Now Begins the Switcheroo :::Once we've been sufficiently "introduced" to the two we are assuming are the two main characters, Piercy begins to switch back and forth between each of their perspectives, as well as introduce countless subplots involving new (or barely mentioned) characters. Beth's husband sends a detective after her, who threatens her with jail unless she returns, so like a sheep she does. Miriam sets up a menage a trois with Phil and Jackson to keep from having to choose between them. Beth runs off again, this time to California, where she falls into what appears to be an almost mentally abusive lesbian relationship. Miriam gets a job in a computer lab and works on her thesis. Beth returns to find Miriam married. And so on, and so on, and so on.::: Dated Themes :::While I understand that this book was originally written toward the end of the Vietnam War and smack in the middle of the Women's Movement, Piercy sacrifices plot and character development to repeatedly bash her reader over the head with the idea that marriage is BAD. Not one marriage in Small Changes is portrayed as a good one, from Phil's father's repeated abuse of Phil and his mother to Miriam's eventual loss of self married to her former boss.In case you missed the above point, we were originally supposed to become attached to Beth and Miriam. Miriam ends up in a big house as a forced stay-at-home mother while Beth moves from commune to commune, living with women, joint-raising other women's children, and ultimately, committing herself to another lesbian relationship. Beth, who has almost no material comforts, is happy. Miriam, who has fiscal security in her marriage, is trapped by a husband who has forced her into a stereotyped role, with her doctorate buried in a drawer.::: You've Come a Long Way, Baby :::As a child of the 70s, I don't remember all that much about the Women's Movement, but I do remember communes. Small Changes, however, was re-released in 1997, and even at that point, it was out of date. The plot takes place over (my best guess) approximately five years, but by the end of the book, you feel like it's been about 40 years. Chapters jump from person to person and one moment to one months in the future with no transition at all, leaving you wondering what just happened for about half the book. Worst of all, I spent nearly 550 pages reading about characters who still had so little depth that I really didn't care about them. All I knew after all those words was that marriage is bad, and did you know that marriage is bad?I consider myself a product of the feminist movement; I was able to make the decision myself whether to continue with my career (not unlike Miriam's in the programming, a male-dominated field), or whether to stay home with my children. Feminism is about having a choice, and Piercy's perspective in Small Changes is every bit as limiting as what she claims marriage is. This review previously published at Epinions:

Currently reading

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Susanna Clarke
Elisabeth Sladen: The Autobiography
Elisabeth Sladen, David Tennant
Diary of a Submissive: A Modern True Tale of Sexual Awakening
Sophie Morgan
Bellman & Black
Diane Setterfield
Deep into the Heart of a Rose
G.T. Denny