Does Being “Mrs. Everything” Mean You’ll Be Happy?
As Reviewed by Amy Kellestine
Ask any young girl what she wants to be when she grows up and answers will range from mother to astronaut. The former has always been possible, while the latter is a more recent option. Social movements have lobbied hard for the range of options available to women today, but they don’t answer the question of whether that increase in choice means increased happiness. New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Weiner tries to answer that question in her latest novel, “Mrs. Everything.”
Josette (Jo) and Elisabeth (Bethie) Kaufman are sisters who were born in Detroit, Michigan in the ‘50s. “Mrs. Everything” spans their entire lives, from the early years when they moved into a predominantly Jewish suburb of Detroit, to their coming-of-age during the counterculture decade of the ‘60s. Raised by a hard-working father who passed away unexpectedly and a housewife mother who was always unhappy, Jo and Bethie explore the roles women play in an attempt to find their own happiness.
The story alternates between Jo’s and Bethie’s perspectives and focuses primarily on their relationships with each other and the other women in their lives. Their mother, Sarah, and various girlfriends (platonic and romantic), all play supporting roles; the story revolves around their connections and the unique way they shape the girls’ perspectives on what it means to be a woman.
The impact of trauma and recovery is a predominant theme throughout the novel. For example, Bethie is sexually assaulted by her uncle and then at a folk concert during a bad acid trip, followed by a stressful abortion. She then uses drugs, compulsive eating, unhealthy dieting, and sex to try and reclaim her power over her body and connection to others. Sarah has been forever changed by the trauma of living through a war, and Jo experiences a huge betrayal when her husband cheats on her with a close friend. Their journeys illustrate the complex and messy process of growing up, navigating challenging reality, and uncovering our authentic selves.
Weiner is a gifted author who paints colourful pictures in her narrative. Her descriptions of hippie outfits, acid trips, university dorm rooms, and Jell-O salads come alive under her pen. In addition to tackling feminism head-on, “Mrs. Everything” also deftly portrays complicated and inherently messy topics like race relations (from Jewish American and African American perspectives), eating disorders, sexual abuse, abortion, free love, and drug use. Regardless of your stance on any of these topics, the book offers you a thoughtful and deeply human perspective to consider.
My only criticism is that the novel clocks in at over 400 pages and really drags for the last quarter. In it, Weiner introduces Bethie’s daughters and the struggles they experience in spite of the second wave of feminism Jo and Bethie lived through. Yet somehow it feels tedious, rushed, and incomplete. Instead of building toward the climax and conclusion, the story fizzles out for me.
Dutiful daughter, rebellious teen, athlete, seductress, entrepreneur, lover, loyal wife, mother, sister, friend, business executive…the possible roles and labels for women are endless. Despite its flaws, “Mrs. Everything” offers us a reminder that we are all unique, and that there is no one right way to navigate our one precious life. None of us can be “everything”, but we can be ourselves.
Amy Kellestine is an educator, engineer, Arati life coach and entrepreneur living in Edmonton, Alberta. She spends her free time camping, gardening, and volunteering for causes such as Cystic Fibrosis and nature conservation. She is a devoted mother and is passionate about helping others and writing.