The Love Children
On May 4, 2009, I visited Jezebel, one of my favorite blogs, only to find out that Marilyn French had passed. She was one of the first feminist thinkers to open my eyes to issues surrounding womanhood, the dominance of patriarchy, and expectations of the female gender. I read_ The War Against Women a_ few years after it was published in 1992, and it ended up being one of the most affecting books in my life. I felt inspired to fight against the rather conservative view of the role of women. I also have a very dear memory of watching 1980 film The Women’s Room (based on French's 1977 novel) with my mother years ago and feeling angry and frustrated with the seeming futility of being a woman, with the injustice of it all.
Needless to say, I had rather high expectations for French’s final novel, The Love Children. While I was certainly entertained in terms of the story, the book seemed eerily listless, more like Marilyn French lite. I was utterly enamored with the two previously mentioned books, but sadly, this novel fell short in areas where these previous ones criticized sharply.
The novel’s main character, Jessamin Leighton (called Jess) ,is followed through adolescence to adulthood. Even though Jess is supposedly part of a generation free of gendered oppression, her interactions with her peers and her family tell another story. The novel opens on the fourteen-year-old Jess who runs with a band of rebellious teens of the same age, they wax philosophy on their societal ideals and fantasize with hearty, but understandable, naïveté. Jess heads off to a small-scale liberal college where she takes to dating both men and women, but specifically begins dating Chris, who spreads awful rumors about her. Jess responds by focusing on her coursework and transferring to another college rather than defending her honor. Again, she is put in a situation with a professor who gives her an “F” and is the victim of offensive name-calling, but she chooses not to respond.
Jess leaves college for a rather patriarchal commune called Pax where she and her friend Sandy reunite with their high school friend Bishop. Pax reveals itself to be an awful setting when the leaders deem the women “communal property,” and Jess leaves only to find herself pregnant and working at a restaurant (an interesting choice of career for the character). Without spoiling the conclusion, I will say that Jess ends up meeting a gentleman and, shall we say, happy ending?
Jess’ character, compared to other figures in French’s previous literature, reveals a rather fragile and passive spirit. Certainly, she chose to remove herself from toxic situations, but she lacks a confrontational fortitude that other French characters possess. French kept me turning the pages, but I regretfully found myself in a state of mystification and disappointment.