By Kate Bolick. Crown, 297 pp, hardcover
When Kate Bolick published “All the Single Ladies”, her 2011 Atlantic cover story, she hit a massive nerve, launching the topic of single life into the mainstream. Women had been experiencing their solo status privately, individually, wondering what was wrong with them. In the meantime, an unprecedented demographic shift was under way, with 53 percent of adult women in the United States now single (and 44 percent in Canada). Every aspect of our culture was being transformed—from dating and parenting to work—but nobody was talking about it. And so Bolick was perfectly positioned to pen a game-changer, and to help a whole lot of people in the process.
Unfortunately, this is not the book women have been waiting for. Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own is less an exploration of this new reality, and of ways to navigate it, than it is a literary flight of fancy. Bolick spends hundreds of pages—indeed, the bulk of the book—poetically describing her five “awakeners”, historical figures like Edith Wharton and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, who shirked convention and charted the course of their own lives.
These esoteric musings serve to underscore an important distinction: Bolick is choosing the unattached life, and is enthralled by the freedom and solitude that accompany it. But the crisis for many modern women is that they have not chosen this. Theirs is a different undertaking entirely: that of grieving the traditional narrative and reluctantly building a life, alone, from the ground up—battling social pressure, self-doubt, and, for many, maternal longing.
When Bolick manages to tear herself away from history and probe her real-time experiences, the book improves immensely. But even there, she fails to think of her reader, as she recounts dating an unending stream of kind, committed, wonderful men that she brushes off in favour of a quiet apartment and a good book (not the most relatable of experiences, I’m guessing). In the end, Bolick proves either unwilling or unable to serve as the awakener that her own generation so desperately needs.