It’s been a long wait for fans of Jennifer Weiner, whose last novel for adults was published in 2015. It turns out that, like many of us, Weiner was thrown for a loop by the 2016 presidential election; she told Bustle that she spent a year and a half working on a dark, dystopian novel about “a world in which abortion and contraception became illegal.” That book didn’t work out, so she set it aside and wrote Mrs. Everything, a historical novel covering the past 70 years through the eyes of two Baby Boomer sisters whose lives turn out very differently.
Bethie is the perfect, pretty sister who can do no wrong in the eyes of the girls’ mother, whereas Jo is always getting into trouble. You’d expect Bethie to get married and have babies, but instead, she gets caught up in the 60s counterculture, while Jo—who realized early on that she was attracted to women—winds up with the more traditional life. Between them, they cover all the bases of mid- to late-20th-century formative Boomer experiences: Woodstock, an illegal pre-Roe v. Wade abortion, protests against the Vietnam War and for civil rights, consciousness-raising, Jane Fonda-style workout videos, Diane Keaton-in-“Baby Boom” homespun female entrepreneurship… the list goes on.
However, it was only in retrospect that I realized how many of those beats Weiner had hit, because as I was reading the book, I was so caught up in the lives of Bethie and Jo that it truly felt it was a story about real people, not two-dimensional avatars of the Female Experience. It also struck me what an important book this is—Weiner has readers of all ages, and the younger ones absolutely need to know what their foremothers went through (and where we could go back, if we’re not mindful of our rights). This is a moving, beautifully-written and deeply researched novel that pulls off the neat trick of being both extremely entertaining and a statement about how women’s lives have changed over the past few decades.
The author Roxane Gay once said that “Anytime I write a story about a women’s experience I am committing a political act.” That is certainly true of Jennifer Weiner, whose previous books were all too frequently dismissed as “chick lit” (a term that has, fortunately, become passé in recent years, in no small part due to Weiner’s own brave outspokenness about the literary establishment’s dismissal of novels written by and mostly for women). With Mrs. Everything, she has reached a new peak in her already-impressive 20-year-long career.