Saturday, June 9, 2012

Jeanne Ray, I See You!

Calling Invisible Women brought to mind the film Avatar. How, you might ask, could that be? Because of the glorious words spoken in Avatar, words that could change our world if we'd let them. "I see you." And when I think of my friends, at least the happiest ones I know,they all have someone in their life who does truly see them. Having once, long, long ago, allowed myself to almost become invisible, I truly get the joy of being a person to be reckoned with, to be understood.

I've always had a soft spot for Jeanne Ray, an author who could have disappeared under the shadow of her more well known author/daughter, Ann Patchett. But instead, she has steadily written delightful, "softer," yes, but no less thoughtful novels of her own; think Julie and Romeo or Step-Ball-Change.

Calling Invisible Women could have been oh, so predictable, but Ms. Ray took her book to another level by actually coming up with a plausible reason why women of a certain age were suddenly losing their corpus. Sure, any of us who've been married and raised families know that it's part of the game for us to be overly relied upon and too often taken for granted. But we have the chance to squash that tendency before it gets out of hand - and we must.

Clover Hobart's body first went missing on a Thursday - a great opening line for a novel, which I'm paraphrasing here. Her family didn't notice and the dog didn't care but as life would have it, her best friend Gilda was appalled and urged her to tell someone. But Clover didn't panic, in fact, she decided to play it for all it was worth, turning her invisibility into a strength and a new found sense of freedom.

Think about it! No longer obsessed with weight or clothing she could get naked and travel undetected wherever the spirit moved her. She joined an invisible women's support group that managed to meet weekly at a local Sheraton hotel in a ballroom where all anyone could see was a circle of empty chairs and scattered kleenex wafting on the breeze of the AC - their secret salute.

She became a community activist, encouraging the women to use their invisibility to their advantage, giving some of them back their confidence and building her own. A former newspaper journalist, recently relegated to the books page (an inside joke with her daughter I'm sure), and then further demoted to a weekly gardening column, Clover's missing body lands her right in the center of a newsworthy fray. What do you know? Her editor suddenly sees her and she earns a front page byline.

Truth is often more palatable when it's couched in humor and there's plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in Jeanne Ray's latest novel. In this case though, I prefer the "ah ha" moments and the poignancy with which she handles the long, comfortable relationship between Clover and her husband Arthur, an over worked, harried pediatrician who, while not invisible, may also have had reason to feel unseen.

This is an example of "women's fiction" in the finest sense of the word. That may be a nebulous genre, but let's face it, more than 50% of the world's population is female, so this novel should be well loved.

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