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Kate Walbert s A Short History of Women A Novel is proof that the road to hell is paved with good intentions My journey through this short novel topping out at under 250 pages was a slow decline into the depths of hell.The premise is simple this is the story of five generations of women struggling to find out who they are and what their places are in the world The story begins with the oldest, Dorothy Trevor Townsend, who starves herself to death for women s suffrage in 1914, leaving behind two children Evelyn Charlotte Townsend and Thomas Francis Townsend Second generation Evelyn does not marry or have children, so the third generation woman is Thomas daughter, Dorothy Townsend Barrett I understand the author s intentions in keeping Evelyn a single woman, teaching chemistry to women at Barnard, but I didn t like that the fact that the five generations of women were only possible because of the first Dorothy s son marrying and having a daughter Dorothy Townsend Barrett goes on to have three children James Francis Barrett whose death in his late 40 s is a constant source of pain for the family and eventually tears it apart , Caroline Townsend Barrett Deel and Elizabeth Liz Anne Barrett The fifth generation woman in the story is Caroline s college age daughter Dorothy Dora Louise Barrett Deel Is that enough to make your head spin There are three women named Dorothy in five generations, which makes it incredibly hard to keep track of which one is which Speaking from personal experience as the fourth Grace in as many generations, it is incredibly confusing and causes a lot of problems with insurance companies, doctors offices, pharmacies, credit reporting agencies, boards of elections, etc because there is no way to distinguish between mother and daughter with the same name as there is with fathers and sons The three Dorothy s were a big strike against the book for that very reason Not only is it confusing in the real world, it s confusing when reading about three characters with the same first name especially when there is nothing remarkable or interesting about any of them because they all filled some stereotype It was hard to keep track of which one was which If it wasn t for the Lineage page at the beginning of the book with the family tree, I would have been completely lost My final complaint with the book is that it was shallow and fell flat This had all the elements to be a modern classic five generations of women the first fighting for women s suffrage and the last reaping the benefits of the fight five women growing up in incredibly different social and cultural times and learning to live in the new times and within their families women s relationships with other women of different generations, oh the list could just go on and on Instead, Kate Walbert decided to do a half assed job of telling the story, letting her incredibly interesting and compelling idea fall apart into this 237 page book of episodes from the five women s lives that are devoid of cultural relevance, raw emotion, or originality and make little sense when strung together.Maybe this was the best Walbert could do Maybe she didn t see the need to dig deeper Or maybe she didn t think she had to because she underestimated the women who would read her book Honestly, I expected from an author selected for the New York State Writers Institute line up this year Oh well besides, I should have known better for picking up a book about five generations of women that couldn t even hit 250 pages. I recently purchased a copy of A Short History of Women at my library s winter book fair Lucky me What a stunning book The author, Kate Walbert has written a masterpiece of powerful restraint When I finished the book I had the Reader s Holy Grail Moment I was deeply satisfied, wanted to talk to a fellow reader about it immediately and knew that in my house of books I had nothing else to read because what could compare That is a lovely moment.This is 5 generations of women s lives all starting with a British suffragette, Dorothy Trevor Townsend Dorothy is starving herself to death as an act of civil disobedience in a WWI London hospital The day to day routine of hospital is fascinating and a beautiful introduction to how well Walbert captures the quiet qualities of the lives of her characters in this novel It is WW1 and most Dr s are serving overseas so with almost no males around her, Dorothy s dying days are spent in a world ruled by women She has children she s not allowed to see, a public that is against her and time to reflect on her life and choices Dorothy s hunger strike, the extreme embodiment of commitment, will color her children s choices for generations.Dorothy s heirs her daughter Evie, her son Thomas s daughter Dorothy and Dorthy s daughters Caroline and Liz all take up the suffragette feminist mantle in some way in their lives whether they realize it or not though not in the public way their Grandmother did The paths they choose science, the arts or as a contemporary housewife are all different but they all still chafe at what society has set out for them Short History is no diatribe against what hasn t happened for women nor is it a celebration of girl power There is an undercurrent of anger in these characters but also a striving to understand themselves, the complications of their relationships and what to do about it all.Reading Short History was a pleasure It s witty, dramatic and enlightening Walbert s quietly authoritative writing is smart and disturbing She moves effortlessly from the historical to the contemporary parts of the book There are big questions here about life and the big events that change lives but they never overwhelm the storytelling This is a brilliant, unforgettable novel. This book was handed me by my wife who had read a review in the NY Times While it was well and very lyrically written, I could not really come to understand why the author had written it and what she had hoped we would gain through its reading So I asked my wife and she said that she was not surprised I did not understand I could not, she proposed, because I was not a woman and could not identify with a woman s life living in a male dominated society Perhaps that is the case I try to think of myself as sensitive to such issues but I only came away from this novel with the understanding that virtually everyone in the book, males included, seemed flat and miserable Your mileage may vary However, I am not inclined to read another of this author s books which has arrived for my wife at the library Too little time and too many books to be read. This is a seriously horrible book, just utterly boring and distracting The pretentious central conceit, providing a short history of women through the fragmented stories of four generations of women all descended from the same woman, fails miserably in connecting with the audience in any significant or moving way The narration jumps through a disjointed chronology spanning than one hundred years and through the points of view of multiple characters with extremely similar names The disorienting jumps in setting and perspective keep the reader from feeling any true empathy for any of these characters, least of which the matriarch who dies from her own hunger strike in support of women s suffrage The loose ends that Walbert creates in the first chapters of the book may very well have been tied up by the end, but I was so lost and uninterested that I surely didn t notice What I did notice however was her utterly contrived attempts to show the trials and tribulations of women over the past century, including a 1970s group therapy party in which women sit around and complain about the difficulties of their lives, most of them ignoring the irony of ordering around a hired female servant for the event Clearly, I want the week back that I spent reading this book. A Short History of Women is an eloquent and lovely novel that begins at the deathbed of Dorothy Townsend, a suffragette who starves herself and, ultimately, dies to further her cause Kate Walbert s novel is not simply about the repercussions of Dorothy s death, though, but rather about how her actions echo, reverberate, and resound through the lives of her descendents Walbert s novel moves fluidly from the time of Florence Nightingale, who screamed into the void to be heard, to the age of the Internet, where millions of voices are heard, albeit through the gauze of electronic anonymity Walbert s beautifully kaleidoscopic novel is about the quest for self expression and self worth over, it is a thoughtful and thought provoking look at the relationship between history, politics, and personal identity I highly recommend A Short History of Women to anyone looking for a lyrically written novel filled with stunning images and unforgettable characters. My faith in best books lists has been restored After being catatonically underwhelmed by Let the Great World Spin , I have been deeply moved and deeply impressed by A Short History of Women , I have read Kate Walbert s two previous books, and this one, I believe, catapults her into the universe of excellence I can understand why it was one of the Ten Best Books of 2009 as selected by the NYT Interleaving the lives of five generations of an English American family, Walbert uses the fight for women s surffrage and the nobility of Florence Nightingale s commitment to service as historical place markers while presenting, with an impeccable selection of specific detail, the choices that women of every generation face If God truly is in the details, then Walbert ascends to a heavenly realm with this book To me, it s the ability to infuse a plot with teeny, tiny details that elevates a good story into a memorable and affecting one.This book is, purportedly, a short saga on the usual ongoing emotional and intellectual struggles of women to find happiness, but it manages to avoid cliches quite well Strangely enough, however, it s the passage about one husband, a POW in World War II who loves Browning s poetry, that sears the heart and brought me to tears. .FREE PDF ♐ A Short History of Women ♳ The Novel Opens In England In , At The Deathbed Of Dorothy Townsend, A Suffragist And One Of The First Women To Integrate Cambridge University Her Decision To Starve Herself For The Cause Informs And Echoes In The Later, Overlapping Narratives Of Her Descendants Among Them Are Her Daughter Evie, Who Becomes A Professor Of Chemistry At Barnard College In The Middle Of The Century And Never Marries, And Her Granddaughter Dorothy Townsend Barrett, Who Focuses Her Grief Over The Loss Of Her Son By Repeatedly Defying The Ban On Photographing The Bodies Of Dead Soldiers Returned To Dover Air Force Base From Iraq The Contemporary Chapters Chronicle Dorothy Barrett S Girls, Both Young Professionals Embarrassed By Their Mother S Activism And Baffled When She Leaves Their Father After Fifty Years Of Marriage Walbert Deftly Explores The Ways In Which Successive Generations Of Women Have Attempted To Articulate What The Nineteenth Century Called The Woman Question Her Novel Is A Moving Reflection On The Tides Of History, And How The Lives Of Our Great Grandmothers Resonate In Our Own I wanted to like it I really, really did But every time I found myself getting some momentum and actually caring about what happened to one of these women, her chapter ended Major disappointment I d read a few pages and then realize I had NO idea what I d just read, and not much motivation to go back and recap The biggest problem was that, because I was never fully invested in the characters, I kept having to flip back to the Lineage page to keep track of which Dorothy was which Not a good sign.There didn t seem to be much of a connecting thread, or a rhyme or reason to the organization of the chapters I kept waiting to see the big picture and it just never came.I m sure Walbert had a point, but I guess I just missed it Instead, the novel felt like a hollow bone Har har har. This new novel by renowned author Kate Walbert gives us glimpses into the lives of 5 related women over four generations It begins in England in 1914 when Dorothy Townsend chooses to starve herself to death in the name of women s suffrage, leaving her two children orphaned So begins the legacy of how this family s women deal with what was called in the 19th century The Woman Question Bouncing about in time to show various vignettes between the women and their families over the years, it s a fascinating study of society s treatment of women and their various reactions to it over the past hundred years or so. This was hugely underwhelming a nice writing style, but an utterly forgettable narrative A Short History of is a trend in titles over the last few years, perhaps borrowing from the popularity of Bryson s A Short History of Nearly Everything, a book that pays back its promise of a layman s ruminations of pop science unconcerned with order or specialization, just a little not to say short, that s Bryson s misnomer book of raw wonder But there is no wonder here.Conversely, it is short, but it is not a history of women, nor even a history of one family of women, but rather the narrowing, dissipated memory of a woman through several generations, where the fact is remembered, but anything that made it relevant is forgotten or completely unexplored.Alright, to justify that I m going to have to reveal a spoiler, but it s something you learn in the first few chapters anyway, and, as the author explores it less than I will, I don t think it s going to spoil anything In 1914 a woman, the mother of two young children and estranged from her husband, starves herself to death, apparently for the woman s cause She is defined as a Suffragette, but the evidence is meager This, at first, is compelling A reader will ask, why is she doing this How does it benefit the cause Who is paying attention What will her children make of this Unfortunately, even though we get some pov from her daughter, and also from her son s daughter, the only answer we get is basically, it sucked that my mom died when I was young I had to go to the US to live with estranged relatives and live out a pretty unremarkable life that I will now describe in some detail By the time we reach the present generation there is literally nothing left to say, so we have to read about modern day New York City playdates and strung out moms who drink too much wine If there was ever any relevance to having a suffragette great grandmother, it is totally ignored If our understanding of a woman s role through generations is supposed to be expanded, I missed the thesis, unless I m supposed to be convinced that a woman s role is pretty dull and or ill defined If that s the case, I didn t need this novel to tell me so, and, if you re female, you didn t need this novel, either Your evocation of a woman s role is better defined by your own biography than anything you ll find here Is Walbert telling us how forgettable our own genealogical history is If so, she s not telling us that it matters you re still going to be a fucked up adult with your own share of neuroses and regrets that has nothing to do with where you came from It can t, since you have so little memory of where you came from Maybe the woman question is asking something different than it did generations ago, but Walbert seems unwilling to answer it on any terms This book flirts dangerously with irrelevance, both as a theme, and as a casualty of a weak narrative.