The third book in the Neopolitan Novels series by Elana Ferrante is Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay.
Look, the two main people we've been following in this series, the narrator, Elena, and Lila (her friend? her mentor? her frenemy?) are now grown ass women. Elena gets married, pops out two kids, and proceeds to make dumb decision after dumb decision. Lila had her kid in the previous book, left her husband, and is now making dumb decision after dumb decision. The political environs in Italy are tense in this book and that's all in the background, but who can be bothered with all that nonsense when the personal environs are so tense?
I just was so frustrated with Elena in this book and I think it's because I kept thinking that if I had been in a different era and in a different place, that would have been me. Then I think about, fuck that, that could have been me. My high school boyfriend asked me to marry him and I wore his ring for about a week. I could have stayed with him, popped out some babies, put up with marital rape and intellectual stagnation. That could have been me. I just kept wanting to scream at her - WHY DO THIS TO YOURSELF?
But of course she does. Because she honestly doesn't know how it could be any different. I kind of feel like if you're introducing a young woman to feminism, you could hand over A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Feminine Mystique, and the Neopolitan Novels and you'd do her a great service.
And Lila. Oh, Lila. Is she suffering from mental illness? Is she just what Betty Friedan was writing about - a disaffected intellectual who is stagnant in the life roles provided to her? Is any of what we know about Lila true because Elena is such an unreliable narrator that we just can't figure out what is being told to us from her biased point of view and what actually happened? A fun creative writing challenge would be to rewrite a chapter or two of this book from Lila's point of view. Or from Elena's mom's point of view. Or from Elena's husband. Or, if I'm being honest, I'd like to go full George R. R. Martin and see it from the POV of twenty-five different people.
What I'm saying here is that this is good stuff.
I've said it before and I'll say it again. I sometimes get really frustrated when people make decisions that are different from the decisions I would make. I spend a great deal of my emotional energy telling myself that what makes me happy wouldn't make everyone happy. This book reminded me of why I can't just put my own experiences on other people because their reasoning, while it may not be clear to me, is probably clear to them.
Please read these books and then tell me all about your feelings.