Friday, September 14, 2012

Calling Invisible Women

Calling Invisible Women by Jeanne Ray (NY: Crown, 2012). 

Fifty-something Clover has been married to  her busy pediatrician husband for thirty-plus years. Their twenty-three-year-old son Nick, currently unemployed, has moved back into the family home, and their daughter Evie is away at college.  At one point Clover worked on the local paper as a reporter, but her job has been scaled back to a weekly gardening column.  Her life hums along just fine until one morning she gets out of the shower and can't see herself in the mirror--she's invisible. That first day she flickers back into visibility, but by the next morning it's permanent.  And no one notices except her best friend. A want ad in the paper takes her to a meeting with other invisible women where she learns that they've deduced that their condition is a side effect of a pharmaceutical trifecta: antidepressant, calcium supplement, and hormone replacement therapy, all products of a single company.  Plus, most of them have had a Botox treatment or two as well. The company knows about the side effect but has refused to take the highly profitable drugs off the market.  While Clover initially settles into an invisible funk, she eventually gets her journalistic mojo back, asserts herself at home, and organizes the invisible women to force the chemical company into action.

Obviously, this novel will resonate with any woman (of a certain age or not) who has ever felt overlooked or taken for granted, though Ray manages to show that no woman should get mired in self-pity.  Rather, she can embrace her talents and empower herself, as Clover does. Thankfully, Clover, despite her unfortunate name that evokes pastures, recognizes her literal invisibility as a trope for all middle-aged women whose families and communities willingly take advantage of their stalwart if unassuming presence. Clover also sees that she has let this happen to herself.  While all of this may sound serious and even melancholy, this novel is anything but a total downer.  Clover's visit to the doctor (who also fails to notice that his patient is invisible) is hilarious, as are some of her invisible exploits, such as freaking out an abusive husband in a grocery store parking lot.  The stories of the other invisible women add variety as well.  Overall, a bracing and introspective read, highly recommended for women of any age.