Friday, December 6, 2013

Rough Layout by Doris Anderson

If you wanted to know what it was like to be a woman running a magazine in the late 1970s, this is the book I would recommend you read. If that is not something that interests you, I would steer clear of this one.

The novel follows Jude, a successful managing editor of a Canadian magazine and a wife and mother of two children, through a couple weeks of her daily life. She works, she goes home, she ruminates on her marriage and her childhood and how to slip some more radical feminist pieces into a magazine that seems to deal mostly with household tips and trend pieces.

Jude's husband, Marshall, is also successful professionally but isn't as happy with his job. Even the dullest reader will begin to suspect he is cheating on Jude from the first chapter. Their egalitarian marriage is beginning to show cracks. Jude's mother, Adele, looms large in her thoughts even when she is not present, and Adele's final reveal - shedding a lot of light on Jude's relationships with men - will not come as a surprise either. This book is not as compelling as it thinks it is.

I liked the characters a lot, and I enjoyed reading about the struggles of women in the workplace in that era. I loved that the main character was an unapologetic feminist. What I didn't like so much was the unrelenting focus on the minutae of Jude's daily life. She looks at photos. She sits down to dinner. She walks over to the door. There was so much unnecessary detail in the novel, and most frustrating of all was that when something finally happened, it was over.

I was also a bit bored with the feminist analysis. I know that it is dated, and one can't blame the author for writing this in 1981. But the struggles of the white middle class career woman are not really the focus of today's feminist movement (at least they shouldn't be), so I found Jude's problems to be a bit white whine-y. Also, can we have a book where a feminist character is in a happy relationship? Perhaps that's too much to ask.

There is definitely a Toronto flavour - specifically a 1970s Toronto flavour, which I know will appeal to some. The book is certainly well written and interesting to a point, but the plodding detail and stale politics didn't hold my attention.

Two CN Towers out of five.

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