The scope of this book is at once too much and just right. The first 200-300 pages took me longer to get through than the page-turning adventure of th...moreThe scope of this book is at once too much and just right. The first 200-300 pages took me longer to get through than the page-turning adventure of the second half, and while they certainty added depth of character and significance to Desdemona's secret being revealed, it's like they were two different novels. The first novel is a love poem addressed to Detroit, and the second, almost entirely separate novel is Cal's story. While it did seem that there was not as much exploration of her/his shifting gender identity, I think he neatly addresses this when he writes that the social constructionists had it wrong but so do the evolutionary biologists-- rather, gender as it is lived/experienced (as opposed to gender roles, gendered habits) is largely free will. This idea at first seems belittling to the way some of us feel is it totally out of our control (especially those of us who have fought long, hard battles to switch) but it also points to a nuanced idea-- and one that feels close to truth-- that the reasons for gender and sexual identity are so great that ultimately an individual's choice must be the determining factor.
Actually I think this is a very radical notion. If it weren't for bigots and doctors insisting that intersex and trans people could be "cured", we wouldn't have to counter it with "we just can't help it", while in fact, "but I don't WANT your cure" asserts less that we're all suffering from some pitiful problem and more that we are just another aspect of human variation that, natural or political or whatever, deserve rights, respect, and autonomy not because they are suffering but because they are people.
Excellent book, "purple" in places, definitely should have been two different novels. Otherwise, some laugh out loud one liners in the second half about growing up an awkward girl and some very moving, poetic passages that work when they are not being heavy handed.
Oh, also, I highly recommend reading it concurrently with "Sexing the Body" by Anne Fausto-Sterling, a non-fic about intersex biology and politics. Reading these two together enhances the understanding of both.(less)
In Watermelon Sugar struck me as rather misogynistic. The only character who can think for herself is shunned by the whole hippie commune for being in...moreIn Watermelon Sugar struck me as rather misogynistic. The only character who can think for herself is shunned by the whole hippie commune for being interested in objects and ideas outside of herself, get dumped and ignored without warning, and kills herself. Her value seemed to have a lot to do with being hot and being like everyone else. Some crazy drunks get mad at the system and kill themselves. The hippies go back to life as usual. Barf.(less)
I think the authors were trying to make a nod at novel conventions, so I can overlook the trite mystery and romance aspects of it. As a few other peop...moreI think the authors were trying to make a nod at novel conventions, so I can overlook the trite mystery and romance aspects of it. As a few other people mentioned, the sex scenes seem out of place and a bit overboard, but what really got me was the way Fanny's reveal as a woman became such a big deal. She immediately starts wearing women's clothes around the house, and acting the lady somehow even though she has more than proven that such roles are based on nothing, and her romance with Jameson turns into a triumph of heterosexuality over his homosexual pining for Weston and his previous relationship with Ignatius. His preference for a "man's mind in a woman's body" couldn't help but resonate with me as somewhat heterosexist. Even though the characters are supposed to be of their own time, Jameson has already established himself as having had passionate same-sex affairs in the past, so his changing preferences seem to be a value judgment that hits too closely to the era the authors live in.
Additionally, while it tries, perhaps too hard, to portray African Americans in a sensitive way, it ends up exalting them in a way that feels a lot like anxious racial guilt. The book is clearly written by white people for white people. We're meant to be moved and captivated in the one scene that features more than one black person, which is a midnight burial, complete with musicality and spirituality. Then the rest of the book Ignatius goes back to being Sherlock Holmes. Gag.(less)
I've recently become fixated with familial-historical novels that work through the common problems that transcend time period. The chapters that focus...moreI've recently become fixated with familial-historical novels that work through the common problems that transcend time period. The chapters that focused on Isabelle were fantastic-- I love the careful and sparse writing that focuses on description and action. The 20th century character, Ella, is perhaps less charming since she is written in first person and not third, and her own tone is more chatty. She struck me as kind of an unstable twit, and she really becomes a passive central character in a way. Rick is a lame husband, but we never really get to know why they fell in love in the first place. Also what other reviewers said about undeveloped relationships with the other women in the book. Ella's story picks up near the middle of the book which made it more exciting to read, but basically I felt like I was only reading her chapters to better understand Isabelle's story, which had me totally captivated.(less)
An informative and informed history of the structural racism and sexism of science since the Enlightenment. Schienbinger excellently fleshes out the s...moreAn informative and informed history of the structural racism and sexism of science since the Enlightenment. Schienbinger excellently fleshes out the social and political contexts for her arguments, and reminds readers that science continues to be exclusionary (as most of my non-white and/or non-male scientist friends can attest to). Highly recommended to anyone who is interested in or is otherwise studying gender and race history in America, science, art history, anthropology, and philosophy (especially phenomenology, since the treatment of one's body is a large part of how one experiences the body, but obviously there are ethical philosophical issues raised in this book as well).(less)