Tag Archives: library checkouts

Terrible Virtue by Ellen Feldman

Ohhhhh boy. This book.

I was so excited to read it. I even thought about pre-ordering it on Kindle just to be sure that I got a copy. Then, duh, I remembered those nifty places called “libraries” and I was able to get one of the first copies of it reserved. When it arrived – ahead of schedule – I cleared my reading queue to make room for it. The fact that I have to return it by a certain date notwithstanding…

Once again, the library saved my already bloated reading budget. I am so glad I didn’t purchase this title. The one word I’d use to describe it would be thus — underwhelming.

The first, oh, 25% of the book was good. It was very well paced and gave a good background to Margaret, her life, and some possible reasons why she because involved in the women’s movement, primarily birth control.

Then…It took a nose dive. Big time. And the way that Ms. Feldman chose to write Margaret turned her into an insufferable harpy. She became so myopic to the cause of birth control that very few were left unscathed in her wake; this included her family.

Add to that, it jumped around a lot and the injections of other people’s POV in the middle of chapters just left me with a serious case of reader’s whiplash. Were they letters? Journals? How did these other people find their way into the narrative? If you’re going to write a book in first person, keep it that way. And if you’re going to bring in other narrators, then at least give the reader some context as to how it is these characters are now talking to you.

Much has been written and reported on Margaret’s involvement in the eugenics movement. Now, keeping everything in context we, as modern readers, need to realize that, much like seances and psychics, eugenics was, unfortunately, a very real part of early 20th century culture. Was it right? No, not at all. However, we do ourselves and our grandparents/great grandparents generation a disservice when we try to view the good, the bad, and the ugly (of which eugenics was most definitely the bad and the ugly) from the lens of our perspective.

Having said that, this book treated that topic as a minor footnote. In fact, it was only in one of the shorter chapters towards the end of the books where anything was really said about it. (Again, first person narrative.)

My final gripe with this book is that it ended so quickly and abruptly that I was wondering if maybe the copy I’d gotten from the library was missing another couple of chapters. Nope. It just comes to s a screeching halt. Obviously, because this book is based on a person who was an actual living, breathing human being and who was born, lived, and died, of course the book had to come to an end. I just object to the fashion in which it just BAM! sort of happened. Some editor somewhere needs a stern talking to.

Would I recommend this book? Ehhh, hard to say. I did find myself looking for other titles on birth control, the suffrage movement, and feminism in general just because I think women nowadays take so much for granted. I’m a woman – and a millennial – and even though I have a bachelors degree in history, I *still* find myself pausing and taking a moment and realizing that women haven’t even had the right to vote for even 100 years yet.

But I digress. Read this at your own risk. I will say that this book inspired me to take the money I would have spent on it (thanks again, library!) and donate it to Planned Parenthood instead.


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