Published by Hachette UK on August 22nd 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction, Literary
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Aviva Grossman, an ambitious Congressional intern in Florida, makes the life-changing mistake of having an affair with her boss - who is beloved, admired, successful, and very married - and blogging about it. When the affair comes to light, the Congressman doesn't take the fall, but Aviva does, and her life is over before it hardly begins. She becomes a late-night talk show punchline; she is slut-shamed, labelled as fat and ugly, and considered a blight on politics in general.
How does one go on after this? In Aviva's case, she sees no way out but to change her name and move to a remote town in Maine. She starts over as a wedding planner, tries to be smarter about her life, and to raise her daughter to be strong and confident.
But when, at the urging of others, she decides to run for public office herself, that long-ago mistake trails her via the Internet like a scarlet A. These days, Google guarantees that the past is never, ever, truly past, that everything you've done will live on for everyone to know about for all eternity. And it's only a matter of time until Aviva/Jane's daughter, Ruby, finds out who her mother was, and is, and must decide whether she can still respect her.
“I’m not a murderer,” she says. “I’m a slut, and you can’t be acquitted of that.”
Aviva Grossman is “Florida’s answer to Monica Lewinsky”. A young Jewish intern in a congressman’s office, she soon finds herself caught up in an affair with the older and married man. When the affair makes it into the regional media, Congressman Levin experiences some negative press, a few tut tuts, and then goes on to enjoy a lifetime in office. His marriage survives the scandal.
Aviva, on the other hand, has her life completely ruined. Though a skilled and qualified poli-sci graduate, no one will hire her. No one wants to date her. How dare she go after a married man, they say. Who wants to hire someone so morally challenged? Her only option is to start over somewhere completely new.
The story is obviously heavily-inspired by the famous Lewinsky scandal. Zevin exposes the misogyny and double standards that exist in politics, sex scandals, and in many areas of life. It’s a fictional story, but it is hard not to notice the very real parallels – how Bill Clinton’s marriage and career survived, how Lewinsky was torn apart by the media, and how even in the last election, almost twenty years after the scandal, jokes about Hillary not “blowing it” and how the last Clinton presidency “left a bad taste in [Lewinsky’s] mouth” were extremely popular.
Aviva is, in many ways, Monica Lewinsky reimagined, not as a sexy seductress, but as a foolish young woman dazzled by a powerful older man. She is reimagined as someone’s daughter, an ambitious student with a love of politics and, later, as a mother of a young girl herself.
It’s a powerful feminist story. What I liked perhaps most of all was that all the women in this story are deeply flawed and make mistakes. The book is split between the perspectives of Aviva, her mother – Rachel, her daughter – Ruby, and Embeth – the congressman’s wife. I really loved that the author chose to do this. The true heart of feminism is acknowledging the different experiences of different women, and the book’s message was so much stronger with the inclusion of all these different perspectives.
There are so many great girl power quotes too, but I think it’s best for the reader to discover them while reading. In short, it’s just such a smart, warm and wonderful read, and an absolutely fantastic takedown of slut-shaming. I would recommend this for women of all ages.