The Wrong Kind of Women by Sarah McCraw Crow
Published by MIRA ISBN 9781488062469
Hardcover, $27.99, 239 pages
Sarah McCraw Crow's novel The Wrong Kind of Woman, set in the 1970s, opens with Virginia's husband Oliver dying of an aneurysm in front of their thirteen year-old daughter Rebecca. Oliver was a history professor at Clarendon, an all-boy's college in New Hampshire.
Virginia is devastated by Oliver's premature death, as is Rebecca, who adored her father. Virginia taught an art history class at the college, so in addition to dealing with the emotional loss of her husband, she has to deal with the financial loss of his income.
We also meet Sam, a student at Clarendon who was in the faculty/student jazz band with Oliver. He admired Oliver and enjoyed his friendship as he didn't fit in with the other young men at school. After Sam ends up partnering with Jerry, a Vietnam vet, on a project, Jerry brings Sam to the commune where he is staying.
Sam is enchanted by Elodie, a young woman from the commune. Elodie wants to see change in society, perhaps by any means necessary. She is planning something, will Sam get himself involved to win her affection?
The most interesting character to me is Louise, a professor in the history department. She was the only female tenured professor at the college, one of only four women professors. They were called the Gang of Four, and following Oliver's death, Louise invited Virginia to join them for an evening out.
It was an eye-opening experience for Virginia. Although Oliver didn't like Louise, he found her too pushy, Virginia liked these women, especially Louise. They spoke of their difficult experiences at the college, and their desire to make Clarendon a coed institution.
I would have liked to have seen more of Louise and the other female professors. I found their stories so intriguing, and the scene where they invited two women to speak at the college was very strong. It reminded me of the FX miniseries Mrs. America, which I enjoyed immensely. There are even a few mentions of Shirley Chisholm and Bella Abzug, who were prominently featured in that series.
Virginia has her consciousness raised by economic necessity; she needed to get a better paying job for herself and Rebecca. She was close to getting her PhD, and Louise convinces her that she can do it, and they will help her in any way they can.
There are many 1970s touchstones in this novel for those of us who remember that era. Who else spent their Friday nights watching The Brady Bunch followed by The Partridge Family? And we all remember Tim Conway trying to make Harvery Korman laugh in The Carol Burnett Show skits.
The Wrong Kind of Woman mines some of the same territory as Jennifer Weiner's wonderful 2018 novel, Mrs. Everything, taking the macroview of women's lives in the 1970s through the microview of the women in these novels, allowing the reader to see the tumultous times through these women's eyes.
Thanks to MIRA Books for putting me on Sarah McCraw Crow's book tour.