Despite 5 years in a more-or-less functional relationship, I was very interested to read Spinster by Kate Bolick. Part of my BA is in Anthropology so the way societies and cultures view marriage is very interesting to me on an academic level. On a personal level I’m not sure that I believe that marriage should exist as a legally binding, government overseen thing (but recognize that current society structure makes the right to marry very, very important in a legal sense). So despite the fact that I will probably never meet any technical definition of a “spinster” I was interested to read Bolick’s book as a study on changing marriage trends.
Except that’s not what Spinster is. Spinster is a study in Bolick’s personal thought process and the way that she has justified to herself her decision to not get married. The book starts with “Whom to marry, and when will it happen—these two questions define every woman’s existence.” And I dare say it’s true. Playing wedding was a favorite and consuming passion as a child: when would I meet my future husband? When would I get to wear a pretty dress? Cake. So growing up and adapting my thoughts on marriage as an institution and my growing desire to throw a huge party with cake (and reconciling the two thoughts) I felt like there would be a lot for me to digest in the book. There are no larger insights about trends as a whole, just anecdotal tales about women writer’s who Bolick has drawn inspiration from. (Though I did identify with Bolick’s need for independence and fear of losing that in a relationship).
Don’t get me wrong, Bolick is a good writer and the book was interesting when it was taking a biographical approach to Bolick’s “awakeners” (Neith Boyce, Maeve Brennan, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Edith Wharton). Where the book fails is in trying to examine the way marriage has changed and why being a “spinster” is more likely and acceptable now than it was 100 years ago. And I never really felt like that was addressed. Instead I felt like Bolick was protesting too much in trying to justify her own decisions. I know a lot of women who have decided they have no desire to get married, I know some who are entirely aromantic and asexual. They all seem at peace with their decisions and when they need to talk about them they don’t come off as defensive or needing to justify, they’re simply stating facts: they like the beach, asparagus is iffy, marriage is great for some people but not me!
Now, my friends and I range from 10 to 20 years younger than Bolick so maybe that mean something about our attitudes. Maybe I’d know if they book had been the studying of marriage and singlehood as advertised. I lost interest towards the very end of the book (so not bad) because I was tired of Bolick. Which was serendipitous because then she perfectly described my problem with her: “More than a few people have told me I wear them out. Several years ago a dear friend confessed that she “couldn’t keep up with” my enthusiasm. “You have so many of them,” she said […]” (269).
Bolick exhausted me. She is 40 years old and all her relationships go belly up for some reason or another (a lot of them good ones, by her account) and I’m honestly not sure if she is actually ok with being a spinster and not getting married. She seems to have latched on to women she sees a part of herself in, ignoring many complexities for hackneyed comparisons. The analysis of marriage is crammed in the last 20 pages and is not very indepth.
I would give this book 3 stars, because it is well written and can be engaging in parts. But it is not what it is trying to be.