Calling Invisible Women, Jeanne Ray
I have loved Jeanne Ray's novels since I read her first, Julie and Romeo, published back in 2000. She is the mother of novelist Ann Patchett, so clearly there are some good story-telling genes in that family. Her books are rooted in family life, often in the bonds (sometimes strained) between generations, shifting between comedy and drama. They are told in the first person, in a comfortable, matter-of-fact, rather wry tone that draws me at least immediately into the story. Julie and Romeo is about the older couple of the title finding love again, in the midst of a long-standing feud between their families, whose children are appalled by their fraternizing with the enemy. In Step-Ball-Change Caroline (who runs a dance studio not quite as whimsical as the one on Bunheads) and her husband Tom cope with a daughter's impending mega-wedding and the sudden arrival of her sister, whose own marriage is collapsing around her husband's infidelity. My favorite of her books is Eat Cake, whose heroine Ruth bakes her way through the complications of life with her teen-age daughter, her elderly mother, and her suddenly unemployed husband Sam, not to mention the arrival of her estranged father, who needs a place to recuperate after an accident. When Sam is unable to find work again immediately, Ruth's therapy becomes a source of income, one that draws the family together around cake. Every time I read this book, I end up baking a cake, though I haven't yet tried the recipes included at the end.
I had no idea that Jeanne Ray had just published another book, so it was a lovely surprise to come across this in the new book bins at the library last Saturday. Here she takes the kind of domestic setting that she does so well in a completely different direction. Clover Hobart is 54 years old, married to Arthur, a pediatrician and the mother of Nick (now living at home after losing his job) and Evie, a college student. A reporter for many years, Clover has also in a sense lost her job with reductions in the local newspaper where she works; she now writes a gardening column and the occasional book review.
One day, standing in the bathroom brushing her teeth, Clover notices that she has become invisible. It isn't a trick of the light, it isn't her mind playing tricks on her, it's not a metaphor: she is invisible. Her body is still there, she is still there, she just can't be seen. She discovers very quickly that if she puts clothes on, and acts normally, most people will simply ignore her missing head and hands: they will not see. The doctor she consults not only doesn't see, he also doesn't hear what she is trying to tell him (a situation a lot of visible people face every day; I certainly have). Neither her husband or her son notice anything different, though her best friend Gilda and her mother-in-law Irene both do.
It naturally takes Clover some time to adjust to this momentous change, and to her family's cluelessness. One day she sees an ad in her local paper, "Calling Invisible Women" to a meeting at a downtown hotel. There she finds that she is far from the only invisible woman. She also learns the probable cause of her condition (let's just say it's a medication issue involving a Big Pharma company, Dexter-White). With this support group, just with the knowledge that she is not alone, Clover begins to explore the advantages of her invisibility, while also coping with its disadvantages. As she meets more and more invisible women, and learns more about Dexter-White, Clover finds herself back reporting again, covering a crusade that she is also helping to lead.
I had no trouble accepting the premise of this book, because with Clover, Jeanne Ray has again created an appealing narrator who drew me right into her story. And it's a fun story, its message presented with a light touch. The ending may feel a little rushed, but it is nevertheless a satisfying one. I'll be very interested to see what Jeanne Ray writes next.