Last night, the Fixed on Fiction book group met to discuss Jeanne Ray’s Calling Invisible Women. Below are some of the comments made during our meeting.
Collectively, our group found Calling Invisible Women to be a so-so read, meaning that no one loved or hated this title. Multiple readers mentioned that it took a long time to get into the book, but the hook of invisible women was intriguing enough to keep them engaged and invested in the story. Some group members also mentioned that Ray’s humor made Invisible Women more enjoyable. Most readers especially appreciated the tattoo parlor scene and the scene in which Clover warns Gilda’s son of the dangers of pot smoking. Despite needing time to become engrossed in the novel, some members mentioned these scenes made them laugh out loud.
As a warm up question, I asked the group members if they woke up invisible one morning, would they have the same reaction as Clover? Meaning would they wait and see how long it took their families to notice their absence or would they be more vocal about their predicament? The majority of group members insisted that they were far too outspoken to behave like Clover, they wouldn’t allow their family’s to ignore their invisibility; however, a handful of readers stated that they would be too accepting of their invisibility. Like Clover, they would wait to see how long it took their loved ones to notice the change. But one reader did point out that the story would have lost a lot of suspense if Clover’s family noticed her absence right away. So while some of us felt frustrated with Arthur, Nick, and Evie’s lack of awareness, it ultimately made for a more engaging read.
On Invisibility- With a premise involving a group of invisible women, we naturally had to exercise our imaginations a bit and “just go with it” regarding some of the finer details of Clover’s ailment. Our group did spend some time questioning some of Clover’s adventures. Would it really be possible to board a plane without bumping into anyone? Would these women really be comfortable walking around naked, invisible or not? Wouldn’t invisible women be front page news immediately? Finer details aside, we invested more time in talking about invisibility metaphorically rather than logistically. One group member questioned if a younger person could identify with Clover’s invisibility, to which another reader replied that everyone has felt invisible at some point in their lives based on age, gender, socioeconomic status, etc. We also discussed how almost everyone has been guilty of thinking of their “mother as mother” and not a unique person. So while this book might appeal to readers in their 50s and up, there were certainly themes with which a younger reader could identify.
On Clover- Despite the fact that our narrator made us laugh out loud at times, some readers struggled with Clover’s self-esteem issues. We discussed how it was Clover’s responsibility to set the standard that she wasn’t just a wife/mother/housekeeper/etc. but rather, her own unique self. By constantly putting her family’s needs above her own, she enabled her husband and children to take advantage of her. This point led to a discussion of how some mothers may want their spouses and children to be dependent on them as it gives them a sense of purpose. Other readers struggled with Clover’s constant sympathy towards Arthur rather than investing time and energy in her own needs. Again, we discussed how these flaws were at times frustrating, but ultimately made for a more interesting read as we watched Clover’s slow build of self-esteem throughout the novel.
What Would You Do? Of course we had to discuss what we would do should we wake up one day and find ourselves invisible. I asked the group if they would follow a family member around for a day (a la Clover shadowing her husband at work) and was surprised to receive a resounding “NO!” While members confessed that the temptation to spy would be great, but most readers agreed that the practice would be unhealthy. One person pointed out that if your invisibility was a secret, you wouldn’t be able to do anything with the knowledge you gained as a spy anyway. Another reader compared this shadowing practice to reading another person’s diary- tempting but ultimately invasive and wrong. Instead of spying on friends and family, one group member confessed that she would probably use her invisibility for smaller, selfish things like traveling unseen or going to the movies for free.
Despite Calling Invisible Women being labeled as a “so-so” read, our group certainly had a lively discussion. Additionally, ballots were distributed for future reading selections. These can be turned in at the February meeting or emailed to Elizabeth directly.