The Position by Meg Wolitzer

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The Position by Meg Wolitzer

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Kerry King
Reviewed by Kerry King
Summary: Paul and Roz Mellow are the kind of liberal parents that you hope to never have, and certainly their children - Holly, Michael, Dashiell and Claudia - would not argue with that summation. You see, being the offspring of the authors of the globally best-selling book cringe-makingly entitle: Pleasuring: One Couple's Journey to Fulfilment you can see how life could become just a tiny bit complicated.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: August 2006
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099485056

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Paul Mellow loves his wife, Roz, seemingly like no other man has ever loved a woman – his idolatry is boundless, bordering on theatrical and yet out of this worship, Paul has the germ of an idea. Who would not want to know the ways in which it is possible to pleasure a wife as beautiful and perfect as his? How could everyone not want to see, to share the artistic renderings of this act of love?

Maybe it was the tasteful pastel illustrations within the pages of Pleasuring: One Couple's Journey to Fulfilment of the models who were so patently obviously their parents 'in flagrante' in the various poses and positions of their newly-penned sex manual that were the cause of the Mellow children's abject mortification? Maybe it was being forced to understand the nature of this book and by association, what their parents – their PARENTS – thoughts were on the subject that was so stultifyingly awful?

Imagine, for one moment, being those kids and ask yourself this question: could you ever live it down? Holly, Michael, Dashiell and Claudia certainly have a go at it for the next thirty years but the stigma – and make no mistake, for that is exactly how they view their parents' betrayal of their childhood – leaves its mark, firm and true. In fact, if any of the Mellow kids had thought they had been and were able to move on, the suggestion from the book's original publisher that Pleasuring: One Couple's Journey to Fulfilment be re-issued as a thirtieth anniversary edition, definitively puts paid to that idea.

Whatever your opinion may be of it, The Joy Of Sex by Dr. Alex Comfort, around which we suppose the book that is central to The Position has been loosely and fictitiously based, has got to be one of the most iconic works of the 20th Century. I suppose, at the time, no one stopped to think what it would be like to have Dr. Comfort as your dad – I mean, during my teenage years, my dad could be pretty embarrassing (usually in front of my friends and/or boyfriends before whom I would wish to appear terminally cool); he had (and still has) a knack of saying or doing the precise thing you least want him to say or do, but at least he never wrote a sex manual!

Meg Wolitzer is likened to a 21st Century Jane Austen and it is easy to see why: her sharp wit, the way she can lay her hand so beautifully to the 'mot juste' and her laser-guided accuracy within the theme that pinpoints her characters' feelings with a delicate touch and an artist's flourish, translates into a skill for writing that transcends any description of her ability among her peers.

In case you were wondering about that comparison (because I was before I did a bit of research), in her time, Austen was something of a shocker. For a start, writing was something that men did and ladies quite simply did not do anything that was not lady-like. Austen actually used to hide the pages of her novels under her sewing basket when visitors came to call. Then, if you take a look at her work, as an author Austen's characters were unlike any of the day. Take Emma; arrogant, self-willed and egotistical, a monumental meddler in other peoples' business and with a disposition to think too well of herself. If you compare it to the publications of the day (give or take a couple of years to include the likes of Lord Byron's The Corsair and Sir Walter Scott's Guy Mannering and even The Brothers Grimm and their Grimms' Fairy Tales) you can see what I mean, but I digress – back to Wolitzer.

To provide some sort of distillation to my thrust (no pun intended), Wolitzer takes an unusual and undeniably interesting topic and looks at it from a tangential viewpoint. Each of her characters, and there are plenty to draw upon that are not Roz and Paul Mellow or their children, has a different take on the story. Each has been affected, in some cases to their fundamental detriment, in assorted and diverse ways. Every one of them has their own story, within the story, to tell. That is the fascination of Wolitzer's writing talent. That is her gift to us.

I read some less-than-complimentary reviews of The Position – some said that whilst the concept was utterly brilliant, it somehow fell short of the mark in the telling. All I can say to those people is Meg Wolitzer is not an author that hands you her thoughts on a platter. She is far more likely to make you work for her story, and in order to get the best of The Position you will find Wolitzer urging you to throw your own interpretation into the mix.

I can only recommend The Position to you for the cracklingly intelligent, insightful, gently funny and achingly bittersweet book that I found it to be and hopefully you will see within its pages, what I did.

An ideal follow on reading choice is probably a couple of other of Meg Wolitzer's novels, The Ten-year Nap and The Wife which is actually so good it should have won a roomful of awards. We have reviewed both for you here at Bookbag. You should also take a look at The Taxi Queue by Janet Davey and Stage by Stage by Jan Jones and maybe finally indulge yourself in The Act of Love by Howard Jacobson, an exquisitely written tale about a man who, like Paul Mellow, so adores his wife that he must share her with others.

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