The #MeToo Movement Gets Its Novel

The #MeToo Movement Gets Its Novel

HIS FAVORITES
By Kate Walbert
149 pp. Scribner. $22

“This is not a story I’ve told before” is how “His Favorites” begins — a caveat, but also a statement that binds its narrator, Jo, into a larger collective. When she was 15, and a student at an elite Northeastern boarding school, Jo was coerced into a sexual relationship with a charismatic and manipulative English teacher. Many years later, she’s confronting what happened to her: how she was cajoled and groomed by a skilled predator, and how his actions were imprinted on the rest of her life.

“His Favorites” isn’t so much a novel — or even, at a slender 150 pages, a novella — as an experiment in taking control of a narrative. Not the kind of metaphorical control that implies empowerment or recovery, but literal control. Jo tells her story not in clear, linear prose, but in leaps back and forth through time, switching tenses, perspectives and styles. Her narrative is looping, meandering and evasive. She’ll arrive at a crucial point in her history and then dart away for 13 pages, throwing out distractions that delay the inevitable. One critical early scene is detailed first in short staccato bursts, and then in a single extended sentence that slowly unfurls.

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The newest book from Kate Walbert, “His Favorites” arrives not quite a year into an unprecedented outpouring of testimony from women about their own experiences of sexual harassment and assault. Walbert is a masterly and rich purveyor of female characters, having conveyed the breadth and ambition of women’s dreams and desires in “A Short History of Women” (2009) and the resilience of two widows in “The Sunken Cathedral” (2015). “His Favorites” is primed to be a major work for the #MeToo movement, but rather than seek connection with readers, it stubbornly defies it. Jo is a difficult narrator, circling the pivotal parts of her story until she can’t avoid them any longer.

The result is that her abuser — a…

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