As with McCarthy’s book, to the extent that there is a plot, it is psychological, about the way a particular group of women learn in mid-life to understand the world and their position in it. Unlike the original, however, this novel is constantly turning back on itself, aware and critical of the limitations of point of view and knowingly stuck with those limitations. There is no claim to universality, no sense that these women’s shared assumptions are the only or best ones available; rather, they precisely expose one of a multitude of specificities that can be playfully and painfully investigated in fiction.
The Group works because there is nothing self-satisfied in its tone. It has the bitter aroma of Elena Ferrante’s fiction in its interest in female friendship and female anger. The influence of Virginia Woolf isn’t hard to detect either, in Feigel’s attentiveness to the moment-to-moment shift of impressions and the fragility of the self: where does one person end and another begin?
The mix of caustic insights and sudden tenderness make the group dynamics arrestingly real. I can’t remember the last time I consumed a novel so hungrily. Like Polly’s slap, it leaves a sting.