Greer Kadetsky is at a big party, discussing “the big terribleness” that has just happened to the country with a group of people from the publishing industry. In the wake of the “terribleness,” celebrating has become “essential,” even as most parties nowadays eventually slip into collective lamentation about the reversal of all the nation’s progress and the mounting indignities that have been piling up. This particular party is being thrown in Greer’s honor—her book, Outside Voices, has been on the bestseller list for a whole year now.
It seems that “the big terribleness” alludes to the results of the 2016 presidential election, in which Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. Regardless of if Wolitzer intended “the big terribleness” to refer to President Trump, it is evident that the new political and social landscape is hostile toward progressive ideology.
Though it is not the first of its kind, Greer’s feminist manifesto is unique in its positive ideology and encouragement of women to speak up and use their “outside voices.” Greer is thirty-one now and has been giving talks all over the country on her book tour. The book is as criticized as it is celebrated, as Greer is seen as a woman of privilege, and her book has come under fire for being for privileged woman. Nonetheless, Greer has been buoyed by the letters and emails from girls and women around the country who find the book inspirational and vital.
Greer’s career almost directly mirrors that of Faith. Greer has penned a manifesto that has garnered accolades and attention, but she is still criticized—often publicly—for her privileged idealism and inattention to the uglier issues facing modern feminism. It seems that Greer is getting the same kind of adoration, attention, and praise as her mentor once did, and this surely fills her with a sense of personal fortitude and sociopolitical power.
Greer is now married to Cory, and they have a baby named Emilia. Greer experiences intermittent moments of doubt in which she wonders whether her book—her life’s work—is “a little ridiculous,” but tonight, as Greer is toasted by a room full of writers, publishers, and thinkers that she admires, she is “struck” by how her book has created a platform for enhanced communication and deeper conversations among women. Greer is full of warmth and pride as she gives a speech and reads from her book while Cory and Emilia, as well as Emilia’s teenage babysitter, Kay Chung, look on.
Greer has achieved her greatest dream—she is now a feminist writer living in Brooklyn with Cory by her side. Like Faith, Greer is excited by the chance to create a powerful platform, this time through a book rather than a foundation.
Greer thinks of Kay—she is young but radical, and though she is skeptical about the state of modern feminism, she looks up to Greer, and Greer is moved by Kay’s openness about her opinions and her desire to investigate the world around her. Kay frequently asks to borrow books from Cory and Greer’s library and devours the tomes Greer gives her with glee and studiousness.
Greer sees much of herself in Kay. It also seems that Greer sees a similar dynamic blossoming between her and Kay that Greer once held with Faith. However, unlike the young, shy Greer who was willing to change her personality and opinions to better align with Faith, Kay has her own independent thoughts about feminism and is unafraid of expressing herself.
Greer and Cory return to their home in a fancy neighborhood in Brooklyn. They have had an influx of cash due to the success of Greer’s book, but rather than using it to renovate their home, they have been sending the money to Benedita and Greer’s parents. Though SoulFinder was not a financial success, it was a critical one. Cory has not yet “landed” professionally, but it is not a problem thanks to Greer’s success. At home, Greer and Cory put Emilia to bed. Greer gets a text from Zee, who is still in Chicago. The text urges Greer to call Zee; she has something to show her.
Greer and Cory, in many ways, have the lives they always dreamed of. They are not exactly the “twin rocket ships” Laurel predicted they would be, as it is clear that Greer has succeeded professionally in a way that Cory has yet to do. However, there doesn’t seem to be a power struggle between them anymore.
Greer calls Zee, and then Zee sends her a link to an internet video. The video features a man being pelted with garbage by a screaming woman, and though the woman is clearly angry, the man only laughs and goads her on. As Greer studies the video more closely, she realizes that the man is Darren Tinzler. Zee reveals that Tinzler runs a revenge porn website now and has attracted the hatred of many women whose lives have been disrupted because of his sleaziness. Zee marvels at the fact that in the video, despite the woman’s anger, Tinzler cannot be “shamed or ruined.” Zee and Greer sit silently on the phone and consider the injustice of it all.
So many years after the despicable sexual assaults he committed at Ryland, Darren Tinzler is still targeting women. As Greer and Zee consider that some men simply can’t be shamed out of their seemingly unassailable power, they feel quietly hopeless for a moment, stewing in their own anger and sense of futility.
Greer tells Zee that she wants to start a foundation of her own to help combat exactly this kind of cruelty and injustice. It would be different than Loci, Greer assures Zee, and even offers Zee the chance to come on board and help out. Greer thinks about Darren Tinzler, and how his horrible treatment of women makes her want to do “everything possible” to change the way it feels to be a woman. She notes that feeling “capable and safe and free” is all Faith had ever wanted for women.
Even at the heights of their respective careers, Greer and Zee understand that they still must reckon with the injustices perpetrated by a sleazy, cruel man. It would be easy for them to despair, but instead, both women seem to want to throw themselves even more fully into action and activism.
Greer thinks of Faith often. Greer frequently thinks that she has seen Faith on the street, but it is never her. Greer imagines reuniting with Faith, like a lost person in SoulFinder—although in Cory’s game, a player must actually go looking for the person they have lost.
The motif of lost and found things recurs in this passage, as Greer considers what it means to have “lost” someone who is still physically present in the world.
Faith is now close to eighty and still works at the foundation, though three years earlier, Emmett died of a heart attack while having sex with a young woman. In his will, he stipulated that the foundation should continue, but after ShraderCapital cut Loci’s budget dramatically, Loci became a shadow of its former self. Faith Frank remained in charge, however, and kept things running. Nothing ever emerged about the mentorship program, and Faith continued to dedicate herself to Loci, though in recent years, misogyny has “stormed the world in an all-out, undisguised raid.”
Faith, nearing the end of her life and career, seems to be aware that her message is needed now more than ever, and that her unique social capital allows her to continue to be a voice for women even after all the compromises, sacrifices, and poor choices she has made over the course of her career.
Greer often wishes she could get in touch with Faith and send her the latest updates from her life. She wishes that she could tell Faith know about her marriage with Cory, Zee’s marriage with Noelle, Emilia’s birth, and Greer’s own exhaustion in the face of success. Greer wonders if Faith knows anything about Greer’s book and if Faith has read it. More than anything, Greer wishes she could thank Faith for all that she taught her—and thank her especially for calling her out on that last day at Loci, making it necessary for her to finally reveal the truth to Zee and begin to make amends with her.
Though things ended badly between Greer and Faith, there is still a part of Greer that deeply admires Faith—even after the realization that her hero was just an ordinary, flawed woman. Greer realizes that even the complicated or upsetting moments with Faith were ultimately in service of goodness and advancement. Greer’s ability to now be grateful for the way Faith called her out shows that Greer has matured considerably and is able to see her past mistakes more clearly.
Thinking about how she has, effectively, “replaced” Faith Frank, Greer begins to wonder who will replace her one day. She thinks of Kay, her daughter’s babysitter, and how curious and promising Kay is. She occasionally sees Kay staring at her and considering the furniture and objects in the house as if they hold some clue to Greer’s success that Kay might be able to imitate or possess.
Greer thinks about how at Loci, all of the conversations had been about power—as if it could be created, held, and maintained. Greer reflects on how she has come to learn that this is not so, but one can never know this when just starting out. Greer imagines Cory, back in his mother’s house in the wake of Alby’s death, sitting on the edge of his brother’s bed playing with Slowy. As Greer considers how power slips away over time, she wonders whether Slowy the turtle will outlive them all.
By wondering if Slowy will outlive them all, Greer highlights that in the face of constantly shifting power dynamics and politics, the only thing that is truly constant in life is grief and loss. This implies that even as Greer rises to fame, she will always feel a deep sense of loss for Faith. However, just as Cory used his grief over Alby’s death for good (by creating SoulFinder), as can Greer.