On a mild night in the fall of 2014, Faith Frank arrives at a Chinese massage parlor. Getting a “bracing, vigorous” massage always helps her to focus her thoughts, stay calm, and find the clarity to make good decisions. As she enters the parlor, her phone rings—it is her son, Lincoln. She answers the phone and tells Lincoln she is about to step in for a massage. He tells her to slow down, as travel is bad for her stiff neck and back. He has recently been on Loci’s website and has seen the many events and high-profile speakers coming up. Faith tells him that Emmett Shrader told them they needed to “go high-profile.” Loci’s summits now feature famous movie stars, hired psychics, complimentary manicures, and expensive food.
Faith, for much of the book, has been portrayed as a powerful and somewhat unknowable figure, who has revealed her humanity and vulnerability only in small, rare moments. In this chapter, Wolitzer begins exploring Faith’s inner life and history in greater depth. In this way, Wolitzer reminds her readers that Faith is human after all, and that she is just as vulnerable as anyone else despite her sociopolitical capital.
Faith finds the foundation’s “excesses” depressing. She believes, and has told Emmett repeatedly, that hosting rich women at conferences where they can get a mani-pedi doesn’t actually accomplish anything. Emmett, however, has told Faith that the organization needs to grow before it can engage with such issues. Faith tells Lincoln that she is occasionally allowed to take on a special project, such as a recent rescue mission to save Ecuadorian women from sex trafficking and set them up with mentors to help them rebuild their lives. Faith tells Lincoln that one of the rescued women, in fact, is going to be at the next Loci summit in Los Angeles, and that Faith is supposed to be the one to introduce her to the crowd. Lincoln advises Faith to take care of herself and not let herself get physically or emotionally exhausted.
Faith has qualms about the organization she has tirelessly spearheaded over the last several years. She worries about being seen as a false activist, a bad feminist, or a woman unconcerned with the plight of other women. She has had to make compromises when it comes to Loci but has thrown herself into the work nonetheless—occasionally, her son points out to her, to her own detriment. Faith and Lincoln’s conversation about the mentorship program for Ecuadorian women foreshadows one of the biggest compromises Faith will make during her career.
Faith and Lincoln end their call, and Faith goes into the massage parlor and asks for a sixty-minute massage. The relaxing massage drops Faith “stupefied into a hole,” and she reflects on the path that has brought her to where she is today.
Faith’s massages provide her with a time to take a break from the chaos and endless demands of her fast-paced life as an activist.
Faith was born in 1943—she and her twin brother, Philip, were born just six minutes apart. As they grew up in their tightknit Brooklyn neighborhood, Faith became studious and serious while Phillip got by on charm. The whole Frank gamily was very close, and Faith had a happy childhood—until one afternoon, when her parents pulled teenage Faith and her brother into the living room for a “family discussion.” Faith’s parents explained that though they are proud of their children, they worry about them. In particular, they expressed their reservations about sending Faith away to college. Faith, who had been dreaming of studying sociology or political science for years, begged her parents not to keep her at home, but they insisted that there are wonderful schools in Brooklyn. They still planned to send Faith’s twin away to school, because it would be “good for him.”
The roots of Faith’s wholehearted dedication to feminist activism are revealed in this passage, as Faith looks back on a major injustice which occurred during her childhood. Though they were twins, separated only by gender, Faith and her brother were afforded vastly different opportunities. The unfairness of the arbitrary divisions between them was compounded by Faith’s studious dedication to academics contrasted against her brother’s devil-may-care attitude. Despite his indifference to academics, he was afforded the chance to attend the college of his choice, while Faith was forced to stay at home and attend a local school.
Faith begged her older brother to back her up, but he told Faith that he wanted to “stay out of it.” That night, Faith cried herself to sleep, and she and her brother were never close again. While her brother went off to school, Faith was forced to live at home while taking classes at Brooklyn College. She dated occasionally, but her parents, obsessed with making sure that Faith remained safe—and a virgin—would wait up for her every night, and once even came to collect her from a house party. Faith remained a virgin throughout college, feeling that there was “power” in walking away from sex.
Faith felt betrayed by her older brother, who had been her ally since birth. During college, Faith explored what “freedom” meant to her and found that it wasn’t necessarily letting loose and running wild. Instead, she found freedom in power—specifically the power in asserting her own agency over her body.
As college ended, things began to shift for Faith. Kennedy was assassinated, and she and her friend from school, Annie, became more politically minded and desirous of independence. After graduation, Faith announced to her parents that she and Annie were moving to Las Vegas to get as far away from Brooklyn as possible. Though Faith’s parents threatened to cut her off if she went, they never followed through on those threats. Still, Faith did not ask her parents for any money or help as she and Annie made their way west to Las Vegas and secured jobs as cocktail waitresses at a hotel and casino.
Faith, emboldened by her recent understanding of personal power and freedom, chose to set off West with one of her likeminded friends in order to see the world and push the boundaries of their lives even further. Though Faith’s parents, who wanted to keep her at home for as long as possible, resisted her decision, times were changing, and Faith wanted to change with them.
Faith lost her virginity at twenty-two years old to a blackjack dealer and was completely underwhelmed by the act of sex. For years after, she was disgusted by men, until one night at the casino, when she met a slender, attractive man who worked as a “low-level executive in the field of cookies and crackers,” and flirted with him while he played blackjack. The man was with a woman, though, and once she reappeared at the table, Faith drifted away from the two of them.
Faith explored her sexuality in Las Vegas, coming to understand what power dynamics between men and women looked and felt like. The brief flirtation with the “low-level executive” foreshadows events later in Faith’s life, when the man reappears in a significant way.
Over the next several months, Faith became involved with a trumpet player, and Annie took up with a comedian. One day, Annie missed her period and tearfully confided in Faith that she didn’t know what to do. The next day, Annie’s boyfriend drove her and Faith from doctor to doctor, searching for someone who would perform an abortion, but no one would. At last, Annie got the name of a secret practitioner from a friend, and Faith went with her to the prearranged meeting. The women were blindfolded, driven around, and eventually dropped off at a shady-looking building, where Annie was taken back to an exam room while Faith waited anxiously.
Despite Faith and Annie’s joyful and occasionally reckless explorations of their own power, femininity, and sexuality, there were still very serious consequences at the time for women who found themselves with an unwanted pregnancy. Faith’s horror at the extremes to which she and Annie must go to secure an abortion will form the basis of her politics going forward in her life and career.
Later that night, Annie began bleeding heavily. Faith took her to the emergency room, where the nurses and doctors, realizing what was happening to Annie, shamed and criticized her, calling her a “harlot” and threatening to call the police on her. Two days later, after three blood transfusions, Annie was sent home with a warning from a male gynecologist who told her not to “give it up” so easily. After that incident, Annie begged Faith to return to Brooklyn, and so they did.
In addition to having the anxiety of procuring a safe abortion for her friend, Faith was forced to reckon with the unfair and deeply rooted societal stigmas that prevented women from attaining the care and empathy they needed—even from medical professionals.
Now, in interviews, when Faith is asked if there was an “aha moment” that made her into the person she is today, she deflects and says there is not. However, she realizes that there have been a series of small realizations, and that Annie’s struggle to secure a safe abortion was one of them.
Faith credits the injustice of witnessing her friend Annie undergo a total loss of power and agency as the inspiration for much of Faith’s own feminist thought and activism.
In 1966, Faith and Annie were sharing a tiny apartment in Greenwich Village. They felt like two audience members who had arrived in the middle of a show. So much political protesting and social organizing was happening, and the two women had missed so much while in Las Vegas. Faith and Annie became politically involved almost right away.
Faith and Annie became swept up in the tidal wave of activism that was rocking the nation—and especially New York City—in the 1960s.
Faith attended many antiwar meetings, and every time she spoke up, men interrupted her. She attempted to bring the issues she cared about—women’s liberation and abortion reform—to the forefront of these discussions, but men always silenced Faith and told her that women’s issues were not as important as the war in Vietnam. At the end of one meeting, a woman approached Faith and invited her to a women’s only meeting. Faith attended and found solace in a group of strong, beautiful, witty women who all had the same complaints about being silenced and underestimated that she herself did. As Faith shared her story—and Annie’s—with these women, they all rallied around the desire to stop letting men make their decisions. The women raised their voice in song together, celebrating that although they were in a “stuck place” a lot of the time, they were at least in it together.
As Faith became entrenched in the activist scene in New York, she found herself being silenced and shut out by male voices and perspectives who had little regard for the issues facing women. Faith found refuge, though, in a women’s group, and soon found that her voice was not only heard but valued. Faith learned that she was not alone in her frustrations, and that there was a chance to make a real difference despite the societal and political powers still threatening to hold women back from their goals of equality and self-expression.
After her first meeting with the women’s group, Faith returned home to her apartment and told Annie about the meeting. When Faith revealed that she had mentioned Annie’s abortion, Annie expressed her reluctance to talk about the incident and said that she never wanted to speak of it again. Though Faith and Annie remained roommates for several months after that evening, they grew apart considerably, as Faith threw herself into activism and Annie got swept up in a relationship with a law student. Eventually, Annie married the law student and moved out to the Midwest, while Faith doubled down on her presence in the women’s movement.
Faith and Annie have very divergent reactions to pain and trauma. While Faith—who is, to be fair, only a witness to trauma and not a firsthand victim—longs to use the pain she has seen as a springboard for change, Annie simply wants to shove her pain away and pretend it never happened. This dynamic mirrors Greer’s desire to continue hounding Darren Tinzler and the Ryland administration even when many of his victims simply wanted to move on with their lives. The struggles women face are age-old and constantly repetitious.
As Faith got more involved in the women’s movement, she began making valuable connections—one of her acquaintances, who had worked in publishing for a while, was planning on starting the magazine that would eventually become Bloomer. Faith was brought on board, and though the women struggled to secure funding and office space, they were “flushed with happiness” to be doing something so vital and full of potential.
Faith finally found not just an outlet for her self-expression but an outlet for change in the creation of Bloomer. Though things were still difficult for her and her fellow editors, they were happy to be doing the work they were doing nonetheless.
As Faith and her fellow editors at Bloomer struggled to get their magazine off the ground, they realized that they were going to need to sell a considerable amount of ad space. One morning, Faith and her coworkers meet with three executives from Nabisco, attempting—and failing—to relay to the men why their huge corporation should advertise in their niche women’s magazine. The men end the meeting by telling the women they’d “think about it,” but on the way out of the meeting, one of the men stops Faith and tells her that he recognizes her. He asks if they had met long ago in Las Vegas, and Faith quickly realizes that he is the man she flirted with who worked in “cookies and crackers.”
In this passage, Wolitzer shows Faith having to make one of her first major career compromises. The magazine she works for is forward-minded and woman-founded, but they still must capitulate to the demands of the economy and the power structures that allow certain institutions to thrive. Though they think it’s selling out to request ad money, Faith and her fellow editors know that compromises must be made in order to secure their platform, and through it, the advancement of the issues facing women.
The executive, Emmett Shrader, offers to take Faith out so that they can “explore the question of ad space” further—just the two of them, one-on-one. Though Faith can tell that there is a flirtatious tone to the invitation, and knows that the man wants to sleep with her, she accepts. She resolves not to sleep with him but to let him think that she might.
Faith must now make another compromise—she must engage in a flirtation with a powerful man in order to secure the ad space that she desperately needs to continue her mission with Bloomer.
That night, Faith meets Emmett at a dim club in Greenwich village. They both order drinks with paper umbrellas in them, but Emmett takes the umbrella from his and pockets it. He asks Faith to tell him her story and the story of the magazine. Faith tells him everything and he hangs on her every word. At the end of her story, Emmett tells Faith that what she and the women at Bloomer are doing is “essential.” Emmett, however, advises Faith that when it comes to business meetings, she—not her colleagues—should be the one doing the talking.
Emmett seems to really believe in what Faith is saying, and he wants to encourage her to shine and to reach her fullest potential. In this regard, Emmett seems to be somewhat of a feminist—foreshadowing his later financial involvement with Loci.
Emmett takes her hand and begins stroking it. Faith has been preparing for this moment but is no longer resolute in her choice to turn Emmett down. She desires him in a way, and when he asks her to go to bed with him, she does not turn him down. Faith and Emmett go back to Faith’s apartment, undress, and get into bed. As they do, Faith realizes that just as badly as Emmett wants to be inside of her, she wants to be inside of him—or maybe even to be him, inhabit him, and walk through the world the way he does.
As Faith explores this new power dynamic between her and Emmett, she realizes that things are not as off-balance as they seem. Faith has a certain power over Emmett, and he has a certain power over her, but it is not just the power of sexual desire—it is the allure of inhabiting a more powerful persona and having influence, a voice, and a platform that people do not question.
The two have passionate, athletic sex—when they are done, however, Emmett quickly begins to dress and prepares to leave though it is past two in the morning. It dawns on Faith that Emmett is married, and she wonders if his wife was the woman that was with him in the casino years earlier. Faith also realizes that Emmett must have a child—she recalls how he pocketed his paper umbrella earlier to bring it home as a gift. Faith wants to be furious at Emmett but cannot make herself, as she feels she intuited these things all evening long and simply shoved them out of her mind’s eye.
As her encounter with Emmett ends, Faith realizes that they must now go out into the real world—where the reality of the imbalance of power between them is as stark and as fraught as ever. Emmett has a real life, a life without Faith, and he can move through that life seemingly without consequences.
As Emmett dresses, he tells Faith that he feels something for her he has never felt before. He implies that he wants to continue seeing her, but Faith replies that she could never do that to her “sisters”—she does not betray other women. Emmett offers to call Faith tomorrow strictly about the ad space.
Faith couches her refusal to continue seeing Emmett in her allegiance to feminism—she does not want to be a traitor to her beliefs in sisterhood and community.
The next morning, however, when Emmett calls, he does not bring up the ad. Instead, he tells Faith that his wife confronted him when he returned home the previous night and asked him to tell her everything about the woman he had just been with. Emmett did, and now his wife wants to talk to Faith on the phone. Faith tells Emmett that he is “insane,” but soon she is on the phone with Emmett’s wife, who informs Faith that her husband is “not [hers] for the taking.” Faith hangs up, unable to bear hearing any more.
Though Faith didn’t want to be a traitor to other women, she did inadvertently hurt one of her “sisters” by sleeping with Emmett. As Faith is forced to reckon with what she has done, the shame is almost too much to bear, and she cuts off the phone call with Emmett’s wife early. It seems that Faith, not Emmett, receives most of the reprimanding from Emmett’s wife, suggesting that men face fewer consequences for their actions.
That afternoon at work, Faith tells her fellow editors that there is not going to be any ad money from Nabisco. The women tell her it’s not the end of the world, and that they have possibly secured an advertisement from Dr. Scholl’s. The magazine does well in the next several years, and Faith or her fellow editors frequently appear on late-night talk shows to promote their magazine and its mission. They are often ridiculed but know that it is important to get the word out about their work.
Despite the setback with Emmett, the editors at Bloomer manage to secure ad space—and thus the perpetuation and possibly even the advancement—of their platform. It is difficult work, and society does not see feminism as useful or valuable, but Faith and her “sisters” will not stop fighting for power and recognition.
Faith outshines her fellow editors when it comes to public speaking—she is not necessarily an “ideas person,” but she has a certain unnamable magnetism that catapults her to fame. In 1975, Faith appears on a talk show opposite a famous and misogynistic novelist, who rails against “angry women’s libbers” for asking men to “pay for dinner” or “open this jar,” while claiming to want independence. When it is Faith’s turn to speak, she decides not to appear prim, or angry, or even to laugh along with the audience, who ate up the novelist’s misogynistic tirade. Instead, Faith retaliates, explaining that men are afraid to do women’s work, and this is the reason why they try to keep women from doing “men’s work.” The audience is hooked, and Faith comically announces that “from this day forward, [she] will never buy food in jars again.”
As Faith navigates the rocky terrain of feminist activism, she is aided by her ineffable magnetism and allure. Even in the face of blatant misogyny and cruel treatment, Faith is able to maintain her composure and likability while also advancing her platform. Faith makes herself a valuable asset to the community and brings feminism to the forefront of many discussions in this way.
Faith’s gift for public speaking makes her into a public figure, and as she travels the country and meets with radical women, housewives, and students alike, she learns from women of all backgrounds. When a young interviewer asks Faith what she stands for, she answers simply, “I stand for women.” As Faith becomes increasingly famous, she writes bestselling books and appears on numerous television programs. Every now and again, she thinks of Emmett Shrader—he has started his own venture capital firm and is now a successful billionaire. Occasionally, Faith hears about a “shady project” Emmett gets involved in, but all of his mistakes appear to be “counterbalanced by good.”
As Faith’s career progresses, she amasses more of the power she has always wanted to have. Meanwhile, Emmett Shrader continues to grow in power and influence as well, and as Faith keeps tabs on his career, she does so with a watchful eye and careful attention to how Emmett is choosing to use his constantly growing share of sociopolitical power. Emmett’s occasional “shady project” that is “counterbalanced by good” is also significant, foreshadowing one such project that he ropes Faith and Loci into.
Meanwhile, Annie now goes by Anne McCauley and has become an outspoken conservative political figure in Indiana. She wins a Senate seat on a staunch anti-abortion stance, and every time Faith sees her old friend on television, she wishes the world knew the truth about Annie’s story. Despite everything, however, Faith never tells anyone—it is not her story to share.
Faith and Annie’s divergent paths illustrate the different effects of trauma. Faith knows she must be allegiant to the memory of her friendship with Annie, but the question of whether it makes her a “good” feminist to hide a destructive anti-feminist’s backstory is called into question as the years go by and both women amass power for themselves.
As Faith’s career continues, she becomes aware of her status as an inspirational figure to young women everywhere and makes it her goal to support everyone she can. However, when Bloomer folds in 2010, Faith feels dejected and useless—until Emmett Shrader calls and asks Faith to come to his office for a meeting. When Faith sees Emmett for the first time in years, she feels nostalgic for his lost younger self and for her own lost youth. During the meeting, Emmett tells Faith of his dreams for a women’s foundation—he wants to fund it and have Faith be its public face. Faith expresses concern that Emmett is taking some kind of “moral shortcut” to impress her. Emmett reassures Faith that he is not offering the foundation to her to beguile her—he just wants to do something good. Faith tells Emmett she’ll consider his proposition.
Despite the sociopolitical power she has gained over the years, Faith is not invincible—she is easily affected by the failure of the edifices which have granted her social capital. The chance to take on a new business venture with Emmett is intriguing, but still worrisome to Faith—she is afraid that after all these years, Emmett still just wants to get her into bed. The man assures her, however, that he really does want to do some good in the world—he wants to use his own power, which is very different from Faith’s, to help Faith pursue her goals.
The next day, Faith calls Emmett and expresses her concerns that the foundation will become a high-end lecture bureau that doesn’t actually change the lives of women. She turns Emmett down, but after a long walk in the park, she decides to go to his office and continue the conversation. She tells him that if he wants her to come on board, the organization will have to have a component that allows her to “get out there and do something.” Emmett agrees to the proposition, and the two strike a deal.
Faith is weighing the pros and cons of signing on with Emmett—she knows that the foundation would give her the power do to certain things but would restrict her to others. However, it’s unclear what Faith really wants from the foundation—or for women in general—as Faith simply claims to want to “get out there and do something.” From the very beginning, the venture’s goals are vague and half-baked.
Now, almost five years into Loci’s short life, Faith is finding it increasingly difficult to get her “special projects” off the ground. ShraderCapital is “stingy” with its funds, and additionally, Faith and the entire organization have been criticized and attacked for engaging in “#fingersandwichfeminism”—a hands-off kind of activism that doesn’t actually improve women’s lives. Faith understands the complaints against her, but she is heartened by how well the organization’s summits are doing—even if they have become a sort of who’s-who of the celebrity world and some frivolity has crept in.
The problems Faith knew she would face at Loci have begun to make her journey a difficult one. She understands the criticisms of the organization—as well as criticisms of her personally—but still believes that the positive things about Loci outweigh the negatives, and she is proud to be able to use her power for the advancement of women the world over.
Faith recalls a morning when she found Greer Kadetsky sleeping at her desk and asked her to come into her own office. Greer admitted that she missed writing speeches and the chance to actively engage with real-life women going through real-life struggles. Faith admitted to Greer that she felt in a rut, and Greer cautioned Faith against allowing the summits and events to take on an air of self-satisfaction. The following day, Faith held and office-wide meeting and offered her employees the chance to air their gripes about Loci and make suggestions for how to improve things.
Faith is cautious not to get too caught up in her own power and her own single-minded vision for Loci—especially as she realizes that some of her employees are so bored that they’re falling asleep on the job. In this way, Faith demonstrates that she does care deeply about the organization and wants for it to do as much as possible for the advancement of women.
Afterward, Faith approached Emmett with a new special project she had in mind—to rescue a number of women who were victims of sex trafficking in Ecuador. Faith wanted to connect the women, after their rescue, with mentors, and bring one of the young women to America to give a speech at one of Loci’s summits. Emmett promised to bring Faith’s idea up to his board upstairs.
Faith’s pet project was born of her desire to effect more results immediately, and demonstrate to herself, her employees, and the public that Loci can be a force for tangible good, and not just an echo chamber for wealthy white women.
In June of 2014, Faith was informed that her idea was actually going to come to fruition. She was thrilled—mentorship was “very popular” at the moment, and as all the gears began turning in support of Faith’s vision, she was praised by members of the team who’d be carrying the project out as a “force for good” and an inspiration. A woman named Alejandra Sosa was chosen to head the mentorship program, and after she was formally vetted and the rescue mission had been completed successfully, the women were provided with housing that would enable them to make a fresh start.
Faith has done all the right things in attempting to get her mentorship program off the ground, and she is proud of her own work and excited about the new strides she and her company are going to be making in support of women’s issues. It seems that Faith is kept at arm’s length from her own project, however, foreshadowing events later in the novel.
Now, lying on the massage table, Faith is struck by the idea to turn the keynote speech over to Greer Kadetsky—to let her write it and deliver it at the summit in Los Angeles. Faith wants to give Greer the chance to finally “become her own person,” and knows that giving her the chance to write two speeches—one for herself and one for the Ecuadorian woman Faith is planning to fly in for the summit—will be an incredible opportunity for Greer.
After a long series of flashbacks, the novel returns to the present moment, with Faith getting a massage. As Faith is struck by the idea to use her power in order to lift her favorite mentee, Greer Kadetsky, up even further, Faith is also self-congratulatory. Faith delights in being able to use her power for the advancement of women—and, by proxy, the advancement of herself and her brand.
Faith recalls supporting Greer over the years, as Greer dealt with the emotional fallout of her boyfriend’s brother’s death. Greer bounced back, but now, after four years, Faith thinks that Greer needs a reminder of why she joined Loci in the first place. Plus, Lincoln has a point: Faith is not as young as she used to be, and she needs to be careful about overworking herself. Faith thinks back to her first meeting with Greer at Ryland. She remembers what Greer told her about her parents and reflects on how she and Greer were both disappointed and held back by their parents in similar ways. Faith is grateful she was able to overcome her parents’ having held her back and wants to encourage Greer to be able to do the same.
Faith sees a lot of herself in Greer, and this chapter has done a lot of background work in order to demonstrate that their shared sense of disappointment in their parents is what has bonded Faith to Greer so deeply. Faith now wants Greer to succeed, seeing her potential as an activist, a feminist, and a leader. Faith is using her power to help other women accrue their own power—just what she always wanted to do with her life.