By Heidi Stevens Chicago Tribune
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Columnist Heidi Stevens takes a look at Gabrielle Zevin's new novel, "Young Jane Young". Inspired by the Monica Lewinsky saga and its aftermath, the book tells the story of Aviva Grossman, a congressional intern from South Florida who has an affair with her married boss, U.S. Rep. Aaron Levin.
I've thought a lot about Monica Lewinsky.
How her affair with Bill Clinton affected the course of subsequent elections.
How she was treated.
How I might have processed the scandal if it happened when I was a 42-year-old mother who sees shades of gray, rather than a self-righteous 23-year-old who sees mostly black and white.
How's she's doing, I mean really doing, now.
Gabrielle Zevin's new novel, "Young Jane Young" (Algonquin), has me thinking about her from five new angles.
Inspired by the Lewinsky saga and its aftermath, the book tells the story of Aviva Grossman, a congressional intern from South Florida who has an affair with her married boss, U.S. Rep. Aaron Levin.
"The details of the affair, which were as tawdry and cliched and human as you would expect, were on every local news channel and newspaper for months," Zevin writes. "One station even had a recurring segment called Avivawatch, as if she were a hurricane or an orca that had mysteriously beached itself."
Characters reference Lewinsky, as in this conversation between Aviva's mother and her dinner date, who doesn't realize he's out with Aviva's mother: "Well, Rach, she was like Monica Lewinsky. The girl knew he was married and she seduced him. I guess she was drawn to the power or the limelight. Or maybe she was insecure. ... It's a real shame. Levin's been a solid congressman. He might have been the first Jewish president if not for that farkakte girl."
The book is told from five different perspectives: Aviva's mother, Aviva's later-in-life adopted persona (Jane Young), Aviva's daughter, the congressman's wife and, finally, intern Aviva.
It's brilliant and hilarious, and it makes you wince in recognition, for the double-standard that relegates scandalized women to a life of shame even as their married lovers continue with their careers (and often their marriages), for the insatiable appetite we have for every last detail, for the ease and speed with which we stop seeing people as multilayered humans.
"Fifteen years later, Levin's still in Congress," Zevin writes. "Aviva Grossman, whose resume included a dual degree in political science and Spanish literature from the University of Miami, a tenaciously googleable blog, and of course that infamous stint as an intern, couldn't get a job. They didn't put a scarlet letter on her chest, but they didn't need to. That's what the internet is for."
In a Publishers Weekly interview, Zevin talked about her own perceptions of Lewinsky shifting and evolving.
"That scandal happened when I was in my early 20s," Zevin said. "She seemed slutty to me then, but now, as a grown woman, I think it's crazy to even imagine the president of the free world abusing power in that way."
She called the book "not as much a political novel as it is a feminist one."
The five main characters are among my favorite of any recent novel I've read. Each is resilient, brave, intelligent, witty and flawed, human, in other words.
It's the sort of book that invites us to examine our long-held beliefs and perceptions. It asks us to imagine, for a moment, another perspective and delivers us the storyline to do so.
It hands us characters who are at odds with one another and peels back their layers to reveal the thing they have in common.
It has a heart. And a spine.
It's exactly, I would argue, what we need more of right now.