The Society of Shame – Jane Roper

The Society of Shame is a clever satire. Kathleen Held, wife of a progressive US Senate candidate, Bill Held, returns home in a taxi to find her garage on fire, her husband near the conflagration with his pants down, and the woman her husband was with, nearby, decidedly disheveled. After saving the family dog, the cab driver takes a money shot of the scene, Kathleen’s back to him. She has a huge patch of menstrual blood on her pants and, before we know it, the picture goes viral and a movement in support of women’s menstruation and menopause takes off on social media. #yeswebleed.

Kathleen, a formerly aspiring writer and current copy editor is aghast. She fears her nerdy middle school daughter Aggie will be hurt, not just by her parents’ separation, but by the spotlight being on her mother for such an embarrassing reason. And then, Aggie gets involved in the “movement,” and starts to find herself. Kathleen, we will find, gets tangled up with The Society of Shame as marches are organized and women are lobbying for free menstrual supplies. What Kathleen does next becomes a commentary on our culture, but always on the edge of being sympathetic and critical at the same time. It’s a scarily believable story. It’s also a look into how a person with deep values might slip off the rails for a bit and find there is more to her than meets the eye.

The Society of Shame is a coming of middle age story for a woman in a very public crises. It is a story of a family and the angst of the mother-daughter relationship as the daughter starts to really see her parents for who they are. Aggie is a great character. Being a satire, the novel goes over the top here and there, although Roper doesn’t go quite as far as some. She strives to keep the humanity even in a teenage boy who went viral for showing up in a couple’s wedding pictures when he was mooning a friend. It’s a commentary as well on how different people come to understand why they have been publicly shamed and how to handle this. I liked the concept very much and think Roper was very complete in the various ways going viral might look. The story had some boring moments toward the middle but all in all it was a strong 4.5.

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