CW: Sexual assault questioning, eating disorder
In Gervais Hagerty’s debut novel, In Polite Company, Simons Smythe is a young woman working as a news producer. She was born and bred in Charleston, South Carolina to a sophisticatedly societal family. Her engagement to Trip makes her question many of the life choices pressured particularly by her mother. Trip is the kind of man who wears the starched khaki shorts, brings a comb to keep his hair in place, and checks every box on her mother’s list. He is a safe option for Simons, who is supposed to marry, have children, and be in polite company, which is to do what feels right at the moment even as it contradicts the feeling.
Simons discovering her body and joys through breaking the expectations of marriage is one of the intriguing plot points. She is surrounded by tradition as she watches her older sister prepare to give birth and her younger sister debut into society. She learns about herself through the men she dates, which is the point of dating. Simons’ biting humor carries the story along. I want a book just about Laudie, Simons’ beloved grandmother. Laudie is lively, fun, and a portal for Simons to explore her interests. She was a ballerina, who continued to practice on the barre in her home. After a dire health incident, Laudie is basically cast as bedridden by her anxious husband and daughter. Yet she still practices.
Martha, Simons’ friend, is a great contrast to Simons, who feels pressured to be like Martha even as it is an idea of her. Fun, free, wild, and go with the band. Martha’s spirit gives Simons the sexual courage to sleep with a couple of men when she is on a break from Trip. The evolution of their friendship reveals who Simons becomes in the story’s course.
As Simons recognizes herself through dating instead of the hunt for marriage, she is getting out of polite company and into the messy and realistic parts of life. In one sexual encounter, she questioned if she was being sexually assaulted. It is an honest moment that reads with much action and internal control of Simons’ thoughts.
Charleston is written beautifully and attests to the author Gervais Hagerty’s love for the place she is from. The descriptions of the neighborhoods are soft and specific. The names, Weezy, Tito, Laudie, Trip, feel characteristically to the city or at least the lifestyle.
Bookmark or not?:
I enjoyed understanding another way of feminism through Simons’ story, especially her often insecure thoughts between how she was raised and how she begins to view the world beyond her sheltered square of marriage, children, family preservation, and societal expectations. The multi-generational breath of the book is wonderful as Laudie and Simons are different from Simons’ mother. The relationships and its differences are vital. Through Laudie and her mother, Simons sees the woman she wants to become. I admire that Simons’ takes the time to be rebellious and make mistakes. She is not latching onto her youth as a speedway to the finish line of matrimony and to continue the bloodline or as a way to justify her actions. She is also an ambitious career woman with a sound heart and conscious spirit.
I recommend that you bookmark In Polite Company.