I picked up “Friday” by Robert Heinlein from the library in early April. I didn’t have a strong preference for what I wanted to read and when I saw a familiar author’s name, I thought I would give the book a try. I enjoyed “Stranger in a Strange Land” and “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” because the story lines were interesting and I expected the same from this novel.
Alas, it was not to be.
I only finished this book because I want to get in the habit of writing posts about what I am reading and my thoughts on the books.
The only thing I liked was the quick-paced quality of Friday’s (the main character, female) voice. The book is told in first person, and the writing really moves. I read the first paragraph out loud to my husband because I was delighted at how it was done.
The disappointing thing is that usually with first person point of view, you get a deeper sense of character. Not so much with Friday. I tried to rationalize that as an artificial person (“her mother was a test tube, and her father was a knife”), maybe lack of depth of character was a choice Heinlein made to emphasize that fact that she wasn’t human. However, much of the book tries to reinforce that no-one can tell an artificial person from a natural born human, so that idea didn’t seem to fit for me. The lack of depth made it hard for me to connect to the character or care what happened to her or anyone else in the book.
I also did not feel that the story was engaging. The whole book reads like freewriting where the character goes here and there and there is no through-line or rhyme or reason to it all. Troubles come and go. Things happened that were never explained and made no sense. I suppose that was what bothered me – the story did not go anywhere! And the ending felt contrived in order to wrap it all up in a tidy way that didn’t seem to fit with anyone’s character up until that point.
After I finished the book, I was curious what others had thought of it so I read a bunch of reviews. A lot of people blasted it because Friday basically has sex with just about every man she encounters (women come onto her and she kisses them, but doesn’t go any further) and even relates to people as if her having sex with them is a way to thank them if they have helped her out.
I did not have an issue with the sex-with-everyone thing (that could just be character), so much as the over-the-top obsession people had with the female body. In one scene, after Friday is rescued from a group of men that had gang-raped her and damaged her body, Friday’s boss tells her that reconstruction surgery will be performed so that she would be back in her perfect form – he spent quite a bit of time emphasizing over and over that her breasts had been perfect and would be so again. It was a weird conversation and only seemed to be written in order to talk about her breasts a bit longer.
Nearly every man (and woman) Friday encounters admires her body. Maybe it is really just that attractive, but it seems done more to appeal to male readers. Something that supports that idea is that although Friday is more attracted to men than women, we do not get any descriptions of how gorgeous the men are (and the story is first person so we totally should get some of that!). Instead, Friday always seems to be admiring the forms of females she encounters. Very strange, indeed.
In short, I was not a fan of this novel. I think Heinlein had the beginnings of an interesting character – an artificial person that feels social injustice and has secret agent skills and super-human strength. However, instead of letting her live and grow into what she would become on her own, he hijacked her experience to force her to live in a way that felt gratuitous.
The best thing I can take from this book is that I never want to do that to one of my characters.