In Let’s Get Physical: How Women Discovered Exercise and Reshaped the World, Danielle Friedman sets out to do something ambitious. Friedman chronicles the rise of women’s exercise in the 20th century, the pioneers and the programs that rose to prominence and became cultural obsessions, as well as the overall trend towards health and fitness. Friedman argues that women came to exercise for aesthetic rewards, the goal being to look good, but that women stuck with exercise because it made them feel good.
Freidman begins her story in the 1950’s when the first calisthenics style exercises for women became popular. Bonnie Pruden was one of the first to become nationally known for encouraging women to “keep fit”. Her work on fitness for women and children would lead her to be on the team that later created the President’s Physical Fitness Test (yes, you have Bonnie to blame for that rope climb). After Bonnie, Freidman takes us through a tour of fitness trends from barre to jogging, yoga to Jane Fonda. This is the part that Freidman does well. We’re given lots of interesting facts and tidbits about the history of fitness. Before “athleisure” was an everyday word we had the women who invented the sports bra. (One of those women would go on to win several Emmy’s for her work costuming the Muppets on Sesame Street.) It’s fun to see how trends emerged and how fitness influencers like Jane Fonda reflect bigger societal and cultural patterns.
Friedman tries to explain that these fitness fads, and indeed all personal fitness, is largely aimed at middle class women who have the leisure time and money to devote to fitness essentials. However, other than asserting this fact time and time again Friedman doesn’t offer a lot of context or definitive proof. She does feature a few Black influencers and talks to them to uncover their struggles to “make it” in a world where no one looked like them. I would have liked to hear more from these women and other women who don’t fit the traditional mold of what an influencer typically looks like. Freidman also states repeatedly that women often come to exercise for physical transformation, but stick with it because it transforms their mental.
It’s 1991 and Charlie Jordan is having the worst year of her life. Her best friend and college roommate Maddie was murdered by a suspected serial killer and Charlie has retreated into a fantasy world to deal with her grief and guilt. Charlie was with Maddie the night she died, but after a fight Charlie left her friend and went home. Maddie’s body was found a few days later.
Despite the care and attention of a loyal boyfriend, Charlie feels she has to get away from campus to start to heal, so she calls a number on the local ride share board and snags a ride back to Ohio with a man named Josh. Charlie assumes Josh is a fellow student, but as they begin their journey Charlie starts to feel like Josh’s stories don’t add up. Soon Charlie begins to suspect that Josh is the serial killer responsible for the murder of her best friend and she has to figure out a way to survive this night and save herself.
I thoroughly enjoyedSurvive the Night and found the premise to be unique. This is a book that could only have taken place in the early nineties, because with the advent of cell phones and GPS a lot of Charlie’s struggles could have been avoided. But Sager knows this and tries to make the most out of setting this thriller in the not-so-distant past. Music and cultural events of the era weave throughout the book, with grunge band Nirvana playing a role in the plot development.
This book has a fast moving story and plenty of twists and turns to keep you engaged. Charlie’s way of dealing with her grief and pain has been to place herself inside a classic film instead of facing the events in front of her. This makes Charlie an unreliable narrator. You’re sometimes not sure if what is happening is really happening, or if it is what’s happening in the movie in Charlie’s head. I didn’t love the side plot about Charlie’s mental disassociations to deal with her pain and grief, but it works to move the story along.