This book was a bit of a slow burn for me. In the beginning, I felt like I had read the story before in other books, such as Marilyn French's The Women's Room. The story of Meridian's sexual awakening was very evocative of aspects of this book. But the book really grew on me and the initial similarity I detected to French's book did not stop the book from heading off in its own direction.
I did wish that Meridian struggled more against Alden's 'straight-jacketing'. But I had to remind myself that this was a story about my Grandmother's generation, and such rebellion was not common, in fact it was decidedly uncommon. Church's description of this as 'subterranean chauvinism' is quite accurate. This term nicely encapsulates the implicit assumptions that go with social conditioning and an unquestioning acceptance of the mores of the day.
The tension in this story is that while Meridian did seem to submit to a large degree, she still continued questioning these mores, something which Alden never did. It was this continued questioning that primed her for her blossoming in the second half of her life. It probably also provided her with the wherewithal to move forward in this part of her life and not be subsumed by her change of circumstances.
I think one message that can be taken from this is that while true love doesn't necessarily die under the weight of 'subterranean chauvinism', the million little deaths that a person can experience in the face of demeaning and disempowering implicit assumptions about their place and their capacities, means that the relationship never soars and exists in a stunted state. And I believe that's what happened with her relationship with Alden. It wasn't until he was gone and society had undergone it's own transformation in relation to a woman's place, that Meridian found the strength to find meaning in her own way. While Meridian and Clay's love was genuine, he was a catalyst or a bridge to her effecting her growth on her own terms, her sexual growth being merely the first step.
There is some lovely, restrained writing in the book as well, such as the crow funeral, very touching. All in all, I found it to be a surprisingly good book and did not expect it to move me in the way that it did.