Tuesday, October 16, 2007

On Chick Lit and Girl Cooks

I know I keep coming back to Citizen Girl as an example of chick lit at its worst, so much so that many of you may be wondering why I can't just get over what a bad book it was (clearly, you've never read it if you have!) But it loomed large in my imagination as I dived into Girl Cook by Hannah McCouch. For this is the book that the wretched Citizen Girl should've been.

The book interested me because I've really enjoyed the past two seasons of "Top Chef" on Bravo. It just impresses the hell out of me, how the contestants are given a few ingredients, some loose parameters and a couple of hours and always pull off something amazing (well, except for the time on season 2 when Sam tried to scramble eggs on a grill and they fell in the sand). So I picked it up when I noticed it at the library and fell in love with the heroine.

Layla Mitchner is a tough, intense Cordon Bleu grad coping with the rampant sexism in the world of food. She is starting from the bottom in the garde manger, creating salads and scooping ice cream. Her immediate career goal is to make it to the sauté station, where sous chefs are made, but her boss will never promote her, tolerating a bullying, thieving coke fiend in the position instead. The sexism and misogyny are much better done and more subtle than what G encountered throughout her meandering journey (although I could've done without the scene where the coked-up sauté guy sticks his dick in Layla's face). For one thing, it is actually aimed at Layla, whereas G was basically walking around looking for stuff to be offended by. For another, Layla's response is much more admirable. G got pissy and whiny; Layla fought back. She sticks it out at her miserable job as long as she can humanly stand it, giving it her all the entire time, and makes an exit that's both professional and worthy of remembrance.

She applies similar gutsiness to her love life. Since you can't have a chick lit book without a romance, Layla courts two men during the course of the book. One is rich and preppy, but nice, and the other is a bohemian grungy jackass. But in both situations, she is mistress of her own destiny. When the jackass invites her to a ski weekend in Vermont, she's determined to not only pay her own way, but to bring it on the slopes. When she gets set up with the preppy guy, she doesn't hesitate to cut out when she starts to find him dull. She speaks three languages and has fully grown up from being a wealthy playgirl to an independent woman when her father cut her off. It doesn't take you long to get firmly on Layla's side, so when she succeeds, you're not only pleased, but you're not even surprised, and not only because the book is following the formula.

Make no mistake. This is not really one to put on the shelf with your James Joyce and Shakespeare, it's really not. It's chick lit with all of its classic elements: the Gay Friend, the Drama Queen Mom, the Prince Charming, the Over-the-Top Fairy Tale Ending. But it is a quality book, as well as being a fun read, which is often difficult to find in chick lit. To all chicks looking for an escape from the slings and arrows of life, I recommend Girl Cook as your next hideout.

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