Monday, January 14, 2008

Chick Lit Short Takes

Oh shit, I've just gone and pissed of Jennifer Weiner, who hates having her work called "chick lit." Since I like her, I don't really want to do that. I do feel, though, that her stuff is chick lit with heart...chick lit with a twist?....chick lit for real chicks? At any rate, it's definitely a cut above the stuff that Plum Sykes and her ilk churn out endlessly. Weiner's women are real. They're not all rich, they're not all skinny, and there's more ambivalence than pure "happily ever after."

Her best-known book is Good in Bed. Unfortunately, no library system on planet earth, or at least in upstate New York, carries it. I've often wondered why. The branch I grew up with had an odd penchant for acquiring lesser-known works by an author and passing up their best-sellers. You could get The Risk Pool by Richard Russo, but not Empire Falls or Nobody's Fool. They carried Martin Chuzzlewit, but not A Tale of Two Cities or Great Expectations. They carried books 2, 3, and 5 of the six-volume Tales of the City series by Armistead Maupin. So I wasn't unfamiliar with this quirk the first time I encountered it, but it seems to be everywhere. The only reason I can think of is the title, but the fact that I just checked out a book called The Porno Girl kind of blows that theory away. At any rate, while I haven't read Good in Bed, I have read most of the rest of her books: In her Shoes, Little Earthquakes,Goodnight Nobody, and now, The Guy Not Taken.

Merin Wexler could learn something from this collection, for I believe this is what she was trying to do: women at pivotal moments. Weiner's collection feels more organic. It's not all "lookz at me an' my cool idea LOL!!1!!11!!!1" She starts with the characters, and the stories develop naturally from there, until they feel like people you've always known, telling you about simple stuff that happened to them. In an afterward to the book, Weiner explains that she'd been working on the stories in the collection since she was in college and writing a lot to get over her parents' divorce. She managed to keep the sincerity a young adult would naturally bring to her work, yet add enough polish so that no one feels like they're reading someone's diary.

The collection is fun and upbeat, but manages to bring in the ambiguity of real life. Couples don't always stay together. New mothers aren't always thrilled about their babies. Fathers walk away and never return, not even for the wedding. Even the happy couples aren't perfect. I read once that part of the reason for the high divorce rate is high expectations. Many people have this belief that romance and marriage will make their lives perfect. When they get married and still aren't happy all the time, they walk away. Weiner's books, then, are an appropriate amount of realism for this overhyped world: sometimes warm, sometimes fuzzy, occasionally alternating between warm and fuzzy, often neither warm or fuzzy, but once in a great while, just for a moment, both warm and fuzzy at once. The reader savors the sweetness of that rarity, rather than choking on the cloying, overpowering sweetness to be found in much of chick lit.


Keetha said...

I've read "Good in Bed" and "In Her Shoes." I love the way you describe Weiner's story collection - I need to check out more of her work.

Have you read Russo's "Bridge of Sighs" by chance? I've heard mixed reviews.

Melissa said...

Weiner is an absolute favorite of mine, starting with "Good in Bed" She is the voice of every woman, in a weird way. I don't see her characters as jewish middle class women, I see them as me always wanting more yet not quite knowing what that more is. The ending of "Goodnight, Nobody" fits perfectly with what you wrote, there is no happy ending, we don't even know the ending because the main character is still figuring it out. You should check out her website. Plus, check out Delores Phillip's book " The Darkest Child" it's cruel and beautiful, you will enjoy it. Also read The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards. The writing style is different than Barbra Kingsolver's but do you rememeber all the repressed emotion of Codi's father and the heaviness of the secrets? This book is rich with it. I wanted to rage at the main characters for not opening up or letting go. Enjoy Chica.