A tale of two chick lits.
26 August 2013
For whatever reason, I've always really enjoyed "chick lit."
For those of you not familiar with these publishing and librarian-ish subgenres, chick lit is a type of romance that typically focuses on female protagonists in their twenties and thirties, typically features a romance story plot of some kind, but also showcases a character's work, friendships, and surroundings (which, in a disproportionate amount of these books, is New York City*). This is my definition, and it's not a perfect one, but I'm using it because I think the Wikipedia page on chick lit is pretty weak. Two books widely cited as premiere examples of this genre are Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary and Melissa Bank's The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing, and those two also happen to be two of my all-time favorite novels.
by Jane Green
So every now and then I get a real jones to read some good chick lit, which is surprisingly hard to find.** I know most of the tools librarians use to help readers find books by genre and type, but for the most part I am too lazy to use them. As a general rule I just seek out authors who I know from past experience are "known" as chick lit authors, or, if I'm in a really scientific mood, I go scan my library shelves for books that "look" chick-litty. So when I brought home two chick-lit novels last month, I found one using the former method, and one using the latter.
The first one I read was Jane Green's Jemima J, which I picked out because I'd always heard a lot about Jane Green (in a good way) and I thought I should give one of hers a try. The story is: Jemima Jones is (way) overweight and helplessly in love with a man with whom she works. Eventually, thanks to the wonders of the Internet (which is new in her workplace--the novel was published in 2001), she meets a man online who lives in L.A., and who invites her to come stay. But this is after she has sent him a retouched photo of herself as a thin woman, so she resolves to lose the weight--and does. She goes to L.A., and, well...things do not turn out quite as she planned.
This novel was okay, but for the most part I really, really dislike novels and romances where the main character loses weight and all of a sudden they are completely gorgeous. Now, losing weight if you need to is always very nice, but how many people actually go from obese to stunners? Not as many as the chick lit and romance genres would sometimes have you believe. Also: it was nearly 400 pages long. Too long.
by Aurelie Sheehan
The other novel, Aurelie Sheehan's The Anxiety of Everyday Objects***, was much slimmer and stranger. It focuses on Winona Bartlett, a legal secretary with dreams of someday becoming an independent filmmaker. In this one the romance really took a backseat to the work drama at the law office where Winona works; she gets a new boss in the form of attorney Sandy Spires, who is a real go-getter (and who also happens to be blind) but who ultimately turns out not to be a good role model for Winona. I liked this one, but it was a rather strange read: it took a long time to get going, and then all of a sudden it was over with everything resolved rather too neatly, including the almost completely absent love story. There was nothing wrong with the writing, though:
"All good secretaries will eventually find truth in the hearts of men.
Winona Bartlett, Win to her friends, might not have been the world's best secretary, but her nature was such that serving, subservience, and coffee service came easily, and, in fact, she felt there was an inherent good in doing things well, and this determination more than equaled her actual interest in the long-term prospects at Grecko Mauster Crill. She practiced her secretarial role as a Zen meditation; what role she was more suited to remained a mystery, though she was now nearly thirty." (p. 3.)
It's good writing, but sometimes I couldn't tell if the book was literary fiction, or chick lit, or what. It was just a little puzzling. For the record, Mr. CR read this one too (don't ask me why; all summer he's been reading things I never would have thought he'd read) and had much the same reaction.
So there you have it. I've satisfied my chick lit need for a while; back to nonfiction now.
*This is not a problem, and is actually a large part of the draw, if you love New York City, which I do.
**Can anyone suggest a good blog or other resource that lists books of these type?
***Speaking of covers, I'll admit I was intrigued that this one had a blurb from Richard Russo on it.