“new” “chick” “lit”
Posted August 15, 2009on:
I think this Jezebel headline says it all: Is “New Chick Lit” Just a Different Kind of Obnoxious?:
These tales of women overcoming obstacles to live independently of men and their bank accounts certainly sound inspiring — except that the obstacles aren’t really that big. In fact, it seems that divorce and financial devastation usually cause the heroines to do something fun and hip that they really wanted to do anyway. When her parents take away her credit cards, Mercury in Retrograde’s Lena “Lipstick” Lippencrass “discovers a talent for fashion design” — that noted path to financial security. The heroine of The Summer Kitchen is “forced to open a bakery,” also usually a capital-intensive and uncertain enterprise, at least in the real world. And Jill Kargman’s The Ex-Mrs. Hedgefund, has its heroine, post-divorce, “picking up the threads of a career built on her first love, rock ‘n’ roll.” These women don’t have to scrimp and save in menial jobs — instead, they embark on glamorous careers, with the implication that their lives are now more fulfilling than they were in the days of easy marital money.
It makes me think of that episode of Sex and the City in which Carrie goes apartment hunting only to find that things in her price range are tiny. The first time I saw it, I thought that it was maybe the first episode of the whole darn series that showed my New York. Carrie looks in a tiny closet and wonders where she’ll keep her shoes. Yeah, welcome to life for the rest of us. You may recall that the episode ends when Charlotte gives Carrie the money she needs to buy her old apartment, thus solving the problem handily in a half hour.
In other words, it’s hard to look at the plots of these books and not think, “Oh, you have slightly less disposable income so you pursue your dream job. Such problems!” This is appealing how?
The chick lit genre doesn’t deserve across-the-board opprobrium — at their best, these novels can be witty and wise, and their popularity supports many a female writer. But chick lit writers may be unconsciously buying into women’s magazine culture, with its idea that reading should inspire desire — for more stuff, or, in the new, recession-era formulation, for a life that is glamorous even in fallback mode. It’s neither realistic nor necessary to ask that writers produce only what Benfer calls “Great and Difficult works of art,” or that all chick lit novels be about unmitigated pain and suffering. But, as author Gigi Levangie Grazer says, “the idea that having the right bag buys you happiness-now that’s dark.” And there’s something dark, too, about the notion that even in a recession, heroines need to be better off than their readers. Do chick lit consumers want to read about working-class families dealing with layoffs, or women who find fulfillment in jobs that aren’t traditionally “cool”? We don’t know, because those books aren’t being written — yet.