In the past few weeks, I have been reading – partially by intention, partially by whim – a lot of books written specifically for women. Typically, I frown on such books for a couple of reasons that don’t seem to be entirely accurate given my recent reading.
First, I always thought that chic lit was light and fluffy with no real complexity in plot or character. I enjoyed reading Bridget Jones’ Diary in grad school (as part of a cultural studies class on contemporary Britain), and I certainly related to it, but I didn’t find it deeply engaging. Here, I would rather have seen the movie.
But in the recent books I have been reading – Garth Nix’s Abhorsen Trilogy, Jennifer Crusie’s Strange Bedpersons, and Staci and John Eldredge’s Captivating – I find women of depth, idiosyncracy, strength, and contradiction. That’s really nice.
Secondly, I thought most women’s literature, particularly romance novels (of which Crusie’s is one – published by Harlequin under the imprint HQN), portrayed women as weak and unable to move ahead in life without a man to rescue them, take care of them, and save them. While, as is true for many women, I do want that hero, that man who will make it all right, I have never felt that counting on men to do that for me was a wise idea. Sometimes, it has to be about God and me, just the two of us, no knight in shining armor included.
But the books I listed above seem to delve more into the complexities of how contemporary women reconcile their desire for partnership with their own inherent strength and identity. How do we find someone to walk the path of life with without losing ourselves on that person’s path? This question is central to my life – both in dating and in friendship – so it’s really nice to see it explored on the page.
So I must admit my own assumptions about chic lit were biased and shallow, and I am glad to see them broadened and challenged. I’m not sure lots of chic lit will be on my list – I still love those “literary” novels – but at least now I’m more open to it. Open is good.
Yet, I do wish a couple of things for these books. First, I wish there were more same sex relationships represented – either erotic relationships or simple friendships; this seems an area where our female authors are failing us a bit. The complexities of how women relate to one another are beautiful, and I’d love to see that explored more.
Secondly, I’d like to see “chic lit” that explores how a woman bolsters herself up after things with a partner don’t work out. We seem to have some nonfiction doing that (see my reviews of Drunk, Divorced, and Covered in Cat Hair and Blue Jelly), but I don’t know of (enlighten me if you will) of fiction that does the same. Unfortunately, the people we partner our lives with disappoint us and fail us sometimes (just as we disappoint and fail them), so I think some explorations of how to grieve the loss of those relationships without ignoring our anger or letting it turn into bitterness would be something well worth our time and writing energy.
My next book is Mosse’s Labyrinth a tale of strong women again. Maybe I’ll find some more of the things I’m looking for in it’s pages.
– Captivating by John and Staci Eldredge