Monday, October 6, 2014

Light Women's Literature

Recently, I've been listening to audiobooks checked out from the Front Range Online Library, whose selection of available titles isn't always great. As a result, I've listened to several novels that I'd call light women's literature; I'd call it that to avoid the name "chick lit," which I know many authors and probably some readers find offensive. However, when you've read these books, you recognize that there is indeed a genre in which women's stories are told in a humorous or light-hearted fashion, even when the stories involve such serious issues as drug addiction, hoarding, bigamy, widowhood, and raising children under difficult circumstances. While relationships with family and friends are common to the books, so, quite often, is the search for a mate.

Examples: Family Pictures, by Jane Green, is the story of two women who discover--in a totally implausible way--that they are married to the same man, who has disappeared and ruined both of them financially. His first wife Maggie is an obnoxious social climber who pays little attention to her children; the second wife Sylvie seems more genuine and kind, but her daughter is anorexic. The women, again implausibly, become friends and help each other carve out new lives. Maggie is so transformed and Sylvia becomes successful in business so easily that the reader loses any sense that the story is real.

Objects of My Affection, by Jill Smolinski, has a more interesting premise. Lucy has sold everything to pay for drug rehab for her teenage son Ash. Dumped by her boyfriend and sharing a room with her best friend's toddler, Lucy jumps at a job helping a famous artist, a hoarder, organize her belongings. Unfortunately, Lucy is an idiot who is continually manipulated by her son and seems incapable of making good decisions. Only when she reunites with her old boyfriend does she find the ability to stand up to her son, which trivializes the difficulty of dealing with a child's addiction.

Bridget Jones: Mad about the Boy, by Helen Fielding (godmother of chick lit), is the worst of the three. Heroine Bridget is now 50 and has been tragically widowed (Mark Darcy was killed by an IED in Darfur); she has two young children, Billy and Mabel, that she is raising alone, with the help of the cast of friends well-known from the earlier books. Unfortunately, Bridget does not seem to have matured one whit--she continues to obsess about men and her weight. She now documents not only her weight and alcohol, tobacco, and food intake, she also writes in her diary about her twitter followers, texts received from potential admirers, and the like.  She cannot seem to get to school to pick up her children on time or to organize their homework. How does she emerge from this mess? She finds a man (and the reader can predict early on which man it will be)!! Ugh.

These three thumbnails highlight another deficit of light women's literature--many of the protagonists are annoying characters--not evil, but silly, incompetent, and/or so less than wise than it seems almost criminal.  I don't mind light reading--after all, I read dozens of mysteries. But unbelievable and/or predictable plots that trivialize serious issues and feature unsympathetic characters sap the enjoyment one might get from reading these books.

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