Tag Archives: Chic Lit

Beach Book a Bust

girls-on-a-beach-106193I recently picked up Meg Donohue’s All the Summer Girls for two reasons: I wanted to read an example of contemporary women’s fiction, aka Chic Lit, and I was headed off to the Cape for a beach vacation, and thought it an apt title.  I was disappointed on both counts.  The story centers around three very different women in their late twenties who have been life-long friends.  One summer on the beach in Avalon (NJ), an event occurred which changed each of them.  Now, years later, they come together again to the same beach, each harboring their own secrets.  The book is told through the first person of each of the three: Kate, a controlling lawyer who has just been dumped by her fiance, Dani, a writer who has sabotaged her efforts with drugs and alcohol, and Vanessa, an art gallery owner who has recently given up her career for motherhood and is perhaps resenting her decision.  The strongest drawn character of the three is Dani, who is portrayed in a sympathetic manner.  I found the others two-dimensional and, frankly, I just didn’t care much about their problems.  The climax of the novel–the big reveal which we are teased with throughout the first 200 or so pages–is each woman’s participation or guilt over the accidental death of Kate’s brother during the summer of their junior year in college.  After all the build-up, the uncovered secrets and buried guilt is a big yawn.  The author delivers some nice descriptions of the beach, she crafts some beautiful turns of phrase to describe internal experiences, but much too much of her work is “telling” us about the three women instead of “showing.” Not having read Donohue’s other title, How to Eat a Cupcake, based on this one, I’ll pass on dessert.

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Why Do ChickLit Writers Sell Out?

objectsCoverI just finished a novel by Jill Smolinski entitled “Objects of My Affection.”  Looking at her other works and the blurbs on the back of this and other novels, I would assume she is firmly categorized in the “chic-lit” genre.  Too bad.  First of all, I detest what has come to be called chic-lit, because it undoubtedly follows this formula:  emotional basket case of a heroine down on her luck and recently dumped by a man, surrounded by snarky and shallow fellow female characters mistakenly called friends, all seemingly concerned with their next hook-up despite the world falling apart around them, and gratuitous references to certain name recognition shoes or long guilt trips over amounts of food consumed.  Who cares?  Obviously someone, because it sells.  This novel and this writer have great potential.  The story concerns a down-on-her luck gal, Lucy Bloom, who has been recently dumped by long-term live-in, has sold her home to finance her son’s drug rehab treatment, and has taken, in desperation, a job to clean out the home of a reclusive and crazy hoarder.  The book deals with a lot of interesting issues surrounding the meaning of possessions, the ability to let go, personal sacrifice for others… and author Jill Smolinski has some talent to bring to bear and carry the reader along on this crazy tale.  Most notably, she  believably crafts the persona of Marva Meier Rios, an eccentric artist has-been who displays more personality than all the other characters combined. Smolinski’s  has the skill to tell her tale in a unique voice which is cheeky, breezy, and fun, but  sadly, she sells out by including insipid sexy scenes with a hot moving man (really? the character is consumed with what she is wearing in preparation for boinking some guy she hardly knows when she is essentially homeless and her son is flunking out of rehab?), and portrays her heroine, Lucy, as a helpless ditz all too often.  I think Smolinski has sold herself short as a writer.  She could produce a novel that deals with serious issues, but still maintain her fun and trendy tone, without having to resort to the commercial fiction chic-lit tropes. I’m just sayin’.

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Chic Lit: From Flawed to Frivilous

I recently finished reading The Three Weissmanns of Westport, a novel by Cathleen Schine.  It is summer, the book was described as “a clever, frothy novel” (The New Yorker) and containing “so much zest for life in this novel that you can only imagine how much fun Schine had writing it.” (Carol Memmott, USA Today).  I cannot imagine, it seems, what Memmott’s idea of ‘fun’ might be, because this was certainly not it.  I was looking forward to a summer novel about three women, not quite a beach read, but something light, quirky, fun–maybe even capable of producing a few smiles… Instead, I found that I had to force myself to return to the story of three dysfunctional women who spend over a year in a cramped beach house, getting on each other’s nerves, pining after men who don’t want them, and continuing to spend at a standard of living they can no longer afford.  The story centers around a cosseted older woman whose husband has left her after forty-eight years of marriage.  Her two daughters join her in her beach house exile–one who is heading for bankruptcy and a broken heart from a charismatic young neighbor,  and another who is the family’s “responsible conscience,” to the extent that she finds herself unable to enjoy life.   I give full marks to the author’s ability to capture the poignant moments in life and make them real (almost too real), and her prose is lyrical and elegant, especially as she describes the changes in season and natural landscape surrounding the three women throughout the year.  The story has been described as a new take on Sense and Sensibility, however, I found it to be much more similar to Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” — a tale of people paralyzed by indecision, unfulfilled longing, ennui, and just plain boredom.

But now I turn to the issue of “Chic Lit,” and whether “The Weissmanns” would fit into this genre.   The term was coined in possibly the 1980’s and has been described as literature that addresses the issues of modern womanhood, often in a humorous and lighthearted manner. (I guess ‘Weissmanns would fit if you thought it was humous.)  I think most often when people hear ‘Chic Lit,’ they think of works such as Sophie Kinsella’s “Shopaholic” series, Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jone’s Diary or Jennifer Weiner’s In Her Shoes.  What these all have in common is a “modern” woman’s approach to the same old age-old issues.  I recently read Twenties Girl by Kinsella, and although it was a fun “caper” kind of story (her great aunt’s ghost comes back to haunt her until she helps find a lost necklace and uncovers a family secret), a great chunk of the plot revolves around the main character, Lara’s, quest to win back her old boyfriend in the most pathetic, cringe-worthy scenes.  So often the character expends so much energy trying to connive her way out of a situation, instead of direct confrontation.  It, like “Bridget Jones” and others in this regard almost seem  like “I Love Lucy” episodes set in a more modern context, where the main character plots and connives and uses “feminine wiles” to trick some poor male sap into doing what she wants.  How refreshing it would have been if just once we would see Lucy walk up to Ricky and negotiate a part in his show on her merit and the fact that he owed her that much!  So, Chic Lit is really nothing new, just the same themes set in a more modern setting.  That being said, by our working definition, it does run the gambit from more satirical to downright looney.  And all the time I’m reading these stories  I am wondering why so much time and energy and ink is devoted to justifying the buying of shoes, eating of chocolate, having one’s nails done, etc etc etc.  If it is so obvious, why so much time devoted to examining the just causes for doing so?  I don’t get it, but then again, maybe I  will have to turn in my “female membership club” card.    I have read a Chic Lit recently that did resonate with me…  On the occasion of Nora Ephron’s passing a few weeks ago (When Harry Met Sally, You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle...), I picked up her book “I Feel Bad About My Neck and other thoughts on being a woman.”  I thought, “Ugh-oh, this could be more blathering about the need for botox treatments and Jimmy Choo shoes for survival…” but I was refreshingly mistaken.  Ephron laid down a courageous, sarcastic, caustically funny and laser-focused examination of growing old (gracefully!) as a professional woman and parent.  I won’t spoil any of her essays, but my favorite was one about finding a new purse.  I see it as an allegory for her life. In the end, after several failed attempts and gobs of money spent, she ends up with a hideous yellow and blue plastic sack, which she describes thus: “…it matches nothing at all and therefore, on a deep level, matches everything.  It’s made of plastic and is therefore completely waterproof.  It’s equaly unattractive in all seasons of the year.  It cost next to nothing and I will never have to replace it because it seems to be completely indestructible.  What’s more, never having been in style, it can never go out of style.”  Gotta love that chic’s lit.

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