Thursday, August 03, 2006

Book Report: Chick Lit and Modern Jane Austens

Today's T-shirt: Freedom Run 2002 (the year I ran -- well, walked). I haven't done a t-shirt report in a while because I've been busy and out and about, which means wearing normal clothes, or else it's been hot and I've been coping by wearing tank tops or sundresses. I was out and about this morning, but I've since changed into comfortable clothes. I'm not sure the UPS guy recognized me this morning when I was actually dressed in real clothes with makeup on. He's only seen me before in "work" mode, which is kind of scary.

Before I get into the real entry, I have a bit of news. We have a title for book 3, which will from now on be known as Damsel Under Stress (say it out loud and you see that it's kind of punny -- there are also layered meanings relating to the content of the book itself). I'm very proud to say that I was the one who came up with this title. The previous two books were titled by the folks at Ballantine, and I turned this one in as "Book Three" so that I wouldn't hamper the creativity of the marketing guys in coming up with a title. Then a week or so ago I came up with a title idea, everyone seemed to love it, and I got word yesterday that this will be the title. It looks like it will be released the last Tuesday in April, so mark your calendars now.

If there are any foreign readers here, the Dutch edition of Once Upon Stilettos is set for release in November (I have a cover, which I'll add to the web site), and the German edition of Enchanted, Inc. will be published in January 2007. They're using the US cover art, but they seem to have made Hex and the City the title instead of the tag line (and I did come up with that tag line).

So, now for a continuation of the discussion on chick lit, stemming from the talk about Jane Austen. Yesterday I got into the elements of chick lit as written by Jane Austen, so today I'll hit my book report as a way of showcasing some modern books.

One thing I mentioned yesterday was that Austen showed the full spectrum of female friendships -- the bad as well as the good. Let's face it, women can be awful to each other. Even good friendships may have their moments of jealousy and competition, and there may be times when your best friend is the person who can best drive you insane. Kristin, my agent, says she sees a lot of proposals for chick lit novels that start with a group of great friends having brunch so we can see what wonderful friends they are. That would be lovely in real life, but it makes for a pretty boring book.

One modern author who isn't afraid to address some of the more negative aspects of female friendship is Emily Giffin in her books Something Borrowed and Something Blue. The two main characters in these books, Rachel and Darcy, have been best friends since elementary school, but there's an element of what Sex and the City called "frenemies" in there, too. Darcy is very selfish and competitive, and she has a strong need to prove that she can beat Rachel. When Rachel gets a crush on a guy, Darcy has to go prove she can get him. Along the way, Rachel learns that Darcy is usually going to win, so why try? In Something Borrowed, Rachel finds herself falling in love with Darcy's fiance, Dex -- a guy Rachel knew first and introduced to Darcy because deep down inside she couldn't imagine a guy like him ever liking her, and she knew she'd lose him to Darcy, anyway. The problem is, Dex is also falling for Rachel, and his wedding to Darcy is growing closer and closer. Rachel is faced with the dilemma of whose happiness means the most to her, hers or Darcy's, and she has to take an honest look back at her friendship with Darcy to evaluate just how real that friendship ever was.

Something Blue is Darcy's story, in which we learn what was going on with Darcy while all that was going on with Rachel, and then it goes forward with what Darcy does in the aftermath. Giffin took some risks in writing this series (and they paid off, since both books were bestsellers) because we usually don't like to admit how awful women can be to each other. It's not all friendship bracelets and undying support, and anyone who thinks it's that way probably doesn't remember fourth or fifth grade (seriously, we should be parachuting ten-year-old girls into these worldwide trouble spots. The bad guys would be begging for mercy in hours. A really good and bitchy ten-year-old girl is meaner than any Green Beret ever thought about being). I was surprised that I liked Darcy's book better than Rachel's book, since I'm much more like Rachel, and I've certainly had a Darcy or two in my life. I remember one friend who offered to help me learn to transition from crush to boyfriend, so I was supposed to pick out a target, and she'd help me meet him and get to know him. Next thing I know, she had her own claws into every guy I picked out, to the point that none of them would look twice at me. Just to test my suspicions, I started pointing out the nerdiest guys I could find, and sure enough, she'd have them wrapped around her finger in no time. I decided I didn't need her "help" anymore and kept my crushes to myself. I never did learn to transition from crush to boyfriend (I guess it's her fault I'm still single). Anyway, I kind of lost patience with Rachel and the way she handled her dilemma, while Darcy was so unrepentantly shallow and selfish that she truly earned her comeuppance and her ultimate transformation. It was like what I said about The Devil Wears Prada, that if you're going to have a character who's supposed to go through that kind of growth, really go for it and let her be a bitch. Something Blue also ran the gamut of possible romantic interests in the way Austen's books often did, where you're not quite sure who she'll end up with.

Meanwhile, Marian Keyes handles the family conflicts so very well. Her latest, Anybody Out There? tackles a tricky subject with her trademark warmth and humor so that the result is more uplifting than depressing, and a lot of it is because of the interactions with the heroine's sisters and parents. That family (which has starred in many of Keyes's other books) may be crazy and silly and sometimes even combative, but they still love and support each other. I can't wait to see what she does when the youngest sister finally gets her own book. I also recently read Keyes's previous book, The Other Side of the Story, which reminded me in some ways of Last Chance Saloon, probably my favorite of all of hers. Both books have a similar structure of seemingly unrelated parallel stories that end up converging. The Other Side of the Story gets into the fallout of a broken friendship and how that affects the people involved, and we do see both sides of the story. It's also about publishing, as two of the stories are about writers and one is about an agent.

None of these books are the stereotypical chick lit "dating, drinking and shopping" stories. Not that I've read too many of those. I'm not sure where that stereotype comes from, and it's a stereotype imposed externally based on a minority of books in the genre. Tomorrow I'll get into the chick lit controversy and what's turning into a "smart vs. pretty" debate, with me on a side I never thought I'd be on in any "smart vs. pretty" situation.

And now I should work. Or I could watch something on my nifty new LCD flat panel TV. Battlestar Galactica and Firefly look soooo purty on that screen.

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