f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Day 4 of Genre – Chick Lit

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Day 4 of Genre – Chick Lit

Let me send a theory up the flagpole here and see what comes of it. The theory is that part of what’s fueling a lot of what seem to be otherwise independent trends in various entertainment sectors is a fully-blossomed narcissism that means we’re either no longer embarrassed about of self-obsessions or we’re all so very lost and confused that we need to turn our focus inward.

Let me give examples of what I’m talking about here.

In television, we’ve been under attack by any number of reality television shows. While these people certainly aren’t US, in a sense they can be at least a reasonable substitution. We’re not going to be as witty as Frasier, as beautiful as the Friends, or as glamorous as the Alias crew. But we can place ourselves in the situations posited by reality television and ask ourselves: “How would I have done there?”

The same sort of things seems to have been happening in a very different realm—the land of superheroes. In the late 80s post-modernism hit the graphic novels industry with a sledgehammer as writers like Frank Miller and Alan Moore with books like The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen began deconstructing the superhero mythology. Looking beneath the masks and under the capes, comics and graphic novels were no longer about these amazing men and women who lived among us as virtual gods, instead offering stories about these deeply human men and women for whom “super-ness” was just one more complex part of life. We weren’t content with heroes; we needed to bring them down to our level.

Non-fiction has brought us hyper-self-conscious books by people like Dave Eggers and Augusten Burroughs and Rick Moody—and then self-involved meta-critiques from reviewers like Dale Peck.

Even blogging is guilty allowing any fool with access to a computer to shoot their mouth off about things like the narcissistic tendencies of our culture.

Which brings us, in a round-about way to chick lit. To me, chick lit is born of the same psychology. One of the core traits of the genre is that almost always told in the first person. “I” “I” “I”. Granted these are characters but it’s not to big a leap to see that the “I” can just as easily stand for the reader as it does for the author.

These are “real” women—women we could be, thus placing us in the heroine’s role—facing trying circumstances surrounding friends, family, work, and most importantly dating. (Chick lit has been called by those more cynical than I: “romance made legit,” i.e. romance books women aren’t embarrassed to be seen with) Chick lit novels may be considered the literary equivalent of the “romantic comedy” film. The genre’s start is typically attributed to Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary, which simultaneously launched the wave of Austen appreciation for it’s love of Mr. D’arcy and Pride and Prejudice.

There’s a subset of chick lit going on called “mom lit” which is basically the same thing except with sassy 40+ year-old narrators.

That’s what we’re seeing the most of in CBA at the moment. Kristin Billerbeck has done some chick lit and I’m sure there’s more on the way, but Sisterchicks and Yada Yada Prayer Group are better categorized as “mom lit.” There’s a good reason for this and it’s that most of the CBA novelists out there are women in that age category. We haven’t necessarily had the “breakthrough” younger voice of a Nanny Diaries or Devil Wears Prada, though Ray Blackston’s Flabbergasted came sorta close.

The final point to make about chick lit is that, in some ways, it’s a breath of fresh air—especially for CBA. So much of women’s fiction in CBA has been message focused or issue focused. Sexual abuse. Physical abuse. Infertility. Various cancers. Kidnapping. You know the Lifetime Channel on television…this industry has published more fodder for their made-for-television movies than they’d know what to do with. And yet now here comes something light and breezy. Something that (you’ve read David Taylor’s film article mentioned below, right?) may content itself a little more with merely being entertaining.

In the end, maybe it’s not about narcissism. Maybe it’s about the search for who we are. We’re all lost, in some way, no matter what we say. Still sinning. Still never quite making the mark. In this case, life’s worn us down with it’s culture of fear (which permeates everything) and so we need to just smile a little. Who knows? Get ready for it, though, because sassy, no-nonsense women and their Manolo Blahnik shoes are going to be filling your bookshelves for a while yet to come.