Thursday, February 17, 2005

Women's fiction

I finished reading Ann Patchett's luminous Bel Canto not long ago. As soon as I got well into it, and long after I finished it, I was struck by the thought that this book could never have been written by a man. Well, never is a stupid word in a world that can come up with manatees and twin quasars, but unlikely seems apt -- Bel Canto is unlikely to have been written by a man. I should amend that to say an American man.

I may get letters on the above comment. Save your ink. My point isn't about male American writers, but about female ones. In an interview at Powells.com, Ann Patchett relates that a New Yorker reviewer called her a writer of women's fiction. Anyone who knows anything about publishing knows this is a pejorative term, and that the correlate -- men's fiction -- is not.

I'm not talking about chicklit, or neo-Romance books, but about realistic fiction which revolves around a l worldview that is distinctly feminine. The kind of books the various Annes or Annies write -- Patchett, Dillard, Tyler, LaMott and Kingsolver, who should have been an Annie, I feel. Quieter books with slight plots. I like these books precisely because they reveal a different way of looking at life than the perspective of, say, the average action figure hero. We get plenty of that from Hollywood, Bombay and Hong Kong, but we don't get much of the other thing outside of books. And we get very little of the inner life of women who are fine with centering their consciousness in other realms than that of action, who center their lives around nurture, thoughtfulness and an appreciation of beauty. Patchett wrote an entire book about the appreciation of beauty and its impact on human nature. It was something of a parable, but such a poetic parable you didn't feel in any way coerced.

This is, of course, a defensive reaction to having heard several editorial comments about Rocket Lessons having a quiet plot, being hard to market, blah-blah-blah that euphemizes what they really mean: "There isn't any real violence in this thing, I can't sell it to a bloodthirsty public."

Who made the public bloodthirsty? I suspect they were trained, Hollywood style, to want what the producers want to sell them. the "If it bleeds, it leads" mentality. We are looking, I fear, at the Televisionization of the book publishing industry, and guess what we can expect from that? No more literature.

And certainly less fiction that portray's the unique aspects of a woman's sensibility. In Hollywood, there are not women, only cartoons of them.

Meanwhile, I've gone back to re-reading my Annes. And listen to that Barbara read something from her magnificent essay collection, High Tide in Tucson. She may be a rock star, but she sure knows a thing or two about contemplation.