|Elizabeth Merrick, editor, |
This is Not Chick Lit:
Original Stories by America's Best Women Writers
(Random House, 2006)
This short-story collection is worth the cover price for editor Elizabeth Merrick's opening essay alone. Merrick does not hate chick lit (she freely admits to enjoying and respecting several titles), nor does she want it to die a painful death. Merrick, after smartly summing up your basic chick-lit heroine, metropolitan setting, token gay friend, wicked boss, diet rules and relationship drama, grants chick lit its place in the world of genre fiction. With this collection, Merrick simply wants to shine the light on modern literary talent. She wants to share these stories with the world -- stories about pushing emotional limits, experiencing new cultures, setting personal challenges (a steak-eating contest, anyone?) and musing about social status and careers. This is a book to read with a stack of sticky flag-notes in hand, to mark stories that inspire the reader to pursue further study or exploration of specific topics.
The opening piece describes the experience of a Nigerian immigrant in pursuit of the American dream. Her remarks about this upside-down country still resonate with me -- America is a place in which rich people look starved and poor people are fat, where rich people dress in shabby clothing, and in which not everyone owns the gigantic house and car that represent the American dream. In another contribution, Francine Prose manages to masquerade a contemplative essay as a fictional story, and the gimmick succeeds wildly. Aimee Bender's short story reads pretty much like a piece in any of her other collections, making her one of the weakest (but still excellent) links in the book.
The authors represent a veritable who's who of modern literary talent. Most of them have recent full-length releases (Jennifer Egan's The Keep is not to be missed). My one (small) complaint about the collection is that the short author bios are relegated to an appendix, rather than appearing immediately after each author's story entry. When I am consumed by a narrative, I want to explore more about the author immediately. Also, with the plot fresh in the reader's mind, connections between the author's life and her writing will leap off the page.
The genius of this collection is that there is no overarching theme or message; these stories are unified by their numerous distinctions. The title clearly attracts media (and blogger) attention, but I hope that readers of both genders pick this one up. The writers may be female, but their written words prove that they are talented writers, pure and simple.
8 August 2009
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