Today I am wearing ridiculous shoes.
By “ridiculous” I mean “high-heeled,” which is normally not my style. Alas, my favorite comfy shoes have finally worn out. And because you can’t run around barefoot in a public building — or, at least, you shouldn’t – I’m forced to navigate between the Scylla of wearing the one pair of fancy footwear I own, and the Charybdis of shoe shopping.
Thus is life for a certain type of broad, er, dame. She doesn’t wear makeup, she doesn’t carry a purse, and, under most circumstances, she refuses to wobble around the library like a bad imitation of Grimm’s “The Little Mermaid.”
[Oh, quit that laughing. Especially you menfolk with your consistently sensible, yet stylish, footwear!]
While the trappings of a certain kind of femininity don’t appeal to me in real life, I find them fascinating when they turn up in books. In fact, I think I get a bigger kick out of reading about characters who are nothing like me; one of the primary reasons for reading, after all, is to learn more about who we are by examining who we are not.
Still, I reach what I call a “sugar point” in a book if the heroine is too pretty / perfect, or if her biggest problem in life is which of her many outfits she should wear to her glamorous job. I like my chick lit with a bit of a twist, just enough doom and dismay to keep things interesting. Here are a few examples from the county’s extensive collection.
The Late Lamented Molly Marx, Sally Koslow. Molly is extremely wise, witty and stylish. She’s also quite dead, and, justifiably, a bit miffed about it. After all, if your corpse were found in a public park under mysterious circumstances, you’d want to know what happened and why. With her newly-discovered post-life powers, Molly reviews her life to unravel the mystery around her death. Designer clothes, dual infidelity, and a sexy angel named Bob add punch and pucker to this Manhattan mystery.
The Next Thing On My List, Jill Smolinski. June Parker drove the car that Marissa Jones died in, so of course she feels just awful about it, even though the accident was in no way June’s fault. To make matters worse, Marissa’s “bucket list” turns up, a plan for all the fun and wonderful things she intended to do with what she thought would be the rest of her life. To atone for her guilt, and what she perceives as her crime, June decides to complete the items on Marissa’s list, even though she finds some of them downright scary. As June stumbles outside of her comfort zone, her life changes for the better in delightful, albeit sometimes difficult, ways, which makes for a page-turning treat.
If you’re fond of non-fiction that reads like fiction, you’re going to love Lorna Martin’s Girl On the Couch. Martin has a great job, a great life, great friends, and a great boyfriend. The only problem is, she can’t stop crying and she doesn’t know why. Jetting from one cushy newspaper assignment to another can’t keep the demons at bay, so Martin reluctantly agrees to try psychoanalysis, with hilariously funny results. Written in a dry, self-deprecating tone, this chronicle of the neuroses that can lurk underneath a polished surface will have you cheering as Martin learns to let down her defenses and change her self-destructive behaviors.
On a completely different, but no less complicated note, readers who like their romance novels both action-packed and bittersweet will want to check out Meljean Brooks’s The Iron Duke. When the Horde ruled England, they used technology to enslave the populace; after the Iron Duke’s liberation mission, half-caste citizens like Mina can get a fresh start on life. However, the “star-crossed lovers” plot that eventually unites Mina and the Duke is complicated by issues of racism, class warfare, and technological ethics. If that sounds a bit too intelligent for a romance novel, let me assure you that the conventional romance parts are no less, er, arresting for all the high-falutin’ sentiments.
Your turn, Pittsburgh: do you like your chick lit tart, or sweet? Do you like to read about heroes/heroines who are just like you, or nothing like you?