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Genre in review--Chick Lit

I have mixed feelings about chick lit. On one hand, I deplore it as shallow, self-serving fluff. On the other, if it’s done right, chick lit can be a social satire about modern, urban life.

Chick lit tends to have a formulaic plot—in most cases, the protagonist balances work (sometimes having to do with a struggle with a Satanic boss or demonic coworkers) with a social life. In nearly all cases, the protagonist meets her perfect man (who happens also to be the reader’s idea of the perfect man) and discusses said perfect man with friends, one of whom invariably is a gay man (there’s a certain dream that single, urban women have, to have a male friend who is not interested in them sexually and with whom they can talk candidly about men and shoes and stuff; the gay friend fulfills that role). Ultimately, the story ends happily, with everyone getting what they want.

Lauren Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada is a classic example of this. The main character, Andy, obtains a job as the assistant to Miranda Priestly, editor-in-chief of Runway magazine, where she is generally a low-level lackey who is expected to do her boss’s bidding at a moment’s notice. As a result, her love life and friendships suffer. The book is, of course, a satire about the author’s own personal experience working for the notorious editor-in-chief of Vogue, Anna Wintour. Most of the novel centers around shallow, materialistic women and men for whom image is everything. There aren’t any gay best friends in The Devil Wears Prada, but the boyfriend here is a classic example of the “perfect” boyfriend: sweet, caring, committed. It’s a relatively well-done novel about living and working in New York City in your 20s, even if some of the book is a little unrealistic.

A less-well-done (and more unbelievable) example of this is the more recently published Because She Can, by Bridie Clark. The story revolves around Claire Truman, a talented, smart (Princeton graduate, of course) editor who goes to work for Vivian Grant, notorious publisher of Grant Books, who demeans her employees in the most horrible of ways. The author worked for a while for Judith Regan, and the boss in this book is a thinly disguised version of her. Because She Can was published just after the OJ Simpson book debacle, so the book was, if anything, opportunistic. Vivian Grant is a laughable caricature—she throws tantrums that would make a two-year-old proud. Claire’s lifestyle is a little unrealistic for a woman in her 20s who works in publishing—she lives on Perry Street and shops at Barneys. Then she begins dating Wall Street tycoon Randall Cox, to whom she becomes engaged after dating him for only a few months. And yes, in addition to being wealthy, Randall is the perfect man (good looking, kind, thoughtful, you name it). The author uses a lot of hyperbole to get her point across, and the plot is ridiculously simple and predictable at times.

But then again, both Because She Can and The Devil Wears Prada are enjoyable and should be taken with a grain of proverbial salt. That’s the beauty of chick lit. It can be great escapist reading.


Rob Hopcott said…
Wot? No car chases in chick lit. No shootings. No bodice ripping lust?

Weeeell! It sounds good to me.

Perhaps I'll give it a try.

But who would I identify with? The gay guy who loves shoes ...

Mmmm, noooo, not me, really!

(Although, I do love my wellies!)

The heroine that is put on by her male boss...

He'd better not try! Knuckle sandwidge comes to mind ...

And everything ends with everyone getting what they want.

Mmmm, now THAT works for me :-)
Joyce said…
I think there's nothing wrong with escapist lit-when I read, I'm TRYING to escape :).
Stumbled onto your blog via GoingCrunchy. It couldn't have been better timing! I've been looking for some new things to read and feeling a little stuck, even when I go to the library. Thanks for the great reviews and ideas!
Hey! Yeah... I totally agree about chick lit and yet I love it even though it isn't "high literature." I like escaping through books on a good weekend, so chick lit often does the trick for me. Sometimes it is nice to have something easy to read after a week of rigorous work! I really enjoy a book to make me laugh which is hard to find in "real" literature (although I'm not sure that really exists, even after majoring in it! It is all so subjective.) Sort of like the oscars... the comedies hardly ever win... hehe.. But one I really enjoyed was "Can you keep a secret." I enjoyed that one of hers much more than the shopaholic books which are so much more popular. That one I liked because it made me laugh out loud. Anyhow hope you have a great weekend!
chica said…
I hate using the word "chick lit", even though I use it too for lack of another one :). I love good chick lit as much as I love any pulp fiction crime novel or for that matter any thought provoking award winning literature. As long as authors take the genre seriously and give us a good story I'm happy. I've read a few which are just so boring!
Thanks for coming by and commenting on my review.

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