Sometimes I wait too long to write and then the thoughts, or the threads weaving together an essay, deteriorate from being left out in the rain. Nothing I write comes out of whole cloth, and weaving is long, laborious, sometimes tedious work. I know because for several years I literally wove cloth on a 36-inch 4-harness Harrisville loom. I made a few things, but eventually I sold the loom to a friend and haven’t woven anything since. Sometimes I feel that way about writing: that I want to sell my tools to a friend and move on. Writing is such hard work. Which leads me to a bit of a diatribe. Thus spake my inner bitch:
I envy writers like Jennifer Weiner who can “produce at a deadline pace.”
She has published, what, eleven books in 13 years? And yet she roars with indignation at the publishing industry for being condescending toward female writers. Ya think, Jennifer? Please tell me what industry in this world is not condescending toward women. Just where is it do women no longer struggle to be taken as seriously and treated as equally as men? I came of age during the height of the women’s movement. When I was 12, I was a radical feminist, reading about rape in marriage and desperate to break free from a world that thought I deserved no better than to live in a single-wide with crying children and a husband who drank and beat me.
Maybe that’s why women people like Weiner annoy me so much. According to a New Yorker article (thanks, Kevin, for mentioning the article otherwise I never would have unearthed the issue from the stack of books and magazines next to my bed), her debut novel is in its 57th printing. She has a writing “closet” that “may be bigger than some of the apartments occupied by struggling writers in Brooklyn.” She has a summer home in Cape Cod. She has a personal shopper, someone who reminds her to pack underwear. She has been “outspoken about female writers whom she considers unsisterly.” And that is where she totally loses me. I may forgive her for wanting more when she already has more than many other writers (male as well as female) even dream of having. But the infighting that she appears to relish seems to serve no purpose other than to advance her own agenda: promotion of Jennifer Weiner.
I don’t begrudge Weiner’s writing style, her “commercial novels.” As Rebecca Mead notes, however, “literary criticism, at its best, seeks to elucidate the complex, not to catalogue the familiar.” That’s not to say that all commercial novels are unworthy of literary criticism. The Chief Inspector Gamache series written by Louise Penny, in my humble opinion, is worthy of literary attention.
Yes, there is a cataloguing of the familiar in her series. They are police procedural novels and as such a particular pace and certain tropes are expected. Plot presumedly drives the stories forward; yet, I keep reading Penny’s novels for the characters and the settings. I read them because the people within her novels are complicated and their lives are complicated and the settings (modern Quebec, a quaint village, the near fatal freeze of winter, the life-draining heat of summer) intertwine with their lives to make things even more complicated. I come away from these novels still feeling thoughtful, still pondering the fine line between love and hate, good and evil, the demons within and the demons without. Because Penny’s novels are categorized as a particular genre (mystery, crime fiction, whatever), she may never get the accolades that Weiner claims is often denied writers who are female.
But I don’t hear Penny complaining. In fact, if you friend her on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/louisepennyauthor), you’ll find that Penny seems to be quite content with her writer’s life. She is about as prolific as Weiner, having produced nine novels in as many years. Her tenth is due out in August 2014. But in contrast to Weiner, one gets the feeling Penny is still pinching herself to see if her success is just a dream. One gets the sense that she feels lucky, the kind of lucky that many artists describe as “being in the right place at the right time.” Yes, I’m admiring Penny for her humility. Perhaps I’ll be criticized for that.
Can I still consider myself a feminist if I choose not to take up arms like Jennifer Weiner and damn the literary critics for looking down their noses at commercial novels because you know they only do that if those novels are written by women? No, wait, Stephen King has had the same complaint for years.
Maybe I just don’t get it. Maybe I have a stronger class consciousness than a gender consciousness. After all, I feel unequally uneasy at a women-only dinner party as I do at a fancy restaurant where I have to pretend I know which fork to use when. I grew up among a lot of women. Cousins, sisters, aunts, mother. I’ve known from an early age that women aren’t always “sisterly” toward each other. Before I learned to play the part of a middle-class female, I was often condescended to by other women. I was consider stupid, slow because I was, in their presence, a fish out of water.
Eventually I married well, learned to appreciate fine wine, and appropriated the manners and preferences of my middle-class friends. For a while anyway. I’m still married well, but now I openly enjoy good cheap wine and most of those middle-class friends have moved on, no doubt because they found me to be a bore. I feel no great loss there. The complaint of wanting more, More, MORE from those who already have plenty bore me.
I’ll give this much to Jennifer Weiner. At a book signing event, “[s]he took time to talk to everyone.” She appreciates her readers. She knows without them she would be nothing. If she chooses to write for them and if they happen to prefer her stories to those by, say, Doris Lessing, then so be it. More power to her. I hope she continues to be successful and to make her readers happy. I might hope she won’t consider this blog post “unsisterly” of me.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I believe I’ve misplaced my inner Pollyanna.