This Is Not Chick Lit

by clevelandwall

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This book leapt out at me one day as I trawled the stacks at beloved BAPL (Bethlehem Area Public Library), for the BAPL has that magical property of certain used bookstores, where you find the book you need that you were not looking for if you meander in just the right way or if it wants to be found. So, this book proposed itself as the best entrée to a year of women’s literature and it was not wrong. It is a solid collection with contributions from:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie • Aimee Bender • Judy Budnitz • Jennifer S. Davis • Jennifer Egan • Carolyn Ferrell • Mary Gordon • Cristina Henríquez • Samantha Hunt •Binnie Kirshenbaum • Dika Lam • Caitlin Macy • Francine Prose • Holiday Reinhorn • Roxana Robinson • Curtis Sittenfeld • Lynne Tillman • Martha Witt

While reading, I had always at the back of my mind this question: Could this story only have been written by a woman? In some cases the answer was an emphatic yes, as in Curtis Sittenfeld’s “Volunteers Are Shining Stars,” where all of the major characters are women and the tone of their interactions could only have been captured by an insider.

“Documents of Passion Love” had to be written not only by a woman, but by a black woman steeped in academia and capable of constructing an epistolary story in the form of a graduate dissertation. Let’s face it, she probably had to be Carolyn Ferrell. That’s how it is with the best stories—you get the sense that only this person could tell this story in this way. Such is the case with Lynne Tillman’s idiosyncratic “The Recipe,” though it is written from the perspective of a man. I have a soft spot for him because he’s a poet/language geek—

Clay wouldn’t ever want to relinquish internal rhyme; rhyming was a mnemonic device, too, and venerable for a reason, and, along with that, he relied on the beautiful histories meshed inside the roofs of words.

—though he uses the modern plural of roof, which is not my favorite.

In my sketchbook, I used images from several stories. Two had green cars in them, one a red coat, and one ends up at the World Trade Center. For the thread poem, I chose a page from “Volunteers Are Shining Stars,” the misanthropic narrator of which I identified with perhaps too much.

Not Chick Lit

Violenteers

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