G is for Grumpy

Either the author gets grumpy or I do. I get grumpy about stupid motifs in women's writing, angsty male detectives, and the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Neil Gaiman is one of those authors that I should adore. He writes the kind of stuff that interests me--fantasy and science fiction--and seems to be a skilled writer. Unfortunately, I just can't get into his stuff. I've read a few of his short stories, a graphic novel . . . Like with Andre Norton, the spark simply isn't there.

I have a very high opinion of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, which I consider a true tour de force. I don't find his other works all that interesting: it's hard to determine if this is the writer or the translator(s).

Charlotte Perkins Gilman is best known for "The Yellow Wallpaper" which just about every single literature student is forced to read at one time or another. It's actually quite good: thoroughly creepy. She also wrote Herland which I quite like (someday, I plan to write an alternate retelling of Herland) and which I reference in Mr. B Speaks!

Dorothy Gilman is one of my favorite mystery authors of one of the first mysteries I ever read (before I went on to Christie, Tey, and Marsh). Reading Gilman's first Mrs. Pollifax book when I was a teen, I laughed so hard, I fell out of a chair. As well as her Pollifax books, I also recommend The Clairvoyant Countess (I had SUCH a crush on Lieutenant Pruden when I was a teen; he and Sayers' Charles Parker are prototypes for my Charles Stowe). I do enjoy Gilman's earlier books more than her later ones.

Jo Goodman is an explicit romance writer. I've read a few of her books and own one. However, her books often cross the line into a not-unusual romance type: the violent romance. In Goodman's case, it isn't so much rape disguised as love but the idea that it is the woman's victimized past (the violence that was done to her) that makes her attractive. I find this just a little queasy-inducing.

I quite enjoyed Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher books (and I really like the television series!): a mystery/erotica series set in early 20th century Australia. Unfortunately--and here I get very grumpy--I read a book from another of Greenwood's series which happened to use a motif that bugs me to the nth degree; since then, I've never been able to look at her books the same.
The Motif
The motif is common to female writers and it goes something like this: plump and/or plain heroine is paired with handsome hunk whose handsomeness is continually remarked on.

Don't get me wrong: I'm a total sucker for the plump and/or plain heroine finding love. And I'm totally okay with handsome hunks. What I hate about this motif is that the female authors don't play fair. There's a double standard at work where the heroine should be accepted for herself (her character!) while she and every other character in the book continually comments on the handsomeness of the hunk: ooh, his rock-hard abs. Isn't she lucky that he loves her for her soul while she gets to love him for his body?!

Poor handsome hunk.
I prefer books, especially romance books, where appearance is a non-issue* because (1) the hero and heroine are both plump and/or plain; (2) because the hero and heroine are both good-looking; (3) because "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" (people have individual and sometimes wacky tastes). In any case (and this applies to real life as well), everybody just shuts up about it and gets on with the plot.
In summary, my dislike is not with the description of the hero/heroine but with the use of the book's dialog/exposition to continually make the heroine (and woman readers) feel good about themselves. Oh, stop the therapy already!
I read Graham Greene for "G" on my first A-Z Book list. He is gloomy. I haven't read him since. While reading Alister McGrath's C.S. Lewis recently, I learned that C.S. Lewis recommended Tolkien to win the 1961 Nobel Prize in Literature (the letter has just recently been disclosed by the Swedish Academy). I can't say it surprised me that Tolkien wasn't even considered--a real fantasy writer win anything literary? The mind boggles! But I had to chuckle at McGrath's comment: "Tolkien's prose was judged inadequate in comparison with his rivals, which included Graham Greene." I've read Tolkien. I've read Greene. Tolkien is truly remarkable and unique however much, like Shakespeare, he missteps. Greene is nothing whatsoever to write home about. (McGrath's book is quite good; he doesn't necessarily agree or disagree with the quoted statement.)

Isn't he adorable?! I love his hair!
Martha Grimes' Richard Jury series, the one where all the titles are based on pubs, is quite readable. However, Jury falls into the angst category of British detectives and, no offense to Inspector Morse, but boy, I get tired of them. Give me Columbo any day with his quirky smile and odd optimism and unflappability over ANOTHER bachelor detective with a "pad," a bad history with women, and a tendency to brood. There comes a point where I just stop caring (I feel the same about female detectives who can't decide which boyfriend to marry; after book 3 or 4, it is just so, so tedious--get a hobby, people!). I want to see the hero going somewhere with his life (and I don't much care whether such growth is realistic or not; I don't read literature because I think it is exactly like real life; I read literature because I love stories). 

Judith Guest wrote Ordinary People. Great movie. Okay book.

My mother read me Rumer Godden, including the fabulous Thursday's Children when I was a youngster.  Although Godden's website identifies Thursday's Children as a children's book, I do not agree. Yes, my mother read it to me; she also read me The Lord of the Rings, and that's not a kids' book either!

I read William Golding's The Lord of the Flies when I was at church camp. Voluntarily: I wasn't assigned to read it. (In fact, bizarrely enough, I've never been assigned this English classic in a Literature class.) It merits its "classic" appellation. However, I feel absolutely no desire (and no need; the book is burnt into my brain) to read it again.

Yup. I have read Zane Grey! Not much of Zane Grey (Westerns aren't my style) but enough to say . . . yup, I  have read Zane Grey!

I have scarfed down a few Andrew Greeley mysteries. I hardly remember them. I do remember complaints from Catholic critics about his books. The main complaint is that he uses celibacy as a kind of "oops, I'm sorry" aftermath to rampant priestly infidelity. I, a non-Catholic, am personally in favor of priests marrying, but I get the complainants' point about the underlying amorality, especially since I don't remember Greeley's mysteries as having anything approaching a moral code that I could relate to. 

I read Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson back when everybody was reading it. In fact, I read it for a work bookclub. It's good. 'Nough said.

*There is a sub-plot of the "plain girl gets love" in which the plain girl must struggle with her feelings of plainness. This approach can be well-written. Mary Balogh's First Comes Marriage (hot romance) is a good example. The heroine has been told all her life how plain she is; instead of moping about, she adopts a pleasant and happy attitude. But after her marriage, a few incidents leave her feeling insecure. Finally, her husband says (I'm paraphrasing), "Look, I'm attracted to you. That should be enough. Let it go!" And she does!

Which is my point--far, far, far too many series by women never let this issue go. It becomes a constant, unending point of crisis upon which the heroine is constantly reassured by, oh, tons of freaking people. The problem is, in real life, people get tired of being reassuring. As Buffy says to Jonathan:
Every single person down there is ignoring your pain because they're too busy with their own. The beautiful ones. The popular ones. The guys that pick on you. Everyone. If you could hear what they were feeling. The loneliness. The confusion. It looks quiet down there. It's not. It's deafening.
 Well, it's angst. But at least it's intelligent angst.

1 comment:

Kezia said...

I have the same reaction to Neil Gaiman as you. Even after reading most of the Sandman comics, and The Graveyard Book, and Coraline, and Odd and the Frost Giants, and trying to read American Gods, I still can'tt connect with his writing.