I liked getting back to a classic. I initially picked this up because after my mother died, my father found a draft in her emails which turns out to bI liked getting back to a classic. I initially picked this up because after my mother died, my father found a draft in her emails which turns out to be from "Screwtape Proposes a Toast."
In the "Letters," Lewis makes sinning and atheism sound like too much fun and Christianity and virtue sound too dull. Also, what sort of faith/redemption is it that requires physical manifestation of angels (view spoiler)[in one's dying moments, no less (hide spoiler)]?
I like the toast -- kind of an anti-Jante Law screed. Given the state of our politics, you may enjoy it, too. Haha.
I would read more Lewis, for sure, but don't count myself a convert, except to the Gospel of Excellence....more
Strong opinions on both sides. I really enjoyed her breezy, accessible style, and I share a lot of the same fears about marriage (for a lot of the samStrong opinions on both sides. I really enjoyed her breezy, accessible style, and I share a lot of the same fears about marriage (for a lot of the same reasons!)
However, the book would have been immeasurably improved with more citations. Of course, this book is almost a decade old: the social science research on marriage/singlehood has come far just in the past couple of years.
Went and picked up her latest novel, and it's amazing thus far. Wonder how she'd be perceived if she wrote her fiction under an assumed name? Dudes go on about their committmentphobia at length and people say it's "deep."...more
I’ve now read half a dozen novels by Ms. Giffin. Her body of work presents an internally consistent worldview, one driven by patriarchal norms—professional-class, college-educated women “sacrificing” not just their ambitions, but their very identities, in pursuit of so-called “perfect” boys and men, with vaguely defined sources of unlimited family wealth, to inseminate them.
Basically, it’s Edith Wharton-era mores with blowouts and spin classes, people. If you wake up to find yourself in 1870s New York City or a Giffin novel, pray that you’re a male Christian WASP.
My contention that these novels qualify as psychological horror rests on her use of the close-first person, moral ambivalence, and resolutions which require, if not a literal, at least a very bluntly metaphorical sacrificial she-goat. Although she does not use supernatural forces to enforce her Status Quo Is God endings, there is still a sense that these women are trapped. Trapped in a system in which their other forms of privilege—they’re in good physical if not mental health, they’re employed, they’re thin and white in segregated cities (Atlanta, mostly, but NYC and Baltimore appear too)—can’t mask the fact that they simply aren’t happy.
If this is a beach read, hand me something light, like Balzac.
To get it out of the way, I believe that Giffin’s books are just as worthy of being read and critiqued as any other commercially successful, contemporary novel. (I have a deep stack of fawned-over fiction written by men on my nightstand. The first few pages of Milan Kundera make me think that I will dislike his work on similar grounds, frankly.)
Shannon Hale has an inspired series of tweets deconstructing the idea that Women’s Stories Are Only for Women. She quite rightly points out that this leads to an empathy gap, that how young people read translates into how they treat each other in the real world.
Have you heard anyone say recently about any book written by a man, ‘It’s really a woman who wrote it, or maybe a group of women?’ Due to its exorbitant might, the male gender can mimic the female gender, incorporating it in the process. The female gender, on the other hand, cannot mimic anything, for it is betrayed immediately by its ‘weakness’ … even the publishing industry and the media are convinced of this commonplace; both tend to shut women who write away in a literary gynaeceum...
Emily Giffin has been shut into the gynaeceum. Inequitable treatment of female and male authors is more pronounced than ever, in some ways, as marketers put bluebirds of happiness on books which are, at heart, about bone-crushing sorrow, depression, and survivor’s guilt.
Just today, Rachel Bloom’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend won the Vulture award for best TV show. I echo what is said here, when it comes to Giffin:
We should eradicate the [women’s lit] stigma, and along with it, the notion that a portrait of a neurotic suburban lawyer’s romantic life is inherently less serious, and less worthy of scrutiny and praise.
So, how does this story of a neurotic suburban lawyer’s (and her school teacher sister’s) romantic life unfold?
The first clue that something is amiss, the creaking door or flickering fluorescent light, is the specter of Daniel the “Perfect” Dead Brother, killed off in the prologue.
What makes a cardboard cutout yuppie “perfect”? What does the text say?
Daniel was exactly the same now as he’d always been. The classic, driven firstborn. A perfectionist. But also sensitive and sentimental, quirky and kind. “The only real difference is his temper,” she added with a laugh. “Thank goodness he grew out of that.” “Oh? He used to have a temper, did he?” Sophie asked. Elaine nodded then told her favorite tantrum tale — the time Daniel hit his bedroom wall with a wooden bat after Josie scribbled pink crayon graffiti on his treasured Hank Aaron card. “You can still see the plaster where it was patched,” she said fondly.
A Tinder profile, with menace. “Boys will be boys.” (Read it again. It’s one of the most subtly terrifying passages I’ve seen in print.) Remember the image of the preteen boy in a psychotic rage, bashing in the wall with a baseball bat.
A dead medical student is always the favorite child, the one whose values, talents, and relationships (view spoiler)[(the family stalking his then-girlfriend fifteen years later is another touch of menace) (hide spoiler)] are consistently praised, at the very obvious expense of his living, adults sisters.
I don’t think this state of affairs is at all unrealistic, but I can’t say that I enjoyed reading about it.
The aforementioned suburban neurotic lawyer, Meredith (view spoiler)[marries her dead brother’s best friend, and (hide spoiler)]is as miserable and trapped and as any woman in a corset in a Victorian play. She might be more miserable, because she knows another life. Her description of being in college, shortly after her brother’s untimely demise, and throwing herself into a relationship, into her professional acting training, into life, made me so sad. Not necessarily because I “liked” her—I think likability is overrated, anyway—but because it summed up the tragedy at the core of this story.
She was never keen on motherhood, per se. She tells her husband, unambiguously, directly, and repeatedly, that she doesn’t want another child.
UNIVERSE SAYS: TOO BAD, STATUS QUO IS GOOD/GOD.
That’s the real nightmare, not a creepy-crawly under the bed, but the creep in bed with you. Her husband doesn’t listen to her. Baaaaaabies are more important than her mental health (it’s stated that she suffered from postpartum depression, and her personality points to a barely managed case of out-of-control anxiety) or, you know, her explicit wishes.
Meredith is a woman with the benefit of a college education in 2016 who says this to her husband about an expensive getaway when she’s contemplating that her marriage feels like a sham and wants to escape:
“I sigh and say yes because, as I have learned, yes is usually the easier answer.”
I want Ferrante’s Lila to anachronistically appear with a baseball bat of justice and fix this, somehow.
More psychologically similar to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Bunch-sanity is the middle sister, Josie, the offending baby graffito. What was said in Vulture about Rebecca could apply to Josie, just add a decade:
The result is a frenzy of self-loathing: a definitive statement on internalized misogyny as well as the damage inflicted on people (women especially) by the uncritical embrace of romantic fantasy.
Josie is a damaged person. The moral system of the book only worsens this effect. She’s also a person in a caring profession, subject to all the usually snootiness about the results of the pay gap. (She shops at Anthropologie, not bespoke hipster boutiques. Shaaame.)
Her outer bubbliness masks a deep inner hole which the novel, inexplicably, defends through a sense of twisted cosmic justice. Meredith, the trapped depressive, sniffs that her sister is “probably an atheist.”
The best line of the book is, when Josie thinks, roughly, “What kind of God kills young men in car accidents and saves stuffed animals?”
By novel’s end, Josie seems to have found a sense of autonomy, of inner fulfillment, by going for what she wants. As unappealing as what she wants is to me, I admire her moxie. The characters in the book call her “selfish,” but she is the rare contemporary fictional woman who not only knows what she wants, but takes self-directed steps to @#$%ing do it.
Meredith never gets an angry midcentury Neapolitan woman with a baseball bat to pinch-hit for her.
Meredith reminds me of younger, greener, real-world women who went along to get along. There is no possible good outcome to what she chooses.
Status Quo Is God can easily collide with Happily Ever After. Sometimes, a story simply can't have an ending that is both happy and maintains the status quo—thus, these two powerful tropes are in conflict with each other. When this conflict occurs, it's likely that the status quo will be maintained, and the ending will be less happy than it might have been if not for Status Quo Is God.
If you’re going to make this choice, book, acknowledge it as the tragedy it is.
The first half grabbed my attention much more than the second. I noticed that I haven't reviewed The Man in the Wooden Hat, here, which would have beeThe first half grabbed my attention much more than the second. I noticed that I haven't reviewed The Man in the Wooden Hat, here, which would have been the first one I read circa 2010. It was my favorite.
Even "okay" Jane Gardam is still Jane Gardam....more
Liked it enough to recommend it to an ex-flame and my brother, both of whom have very discerning tastes. Found it at Elliott Bay Book Co in Seattle: yLiked it enough to recommend it to an ex-flame and my brother, both of whom have very discerning tastes. Found it at Elliott Bay Book Co in Seattle: yay indies!...more