Killing the 'Dead Girl' Theme in Crime Fiction

Posted by Cybil on July 16, 2018
dead girls


We asked Alice Bolin, author of Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession, and journalist-turned-crime novelist Laura Lippman to discuss a recurring theme in crime fiction: "a beautiful girl dies, and a man feels bad about it." What we got was a rollicking conversation about women readers, the power of noir, and why there's something sinister in romantic-comedy plots.

Dead Girls is Emma Roberts' July pick for the Belletrist Book Club.



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Alice Bolin: Hi, Laura! Let me say how excited I am to have this conversation with you. Thank you!

I wanted to start by asking you a little about Sunburn. Reading this novel was when I first realized that the femme fatale is sort of like the Dead Girl if she hadn't died—we have this idea of "a woman with a past" or, in other words, "a woman." I so admire the compassion you've shown to your femme fatale and how totally human you've made her: a woman who is complicated but who has survived. I was wondering what first inspired you to flip this trope, to make a character who is normally opaque so sympathetic?


Laura Lippman: Although I can almost always pinpoint the exact inspiration for a novel, I have tried and failed to do that for Sunburn. Without really noticing it, I had moved from being inspired by real-life crimes and started rethinking my favorite novels. What if the events of To Kill a Mockingbird took place in what people believed to be a more enlightened time? What if I took the setup of Anne Tyler's Ladder of Years and married it to The Postman Always Rings Twice, but now it's a woman passing through, a man stuck behind the stove?

And there really was—spoiler—a movement in the early 1990s in which the governor began commuting sentences of women who had killed their abusers, but the vetting was poorly done and some women were pardoned when they shouldn't have been. So that's where I started.

Where did Dead Girls start? Was the titular essay the first one?

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AB: Well, my book really started with me just wanting to make fun of True Detective, a show I considered hilariously mediocre. My editor told me I needed a more timeless book, so I started with Twin Peaks, and now I will be associated with Dead Girls for the rest of my days.

I thought I was writing in a formal way “about the noir,” but I was also obsessively watching Dateline and reading Raymond Chandler to learn about my new life in Los Angeles (this is not a good way to learn about life in L.A.) and thinking about the weird murders that marked my childhood in the Northwest. It took me a long time to realize that a noirish mood had defined my entire life and that trying to figure out why was a lot of what the book was about—how these dark narratives shaped how I narrated my own life.

I’ve been thinking so much about how when crime fiction is dismissed as a genre, it is often explicitly because it is so feminine. Even Edmund Wilson, in his famous takedown of the detective novel, said it was a genre that was for old ladies. I wonder if you have thoughts about how crime fiction, or certain strains of it, became so associated with women?


LL: Please, let's circle back to True Detective. I know the writer had written a book that was "genre enough" to be nominated for the Edgar, but I was appalled by the viewers who thought they were seeing something new or revolutionary. I knew from episode one that the ending was going to be a terrible letdown. The works that advertise themselves as subversive, the ones where the writers themselves all but declare they are "transcending the genre" (loathsome phrase), almost always disappoint—and are frequently written by people who don't know very much about the genre they're supposedly upending.

It's long been my observation that a lot of crime writing, even very good crime writing, can be summed up this way: a beautiful girl dies, and a man feels bad about it. Maybe he's a mourning husband/father/brother/lover. Maybe he's falsely accused. Maybe he did it, but he has, you know, REASONS. And now we're seeing more and more female writers asserting for their ownership of crime fiction, and it's very exciting.

But, dammit, women ARE the readers. Why shouldn't we own this genre? I mean, I know the NFL makes pink T-shirts and is happy to have female fans, but I don't see them worrying that football isn't female-friendly enough. Well, it's great that lots of men read crime fiction, but I don't think we need to cater to them. And the next step is making crime fiction a lot less white/heterosexual.

When you say noir has defined your entire life, what does that mean? How have those narratives shaped your life?

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AB: LAURA, YES. Those are some of the most satisfying few paragraphs I've ever read! Clearly writers like Megan Abbott, Gillian Flynn, and obviously you have achieved their success by exploring hidden corners of womanhood, particularly desire and rage. It's so funny that post-Gone Girl, "psychological thriller" is code for "woman on the edge," when before it was so synonymous with Alfred Hitchcock and his paranoid and pathological men.

Growing up in rural north Idaho, I was aware from a very young age that the region was the subject of many bizarre crime stories, including those of the prolific serial killers who haunted Spokane and Seattle and disgruntled separatists like Ted Kaczynski and Randy Weaver. I was such an anxious and spooky child, very invested from my earliest memories in mythologizing my own life. When I moved to L.A., I heavily romanticized my experience, seeing myself as the protagonist of some coming-of-age tale, because if I didn't, I would have to face the fact that my life was desperate, boring, and sad. Untangling myself from the narratives I'd invented about the character who was myself actually made me braver, because I saw that I had control over my own destiny.

So I was just in a hotel room in Times Square by myself last weekend, holing up in the busiest few blocks in America and watching television with the blinds drawn, speaking of romanticizing my life. I happened to watch the rom-com 27 Dresses, which I described on Twitter as "a movie about Katherine Heigl being really lame and jealous." As I kept watching, I realized that it's a movie about two sisters with different but equally severe personality disorders: the passive-aggressive martyr played by Katherine Heigl and the narcissistic compulsive liar played by Malin Akerman. This premise could be repurposed for other "female" genres: thriller (probably something Single White Female derivative), Lifetime Movie (Did I Kill My Sister?). I know you have thoughts about this movie, but I will lob you this question, which is: What do you think rom-coms and thrillers have in common?



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LL: When I think about 27 Dresses, I think about what you wrote about Amy in Gone Girl: “Amy bears no resemblance to any person who has ever walked the planet, but she bears a resemblance to women as conceived of the nightmares of men like Nick.” Those two sisters don’t exist, but they are hardy staples in our culture. The Good Girl, the Bad Girl, the Dead Girl. Seriously, those three types cover the waterfront. And now we have so many self-aware writers (mostly female, but I know a few guys I’d throw in there) who are trying to undo this, broaden it, challenge it, question it.

There’s a line in your book—I won’t get it right exactly—about the responsibilities of the personal essay. That strikes me, in the best possible way, as a very female concern. And maybe a concern for anyone who’s not cis [cisgender] male white heterosexual. The greatest luxury is to speak for one’s self alone and then expect that to be understood, without context. Dead Girls is all about the context—geography, age, experience, your parents, the books you read, the television shows you watched. It is like the thing I like best about 27 Dresses, the montage sequence in which she tries on all those bridesmaid dresses. Only without the male gaze.

AB: Yes, that montage is astounding—showing how mutable women’s identities are and how often we ask women to dress up in one archetype or another.

Shall we recommend some books now? I’ll start with two:

1) The Crime of Sheila McGough by Janet Malcolm, a very strange extended character sketch about a lawyer who tells the truth so scrupulously that she is bad at her job; she can’t wrestle all of the details of her case into a coherent story. Also has some great meditations on con artistry.

2) Dark Places, Gillian Flynn’s second novel, explored the ghoulish aspects of true-crime fandom way before it was a thing.



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LL: Dark Places is my favorite—I said we shared a brain.

I also love My Dark Places, James Ellroy’s memoir about his mother’s death. It’s a masterpiece and one of the ultimate Dead Girl stories. I am constantly recommending Mary Gordon’s Good Boys and Dead Girls: And Other Essays. The titular essay is a primer on how to read a Dead Girl story. And I recommend Hollywood Babylon in all its gossipy apocrypha because it’s the under-the-bed book referenced by so many writers I love.

You owe me three; I owe you two. One of mine will be a Didion.

AB: OK, here are my remaining three:

1) One of the most daring and fascinating crime novels I've ever read is The Expendable Man by Dorothy B. Hughes, about a middle-class black man accused of a young white girl's murder. She brilliantly explores why an innocent person might act paranoid or suspicious, particularly when they are the target of racial profiling.

2) I adore Maggie Nelson's first book, Jane, a collection of poems about her aunt who was murdered before Nelson was born. This shows possibilities for sort of a true-crime poetry as well as being a profound work of compassion toward Jane and Nelson's parents and grandparents.

3) I can't recommend Kali Nicole Gross' Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso highly enough. This is an academic book unearthing a story of a bizarre murder in postbellum Philadelphia. Gross not only tells a fantastic story, but also explores the ways racial categories were redefined in urban centers after the Civil War and how her antiheroine exemplified the kinds of freedom black women could claim at that time.


LL: My penultimate book is On the Contrary by Mary McCarthy. The essay "The Fact in Fiction" changed my life. It convinced me that maybe I could do this novel-writing thing.

And I promised I would include Didion in my final selections, but a confession: I don’t love Didion as much as I think I should, yet your explanation for why you love Play It as It Lays, which gives me an easy out about why I don’t love Didion, strikes me as ungenerous (to you and all the smart women I know who love her).

I do love Slouching Towards Bethlehem, particularly "Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream." I learned an important lesson from Didion, one I’ve paraphrased in book after book, in which I tell stories of people who try to get other people to tell stories. And it is this: Dare to be silent. People lean into silences, fill them.

Am I right that Updike said that the good thing about the dead is that they make space? I guess that’s a kind of silence, and it’s what Dead Girls do. They create spaces for us to fill, with our stories and our theories and our insights. There’s a booming economy in Dead Girls, one in which you and I both trade in (although with perspective and sensitivity and context, of course). But I have a hunch that you and I would happily give up our obsessions with Dead Girls if that meant a world with no more Dead Girls.

AB: I think you’re so right—the Dead Girl is a cipher, or a mirror where people, and especially men, see their own preferred stories reflected back. That’s why I’m so much more interested in survivor stories now, and in women who insist on telling their own stories, even when they are imperfect, inconsistent, and dissatisfying.

P.S. I recently finished Evidence of Love by Jim Atkinson and John Bloom, as recommended by you and Megan Abbott, and I meant to include it in my recommendations. It is one of the craziest true-crime books I’ve ever read, about a gory ax murder in suburban Dallas. It’s pulpy but told in an ingenious way, where you know who did it from the beginning, but not until the end do you figure out why.





Comments Showing 1-46 of 46 (46 new)

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message 1: by AGMaynard (new)

AGMaynard Wonderer wrote: "What we really need to know is who killed books for male readers.

I think it was GoodReads in the library with a candlestick."


Or maybe you could stop trying to bait people... Hey, maybe read a book!


message 2: by J. Darien (new)

J. Darien Yawn. Troll elsewhere.

<--- male

<--- not discriminated against by Goodreads or basically anything in the world.


message 3: by Patrick (new)

Patrick LeClerc Wonderer wrote: "What we really need to know is who killed books for male readers.

I think it was GoodReads in the library with a candlestick."


Nobody killed books for male readers.

If you can't find books for male readers, you aren't looking very hard.


message 4: by sarah (new)

sarah Wonderer wrote: "AGMaynard wrote: "Or maybe you could stop trying to bait people... Hey, maybe read a book! "

I'm not trying to bait anyone. I'm simply drawing attention to the travesty of fairness that is GoodRea..."


Female privilege doesn't exist. Since there are so many books written about men, by men, for men, Goodreads is just trying to promote female authors. After all, men have dominated the world of literature since, well, forever. I'm sure there are articles that are more up your alley, but just because they're not featured all the time doesn't mean it's discrimination.


message 5: by Aurora (new)

Aurora Before judging, maybe try reading some books by female authors...in my experience, talent doesnt discriminate based on gender...


message 6: by Kate (last edited Jul 16, 2018 07:18PM) (new)

Kate Hmmm. This is an interesting perspective. Being that I’m a woman, I haven’t really noticed that many of the features on the Goodreads blog would typically appeal to women more than men. So, I’m glad that you pointed that out. Discrimination is always troubling, in any form. I was a school teacher for years, it was very important to choose a variety of books to engage the boys as much as the girls. Unfortunately, this is not a priority for all teachers, and since the overwhelming majority of primary teachers are female... I never thought about this in terms of adult readers.

I consider myself a beneficiary of female privilege, btw. I vote but I can never get drafted. Over 90% of workplace fatalities are men. Men are more often victims of violent crime. If one includes incarcerated individuals, more men are raped in America than women. There is a wage gap that benefits women until the age of 30, when the average salary for women decreases due to women choosing to stay home with their children. (I’m part of that stat myself, actually) So, yea. I get it.

Edit: Wow. Just browsed through the articles. Very female-centric. That’s so sad. It would be nice to have a site that tries to engage ALL readers equally. Good luck finding books that you enjoy, Wonderer.


message 7: by Kate (new)

Kate Ann’s new book is due out in August! I’ve pre-ordered it already! Can’t wait! Good points, Wonderer. Definitely a lot of food for thought here.


message 8: by Kate (new)

Kate If you like Ann’s books, you should try Mark Steyn’s books. They are definitely similar in terms of humor and insight.


message 9: by Patrick (new)

Patrick LeClerc Wonderer wrote: "Patrick wrote: "Nobody killed books for male readers.

If you can't find books for male readers, you aren't looking very hard."

I'm pointing out how female privilege and social justice warriors ar..."


Survived the Corps.

Survived two decades working 911 in sketchy cities.

Thinking I'll survive Goodreads.

But thanks for being strong for me. I'll sleep well knowing you stand ready in the dark.


message 10: by J. Darien (new)

J. Darien I'm gonna go ahead and gloss over the nonsense from a person who doesn't understand what the word "discriminate" means, but I thought I should come back and say thank you to Ms. Bolin and Ms. Lippman for the excellent column.


message 11: by Aurora (new)

Aurora Male authors are far well known than female authors? They have plenty of media buzz, plenty of fans, plenty of reviews in prestigious magazines and newspapers. Not many female authors get that attention. And in some of peoples minds, just because a woman wrote it, it means its going to be bad. Sad but true...

For example, in YA, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS is far better known than any of Lurlene McDaniels books... although i found the THE FAULT IN OUR STARS to be pretentious and offensive on so many levels.

Science fiction and fantasy are far more respected than romance and womens fictions in peoples minds; ( i love LOVE womens fiction!) And why is it women have to bend over to accomodate men? Why do men rarely accomodate women in their activities?


message 12: by Brian (new)

Brian Would love to read a thread related to the article rather than a diversion.


message 13: by Aurora (new)

Aurora My apologies


message 14: by Brian (last edited Jul 16, 2018 08:50PM) (new)

Brian Aurora wrote: "My apologies"

No apologies necessary. :-)

Honestly just trying to be a peacemaker. Lol.


message 15: by shady (new)

shady the real question here is why is anybody even debating anything with a trump supporter? I mean have you even see his profile, he comes up here makes the whole discussion about himself and trolls people on how "goodreads is discriminating again male authors and readers" buddy if you really need an exclusive list for male reader go check out list of winners for all well renowned book awards, you'll find plenty there.


message 16: by shady (new)

shady great article Cybil! these are really good book recommendations!! I'll be sure to check some out.


message 17: by Ankit (last edited Jul 18, 2018 03:09AM) (new)

Ankit Saxena Wonderer wrote: "AGMaynard wrote: "Or maybe you could stop trying to bait people... Hey, maybe read a book! "

I'm not trying to bait anyone. I'm simply drawing attention to the travesty of fairness that is GoodRea..."


That's looking a fair point.


message 18: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey --> Interviewee literally says it's time to reduce a certain race from a genre
--> Goodreads readers argue it's not discriminatory

Sounds about right for this place.


message 19: by Kristin (new)

Kristin Wonderer wrote: "What we really need to know is who killed books for male readers.

I think it was GoodReads in the library with a candlestick."

What do you mean killing male writers? James Patterson, Grisham, Lee Child, David Balduchi (sp?)..there are still.plenty of contemporary male writers


message 20: by Anissa (last edited Jul 17, 2018 11:54AM) (new)

Anissa Wonderer, If you're looking to get Goodreads to put your ideas/concerns on the list of possibilities they take feedback directly in their Feedback group here: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/... & they do reply. I've also had good results emailing them directly.

I used one or other of these methods long ago to mention my disappointment in how overwhelming the coverage of YA seemed to be (they've improved with that over the years, so I'm glad I said something to them directly).


message 21: by Cindy (new)

Cindy How did I know that Wonderer would be at the center of the conversation when I saw that this post had 27 comments this morning? Because he's a privileged white male who cannot stand when something is not about him. I am sure that Goodreads keeps great stats on who their audience is. And if it seems like it doesn't include you, it's probably because the majority of Goodreads users are not like you, but are in fact who their blog posts seem to target. Maybe you are just on the wrong platform. Or maybe you could open your white, male eyes and see that women have been pushed down in literature since the beginning of the written word and they deserve their time to shine. Not everything is about you, white boy. And it shouldn't be. I really wish Goodreads would make a block feature that would make it so that you cannot see people's comments. As a librarian, I read every blog post and I am sick to death of seeing Wonderer's responses to them all. It's more than annoying, it's demeaning to all women. Each and every time. Goodreads, can you help with that? I use your site, not just as a reader, but as a librarian, every day and am able to help my patrons find new books and old books using the site. I would love to not have to see sexist, racist, etc comments every time I come to the page. There's a reason I am not on a ton of social media. This is it.


message 22: by Michelle (new)

Michelle J. Darien wrote: "Yawn. Troll elsewhere.

<--- male

<--- not discriminated against by Goodreads or basically anything in the world."


You, I like, pending further investigation. ;)


message 23: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Patrick wrote: "Survived the Corps.

Survived two decades working 911 in sketchy cities.

Thinking I'll survive Goodreads.

But thanks for being strong for me. I'll sleep well knowing you stand ready in the dark."


1. Thank you for your service.
2. LOL!


message 24: by Michelle (new)

Michelle This is my favorite blog post in a while, lots of food for thought and great suggestions!


message 25: by AGMaynard (new)

AGMaynard Wonderer wrote: "AGMaynard wrote: "Or maybe you could stop trying to bait people... Hey, maybe read a book! "

I'm not trying to bait anyone. I'm simply drawing attention to the travesty of fairness that is GoodRea..."


When ANYONE tries to/wind up highlight(ing) ANYBODY except male writers even if a female to two is slipped in, some males tend to notice and comment negatively. I wonder why? Do you not understand that it's a chiefly MALE WORLD, MALE GAZE, MALE PRIVILEGE that burbles along ALL THE TIME????


message 26: by Kate (new)

Kate Cindy, you lament "racism and sexism", while derisively sneering that Wonderer's views should be ignored because he is a "white boy". Cindy, you are the racist. You are the sexist. When you try to delegitimize someone's opinions specifically because of gender and skin color, that is racist. That is sexist. Your comments are similar to pre-genocide propoganda. You are seeking to invalidate someone because of race and sex. This has been the precursor to every genocide ever committed. Please take your racism and sexism elsewhere.


message 27: by Kate (new)

Kate And Cindy, may I add, gross...just gross.


message 28: by Kay Dee (last edited Jul 17, 2018 09:59AM) (new)

Kay Dee as somebody who does social media for a library, i find it VERY hard to find non feminine memes and pictures about books/reading. so it's not just GR. even interesting articles and trivia may be interesting to both sexes but the pic might make a man assume it's just something a woman would be interested in.

the writers and main characters may be predominantly male in the majority of published books but SOCIETY and marketing target women with book stuff. unless it's scifi, fantasy, spy thrillers, or other so called"male" genres.

Wonderer pointed out a flaw in how books are marketed. something teachers and librarians are well aware of. instead of saying how can we fix this y'all just acted like he was attacking women. listen, like REALLY, listen and consider another POV before you just jump to being offended.


message 29: by Aurora (last edited Jul 17, 2018 10:53AM) (new)

Aurora In a previous blog article he also talked about " female privilege" and how it dominates goodreads. This guy is a troll. He wants us to argue; he never mentioned whether or not he tried to tell GR about his feelings, or better yet, write an article yourself and post it on your blog or website instead of inciting fighting on here...

Also, he doesnt talk about male author diversity, so what are we to assume?


message 30: by AGMaynard (new)

AGMaynard Aurora wrote: "In a previous blog article he also talked about " female privilege" and how it dominates goodreads. This guy is a troll. He wants us to argue; he never mentioned whether or not he tried to tell GR ..."

That he doesn't really want a discussion (he protests too much, me thinks) but an UPROAR. Ignore and move on!


message 31: by Erin (new)

Erin So just out of curiosity I went back through previous Goodreads blog posts and decided to do some actual statistics. (This is from the most recent 5 pages of Goodreads blog posts.)

General recommendation lists
7 Great Books Hitting Shelves Today x6
Readers Choose Today's Great American Novelist
The Best Audiobooks of 2018
What Is the Perfect Beach Read Anyway?
The 28 Most-Read New Books of 2018
The Best Books of the Year (So Far)
Catch Up Now: These Big Series All Have Books Coming Out in July
The Most Popular One-Hit Wonder Novels
20 Upcoming Books Librarians, Editors, and Booksellers Think You'll Love
7 Buzzy Books Hitting Shelves Today x2
The 24 All-Time Favorite Book Club Picks on Goodreads
Catch Up Now: These Big Series All Have Books Coming Out in June
Bill Gates Shares His Top Picks for Summer Reading
Your Summer Reading Preview
Goodreads Employees Share Their Summer Reading Plans
The Hottest Books of Summer

Genre-specific recommendation lists
Riding the Tide: Sarah Henning Shares Her Top YA Picks for the High Seas
52 Books That Hooked Readers on YA
16 of the Hottest Romance Books of Summer
The Unputdownable Domestic Suspense Thrillers of 2018
The Hottest YA Books of Summer
Astrobiologist Adam Frank's 10,000-Light-Year Reading List
24 Sci-Fi & Fantasy Audiobook Series to Binge On
Sabaa Tahir’s Top YA Picks for Young Rebels with a Cause
24 of the Year's Highest-Rated Nonfiction (So Far)

Posts about specific genres
Killing the 'Dead Girl' Theme in Crime Fiction
Careful or You’ll End Up in My Novel: The Romance Novelist at Work

Featuring specific books or authors
Exclusive: Megan Whalen Turner Reveals the Cover for 'Return of the Thief'
Jennie Shaw Really Nails Her Book Reviews
Inside Gillian Flynn's Dark and Rage-Filled Empire
The Good, the Bad, and the Puns: How a Bestselling Author Creates Book Title Magic
Sarah Jessica Parker’s Next Big Challenge? Book Publishing
Astrobiologist Adam Frank's 10,000-Light-Year Reading List
Author Travels Deep into North Korea for New Thriller

Posts about reading books
13 Ways of Coping with a Book Hangover
Hot Reading Challenge Tips from Pros Who Read More Than 100 Books a Year
Get Ready for the Ultimate Summer Reading Challenge

Posts targeted at specific demographics
Killing the 'Dead Girl' Theme in Crime Fiction
12 New Graphic Novels to Keep Kids Reading All Summer
Sugar, Spice, and Ruthlessness: What Unconventional YA Heroines Are Made Of
Allison Pearson's Five Books You Should Give Your Daughter
Top Children's Book Picks from Our Readers

Miscellaneous/Other
July's Poetry Contest Winner: Portrait of My Family as a Pack of Cigarettes
Introducing the All-New, Faster Goodreads Android App—Includes Rereads, Deals, and More
Announcing the Winner of the Summer Vacation Story Contest
June's Poetry Contest Winner: Why They Got Deported

That should be 50 posts total (some are listed twice). Three are targeted specifically at women. (The other two demographic-specific posts are targeted at getting kids to read, not to mention the extreme prevalence of YA - does that mean Goodreads is endorsing "child privilege" and oppressing adults?) The rest are for general audiences. And sure, I'll admit I wish they'd ease up a bit on all the YA, but come on!


message 32: by Amy (new)

Amy Ingalls J. Darien wrote: "Yawn. Troll elsewhere.

<--- male

<--- not discriminated against by Goodreads or basically anything in the world."



So funny!


message 33: by Amy (new)

Amy Ingalls Cindy wrote: "How did I know that Wonderer would be at the center of the conversation when I saw that this post had 27 comments this morning? Because he's a privileged white male who cannot stand when something ..."

I agree with you! I also wonder why he is still on Goodreads when all he does is complain about it.


message 34: by Patrick (new)

Patrick LeClerc What frustrates me about this kind of thing is that this blog post isn't against men in any way. It takes nothing from men, it just considers a very real issue in how female characters are used in thrillers.

I agree with the thrust of the post, that it's far too common for female characters to exist to motivate the male characters rather than as fully realized characters. It's so prevalent in a lot of fiction that we accept it without questioning. I think that's an issue.

Nothing about that discussion "discriminates against men."

I will indulge in sexist jargon and suggest that anybody who feels that this is discrimination needs to grow a pair.


message 35: by Erin (new)

Erin Patrick wrote: "What frustrates me about this kind of thing is that this blog post isn't against men in any way. It takes nothing from men, it just considers a very real issue in how female characters are used in ..."

It's fascinating, how many people nowadays seem to think that representation is a zero sum game. As if the very existence of books that are targeted at women somehow means that nobody is writing for men anymore, or treating female characters like people is somehow detrimental to a male audience. (Because no book can ever have more than one compelling character? Because one's manhood hinges on not treating women like people? Because it's somehow "discrimination" unless anything and everything is always about you?)

Granted, I've seen this exact same thing among women too, what with people claiming that, on the one hand, more feminine female characters are nothing but useless damsels (as if only competence in traditionally masculine fields is of value), and on the other hand, that strong female characters don't represent "real women" (they do represent real women, just not you personally). As if it's only possible for authors to write one single archetype of female characters, and as if every single female character who appears in a work of fiction has to look exactly like you.


message 36: by Kay Dee (new)

Kay Dee Erin wrote: "Patrick wrote: "What frustrates me about this kind of thing is that this blog post isn't against men in any way. It takes nothing from men, it just considers a very real issue in how female charact..."

Well Erin summed it all up quite nicely. 👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾😊


message 37: by lucky little cat (new)

lucky little cat Lippmann and Bolin are both loaded for bear here and get in some marvelous points. I'm also thrilled to see a rec for Ellroy's excellent My Dark Places.

I'm a little troubled that the discussion moves from crime novels to detective novels to noir as if these are synonymous. They're not, of course, and each genre has inevitably relegated women to distinctly different roles.

And Bolan's resulting idea that "hey, femme fatale = undead Dead Girl" is just needlessly glib. And wrong.

But the authors had a lot of ground to cover, and not much space to do it in.


message 38: by Barbara (new)

Barbara Elle Thank you for an excellent column, but here’s my take: as an adult and a mystery writer: I’m tiring of the “girl” trope, never mind the crazy girl trope. In Death In Vermilion, my characters are women, complicated, competitive and ambivalent, reflecting my own stage of life and perhaps a lot of readers out there. I consider anyone past thirty as clearly an adult, male or female. Used to be girls were either children or golden. Not sure why this has morphed—Goodreads, have any theories out there?


message 39: by J. Darien (new)

J. Darien Chris wrote: “unless black, gay, disabled, poor, etc. etc. ... This ^^ is what happens when your entire political viewpoint comes from pop feminism."

On the very, very narrow chance you were being sincere instead of just joining the troll wagon, you’re right that my statement could have been more precise. I am not discriminated against [for being male] on GR or elsewhere.

That said, I am a straight, white, cisgender male raised in a middle class suburb and with a college degree. Virtually every facet of American society caters to me and people superficially like me. I see myself reflected in virtually every book, magazine, tv show and film.

This is a pretty good post in which two women discuss between themselves a particular trope in how women are presented in a particular genre of novel. The idea that such a post is an attack on me, that somehow allowing two women to talk without a man being involved is discrimination against men, is laughable. Absurd. And anyone promoting that complaint is acting like a petulant child.


message 40: by lucky little cat (new)

lucky little cat Spam, trolls, and troll-feeding. I'm unsubscribing to this discussion. I do appreciate Bolan and Lippmann's original post.


message 41: by Patrick (new)

Patrick LeClerc I want to commend J Darien on his post, but I don't want to add to his privilege. ;)

But, yeah, I think we can allow women to discuss women in fiction without considering it an attack on men.


message 42: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl Harlow Patrick wrote: "I want to commend J Darien on his post, but I don't want to add to his privilege. ;)

But, yeah, I think we can allow women to discuss women in fiction without considering it an attack on men."


That is what I love about our 1st Amendment rights in the USA: provocative speech is protected speech too. Read on readers of all sizes, races, colors, genders, and opinions and continue to engage in debates because it sharpens our own stances and makes us all THINK!


message 43: by Anonyma'am (last edited Jul 26, 2018 03:07PM) (new)

Anonyma'am Three things:

1. I'd love it if people would stop classifying books as "male", "female", "chick-lit", "women's fiction", etc. They're just books! Stop "genderizing" them!

2. To the person/people who complain about "no books for men": just read *any* damn book. Open a book with a plot that interests you and try to suspend the idea that you *need* certain things to make it worth your time.

3. Just once, I'd like to read a crime story/thriller in which the woman (I hate "girl" for an adult) is *not* beautiful and still have people care that she's dead and why. And I've only read one - one! - book in which one of the heroic main characters was a somewhat plain, pudgy woman. I think it was Brad Meltzer. Why should that be?


message 44: by Michelle (new)

Michelle I think girl is sometimes used ironically, like with Gone Girl. Other times, a character is at an age that straddles a line. Sometimes it's just ... a condescending term, of course.


message 45: by Kay Dee (last edited Jul 27, 2018 06:42AM) (new)

Kay Dee Anonyma'am wrote: "Three things:

1. I'd love it if people would stop classifying books as "male", "female", "chick-lit", "women's fiction", etc. They're just books! Stop "genderizing" them!

2. To the person/people ..."


yes to all of numbers 1 and 3.
#2 the original complaint was not about"no books for men." complaint was about GR and other sites articles. the majority of them are focused on women readers not men. that they were not even.


message 46: by Robert (new)

Robert Lozowchuk I don't know why there has to be a classification of stories as? "Male", or, "Female". I suggest we stick to already established clsssifications like, "murder", "thriller", "psychological thiller", or anyof the hundreds of others. Whether the book is aboit the killer, or the victim, can quickly be established by reading the back cover.


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