As much as I can wile away the hours watching Sex in the City, I am not a fan of “chick lit”. While I can buy into Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha’s looking for love and endless shopping, it just doesn’t translate as well into the written word. The last chick lit book I read was The Friday Night Knitting Club, and I had the sneaking suspicion I would soon see a Lifetime channel adaptation of it. It was a real heavy-estrogen-hitter guaranteed to connect to all women. The female characters span all ages and ethnicities. Their relationship statuses would make even Facebook jealous: a widow finding new love, an anti-domestic goddess cheats on her husband, a spunky single mom with a bi-racial child (whose dad is wildly rich and successful), a middle-aged woman deciding to have a child alone. They all forge a close friendship. They knit. In Manhattan. Spunky mom and daughter visit cute little grandma in a quaint village in Scotland. Are there any other two settings for a chick lit novel besides England, Paris, and Tuscany? There’s a good dose of cancer thrown in for good measure. I read the book on a plane, and a woman sitting nearby leaned over and squealed, “Oh, I loved that book! You’re going to cry at the end!” I smiled politely at her. I had a good idea how the book would end, and I had a good idea that I wouldn’t cry. It did and I didn’t.
The problem about chick lit is that it feels precisely calibrated to elicit certain female responses from it’s readers. It says to women, “This is what you should value: shopping, knitting, over-analyzing relationships, being a good friend/mother/sister/wife/woman, finding your true happiness, finding great sex, letting go of inhibitions, making fresh starts and saying goodbye, crying.” A woman should ultimately, at the end of the book, go to the city square and throw her cap in the air a la Mary Tyler Moore, because she will make it after all. None of these, except for over-analyzing relationships, is a bad thing, but it all feels prescribed. Maybe it’s because I do not embody a chick lit character and my life is not a chick lit life. I once told a close female friend that the chick lit life makes me rather uncomfortable; I don’t have a close circle of friends like Carrie Bradshaw that I divulge all of my feelings to. She felt the same way–which is probably why we’re friends.
Last night when I was about to jump into revolutionary Russia of Dr. Zhivago, I noticed John Krasinski’s picture on my grandma’s copy of Emily Giffen’s book, Something Borrowed. I’ve had a crush on him since Jim Halpert kissed Pam on “Casino Night”, and I never watched The Office prior to catching the end of that episode. Soon I was embroiled in a months-long Office binge. As with all lustful endeavors, one thing lead to another with the book, and I woke up with it next to me in bed. I threw my inhibitions to the wind, gave in to my desires, and had a decent read. Looking back on my one-night stand, I ask the typical questions: Was it worth it? Do I still respect myself?
Overall, it was a good way to kill a few hours. It’s great for summer, long airplane rides, or when your grandma and mom watch a sport that you don’t understand (ie. baseball). The main character, Rachel White, is a well-behaved, hard-working people pleaser. She is a thirty year old, single lawyer living in New York (where else?) who finds herself in a conundrum when she falls for her best friend’s fiance and he falls for her. This muddies the friendship water as the fiance, Dexter, doesn’t immediately break off the engagement. Then we are left with about 350 pages wondering if they will end up together or not. The novel is told from Rachel’s perspective, and through most of the book she reflects on her actions, the nature of her friendship with her drama-queen BFF, her feelings for Dexter, and whether or not it’s okay to put herself first.
Rachel hits almost all of the chick lit points, except for knitting. She lets go of her inhibitions, has great sex (lots of it), stands up for her happiness, says goodbye and makes a fresh start. Throughout the novel she over-analyzes her relationship and considers what kind of friend she is to Darcy, the girl who is engaged to Dex. If Rachel is a staid, goody-two-shoes, Darcy is the opposite. She parties, is irresponsible, loud, bossy, whiney, and demanding. As the consummate attention-seeker, she makes sure that she is the hottest one in the room and consistently lies about her own accomplishments so she can one-up Rachel. Her feelings for Dexter do not seem that strong. Rachel provides examples of Darcy’s admirable qualities from the past, but we never see them in action in the present. Giffen makes Darcy easy to dislike and easier for the reader to side with Rachel. But as annoying and immature as Darcy is, does she really deserve to have her fiance cheat on her with her best friend?
Another problem with chick lit is that everything is neat and tidy by the novel’s conclusion, and this book is no exception. Nobody ends up seriously hurt emotionally at the end of this novel. There are no good guys, and everyone is with who they should be with. Giffen structures it in a way that frees the reader from moral qualms of rooting for people who are having a relationship behind someone’s back. It’s all guilt-free, and the reader doesn’t have to think too hard about the book’s main theme, which I’m still trying to decide: a) cheating in a relationship is okay or b) you must do whatever it takes to fulfill your own happiness– even if it means cheating. And I’m not the kind of chick who would choose either option.