Sunday, January 04, 2004

French Restaurant

In the late 1990s, I signed up for a women's bookclub, eager for a woman-identified experience of sisterhood and solidarity. The experience was a lesson in "buyer (or reader) beware."

Each month, the group selected a new "hilarious tale of the modern single gal," every one of them a rip-off (or precursor?) of Bridget Jones Diary. After each club meeting, I felt more like Ground Hog's Day's Bill Murray, trapped in a recurring nightmare of frothy, fictional dames whom the book jackets (invariably!) described as "obsessed with chocolate, the dreamy boss, and losing that last 5 pounds."

Bleh. The publishers that churn out this crap I had once cursed as both condescending and unimaginative. But now I understood. If our little bookclub was any indication, they were simply responding to reader demands. After too many months of this, my teeth started to hurt--in an unhealthy, self-hating way. Chocolate started to taste like a nasty cliché. I contemplated giving it up, and maybe heterosexuality, too, if that would help me avoid becoming one of the women we read about.

Finally, it came around to my turn to select a book. Since some of the women were teachers, I thought they might like Pat Conroy's The River is Wide. (I was in my brief Conroy phase then, having just heard him speak in Minneapolis.) Well, they didn't like it. In fact, they politely suggested that I either a) forfeit all future turns at picking a title; or b) leave the book club.

Gratefully, I made my exit. But not before an evil plot had taken root in my mind. Why are there no esteem-crushing books out there for twenty-something men? Shouldn't somebody start writing some?

p.s. Maybe the secret to writing bearable fiction about self-absorbed women is to give them British accents? That's certainly true for self-absorbed male characters. Much as I admire John Cusack, I found him insufferable in High Fidelity. Yet—and this is tough for me to admit—if they'd properly cast Nick Hornsby's protagonist with someone with a British accent, I'd likely have considered him an annoying, but oddly amiable, fellow. Oh, wait. Is Hornsby already writing the frozen-in-adolescence male fiction that parallels the Bridget Jones (Helen Fielding) genre?

p.p.s. This rant was originally going to be a report on last night's visit to a yummy French restaurant. But that reminded me of a previous visit to a French restaurant, one owned by the husband of one of the book club members. Proud of this guy's success, the book club women made a special trip to dine (for free, it turned out!) at his swank Stillwater eatery. The food was gorgeous, but also so very rich that I puked in an alley afterward. Little wonder they kicked me out of that club.


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