Benoit Lelievre writes fiction and blogs over at Dead End Follies. Do yourself a favor and follow what he does.
By Benoit Lelievre
Polly Courtney (pictured) made the news this week by leaving her publisher (Harper friggin’ Collins) for condescending behavior. They referred to her novels as “chick lit”. Ms. Courtney claimed that her books were “commercial fiction” sure, but not “chick lit” or “women fiction”. That led to a lot of discussions over blogs and on Twitter, with female book bloggers. I just wonder what the fuck is the problem?
A female blogger told me yesterday “Men don’t have a fiction genre; it’s condescending to trap women into one”. Wait a minute. Nobody’s trapped. The existence of “chick lit” doesn’t force women readership to read only that and I’m sorry, but men do have their own genre and it’s called pulp fiction. Noir, if you want. And this is a genre that’s been frowned upon and treated like dirt. Before continuing, I want to specify that I know some women have been writing pulp fiction novels and some damn good ones. But chicks like Christa Faust, Hilary Davidson and Megan Abbott are women in a man’s world. Much power to them, but they're a clear minority.
Your traditional James Cain/Jim Thompson is really as manly as literature can get. Every woman is a venomous vixen or a helpless girl in dire need to be saved (sometimes both at the same time), everybody’s out to get you and the only way to go is down. There has been a wider array of noir themes, but this is the basics. Like for “chick lit”, the girl just got dumped by a disinterested boyfriend, sulks around and then magically stumbles upon the perfect guy. Once again, it’s a genre. It’s literature with a set of loose guidelines. You will find the male pendant of “chick lit” readers in your local bookstore’s mystery section, browsing Vachss, Guthrie, Thompson, Westlake, Smith, Cain, Piccirilli, Burke, etc.
If you haven’t already, I strongly suggest you watch Nicolas Winding Refn’s adaptation of James Sallis’s novel DRIVE. Making extensive use of every cinematographic tricks in his bag, Refn describes Driver’s bleak reality with subtlety and almost tenderness. He makes Irene warm and inviting and he plunges him in darkness more often than not, whenever he’s at the wheel. He makes Driver’s world slow down whenever he’s doing a reflex-oriented task. Really, Ryan Gosling doesn’t say much throughout the whole movie because like in any good noir, his characters talks little and acts when it’s important (taking questionable decisions, of course). DRIVE is a film noir and a beautiful work of art. There’s nothing cheap or “pulpy” about it.
I’m sorry Polly Courtney, but I can’t take you seriously. Your books are called “chick lit”, so what? They’re books about women, having problems that male readers can’t really identify with. What’s the problem with that, since most of your readership is female anyway? It sounds fair to me. I never heard Sophie Kinsella complain about it? “Chick lit” sells. You’re not the one who should be worried about how your genre is perceived.