I've taken a little break from blogging about writing books in order to actually write books, a good trade as far as I'm concerned, but it's good to exercise the blog-muscle too. (Or really any muscles -- I also exercise somewhat less when I'm in the writing throes than when I'm in the prepping-for-writing-throes. My agent's point, and it's a good one, is, "Everyone can exercise. Not everyone can write." Fair enough.) Also we adopted a puppy from this very great shelter (should you find yourself in the greater Seattle area and craving a pet) called PAWS. Does everyone want to see a picture of said puppy, even though really she's a subject for another post? Of course you do.
ANYWAY, the point of this post is not to look at puppy pictures nor to recommend a book but -- wait for it -- a book review. Never in my life have I recommended a book review. Never in my life has anyone recommended a book review to me. I can't recommend the book because I haven't read it yet. But the review, well, the review blew my mind. It's by Katie Roiphe for Slate on a new novel called The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt. (Is it bad form to link an entire sentence? Whatever.)
I like Katie Roiphe though boy does she piss people off. Which is some of what I like about her. She started off pissing people off -- that is, she remains most famous for her first book, The Morning After, which argued (in 1993) that that statistic you hear that one in four female college students will be raped at school is a load of shit. She further argues that saying so does everyone a tremendous disservice and that saying to women who had sex when they wished they didn't that it wasn't their fault because they were drunk or felt bad basically keeps women second class citizens. What has always impressed me about this book is not the argument itself but that she wrote it in grad school while getting a PhD in English.
Getting a PhD in English seems like it should have something to do with writing books, but it really doesn't, especially not this kind of not-about-literature book. Her writing this book during graduate school seems to me about as impressive as learning a foreign language during the World Series. I will also say it was timely and provocative, and too little is. She writes for Slate now, as well as other publications as well as other books, about a whole variety of topics, which itself has been criticized as selling out in some circles, that she was going to be this feminist academic powerhouse and instead is writing memoir and book reviews and thoughts on parenting and marriage (because really, what kind of feminist cares about self, books, parenting, or marriage? Jeez.) Anyway, this is a person who both can't win for losing and wins big time for losing, so even when I disagree with her -- she wrote an article once about how ridiculous parents are to get so worked up when their kids won't sleep and she just lets her toddler wander around her apartment all night -- I am challenged and intrigued. And challenged and intrigued are good.
I will also point out the obvious which is two-fold: 1) much of the problem with her being edgy, provocative, critical, dismissive, judgmental, and prone to not giving a shit what other people think of her is that she's also female (as are her harshest critics). And 2) as you will recall from the start of this sentence, even though that's obvious, I feel the need to point it out.
All of which is to say: when Katie Roiphe says stuff, you'd do well to give it some thought. And in this book review, she wonders whether, "in coming years, the most provocative work in feminism will be in novels....It may be that the challenges currently facing feminist thinkers, the subtleties of how sexism plays out...are better dealt with in fiction. Now that we no longer need to name or discover it--'Sexism exists!'--the flatfooted outrage...is too crude, too simplifying, too unchallenging, too predictable, and the novel's delicate touch may be precisely what is called for." (Bold ecstatically mine.)
How great is that?
Like many in my generation, I came to feminism early and without question. Then I read a thousand pounds of feminist theory in grad school from which I learned a lot of history but a very little praxis. My search therefore has been where to go from here. We've ferreted sexism out, but my generation has neither done nor said very much new about it. Roiphe's point is ferreting it out -- pointing to it, linking to it, blogging about it, lecturing about it, non-fictioning about it -- has proven insufficient. So perhaps fiction is the feminist way forward. Novels are how the message progresses and minds are changed and consciousness is raised and change occurs. Novels, AS ONCE THEY WERE, will be again where the new, smart, strong, provocative, important, political, timely things are being said on this front, said and heard and germinated.
My own bias is for novels anyway. I am entirely a proponent of fiction being more true than non-fiction (after all, you can make it up). I have never had to be convinced that fiction matters and matters most of all, the case for which is a feminist one both historically and critically anyway. And still this seems revelatory to me. This makes me stand up and cheer! Who gets to carry the feminist mantle into the next wave? Novelists! To which I say: a) hell yeah and b) I'm so on it.
About The Author
Laurie Frankel writes novels (reads novels, teaches other people to write novels, raises a small person who reads and would like someday to write novels) in Seattle, Washington where she lives on a nearly vertical hill from which she can watch three different bridges while she's staring out her windows between words. She's originally from Maryland and makes good soup.