Eleven down

October 25, 2006

I find chick dick fiction a satisfying, if sometimes fleeting, form of therapy. Some reach for chocolate, I reach for a Janet Evanovich novel. This evening I made it through all of Evanovich’s Eleven On Top. No need to reiterate how much I enjoy my research, and because the grad student in me doesn’t always know how to stop, was thinking the entire time of why I keep coming back to these novels (I’m not the only one pondering this question; hordes of intrigued academics aside, check out this article in the McGill Tribune). While I could hypothesize for ages (or write a dissertation on it, even), some of it is that unlike many other serial writers, Evanovich manages to hang onto the stuff that keeps chick dick fiction interesting, for me at least: the mystery. It never takes a backseat to the angst of lust and life, and their intrusions often ring true for me, such as the momentary and consuming diversions of sugary treats, pretty shoes, or giving in to a sexy hand reaching up your shirt even when you know it’s going to lead to a capital-R Regret. Reading a lot of formula fiction, as I do, things start to jump out at you, this time the phrases “he cut his eyes to the man standing…” and “he angled out of the car.” These expressions stay vivid for me precisely because of their overuse – they’ve become a cliché of pump-it-out-fast writing and in other circumstances tend to grate. But here they remind me of what these kinds of novels are trying to do – straddle competing generic worlds, get the mass-market fiction audience, convey an image with the efficiently of the familiar. I feel better, or at least distracted, now. And I can fall asleep without wondering whodunit.

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Savvy?

September 1, 2006

When I looked at the calendar this afternoon I noticed that somehow the summer has ended. I panicked. So much stuff left unfinished (well, mostly just the dissertation proposal), but there was something I could still cross off the list. Which means I finally saw Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. So much swashbuckling action and fun CGI! And a reminder that both Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom are welcome any time (they can eat all the crackers they want in my bed). This is not to diminish the appeal of the boy I brought with me, who has the added benefit of being real and who occasionally expresses interest in puffy shirts (jokingly, but a girl can dream). So now the fall can officially start, and good thing too, since I have my first of what will no doubt be an eight-month marathon of meetings Tuesday morning. I managed to catch the last metro back, and saw something neat – a little tunnel trolley carting things around on the tracks. It had never occurred to me that they could be used for transporting things other than people, and I had an unsettling frisson not unlike the sensation of being in the mall when all the stores are closing, rattling their giant chainlink doors shut and plunging the mannequins into darkness. It reminded me of two stories: Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, and Jenny Colgan’s “The Wrong Train” in the Tart Noir anthology. I’m either going to finally buy a metro pass, or start grabbing transfers on my way in as proof that I’m where I’m supposed to be. Such paranoia is an unavoidable consequence of reading speculative fiction, but can you imagine how dull I’d be if I never let my imagination run away from me?

Poking around S.W. Welch this weekend I came across yet another book that fits within my conveniently vague parameters for dissertation background reading, Lori Wilde’s License to Thrill. It’s the story of a sassy young private eye who doesn’t take no crap from no body, least of all no man, until one day a dashingly handsome uppercrust type strolls into her storefront office looking for his grandfather. Hijinks ensue. Most were inadvertent flesh-brushing sparks-flying, but there was a decent bout of explicit hot-tubbing. I haven’t read a straight-up romance novel in awhile (the detective stuff was all a foxy front for trapping the two characters in erotically tight situations), and remembered with surprise that those always end happily, which in this genre means marriage – ah, art imitating, well, certainly not life. None of the texts I’m dealing with for my thesis end this way. While chick dick texts certainly involve a healthy dose of sex they more closely align with what Janice Radway terms in her canonical Reading the Romance the ‘failed romance,’ a story that “fails to convince the reader that the traditional sexual arrangements are benign” (133). Part of this stems from the chick dick’s debt to the hardboiled tradition in which relationships are inevitably doomed, yet in these stories the women leave the men behind, frustrating typical romance narratives’ sense of closure – the story never ends with mutual declarations of love, or often even interest. The chick dick’s object of desire may still be the heterosexual male, but a monogamous relationship is no longer a source of pleasure, a key inversion of most texts produced for women. This intrigues me, and so I was dissatisfied with License to Thrill (though I love the title – where do I get mine?). It was, however, just the kind of book to get me through an afternoon of codeine-popping, hot water bottle-clutching cramps. Nothing staves off uterine reality like a fantasy world in which all sex is mind-blowing and all men have a rock-hard… core of true decency. And technically it’s research.