Reviewers ask, what is chick-lit? What is postfeminist fiction? They are annoyed
when the editors of this new anthology, Cris Mazza and Jeffrey DeShell, fail to answer
those questions adequately (or obviously) in their separate introductions. But if we are
capable of reading the book, aren't we capable of figuring out what its titles and
introductions might mean?|
Chick-Lit. A hyphenated word. If you say it as a spondee, accenting both
syllables equally, it's a very hip term - confident and cool: this is "lit" by chicks. Read
If you say it as a trochee, accenting the first syllable, you get a term even more
reductive than the slang term Chick that replaced Broad and Babe in the evolving
spectrum of demeaning endearments. What you get is a baby chicken.
If you remove the hyphen and say it as one word real fast you get a more
powerful meaning; this is especially true if you ignore the first three letters.
Finally, you might be thinking of those tiny brightly colored squares; if you put
enough of them in your mouth, you'll get a wad of chewing gum.
The colon after Chick-Lit indicates a definition is about to be presented: Chick-
Lit is Postfeminist Fiction. Whew. But then you wonder, what does that
is no hyphen: this fiction is not just feminist, it's postfeminist. Unfortunately (or not, as
we may determine later), the prefix post has several meanings: after,
subsequent to, behind, posterior, posterior to, later than. Although the differences
between some of these meanings are subtle, we wonder: is this book after
or behind it? Is it posterior to feminism, or is it subsequent to
feminism, which implies more of a relationship? Or is post supposed to do what so much
naturally: evoke all the meanings?
Probably a bigger dilemma exists in exploring the second part of the work:
feminist. Is anyone sure what that really means? I know I'm not: the term has changed
so much over the years that I find elements of it which I identify with intensely and
elements of it which I reject with equal passion.
The notion of Chick-Lit: Postfeminist Fiction is perplexing (and the cover
doesn't exactly provide an uncluttered avenue toward enlightenment), so the next step
is to enter the book. Here you find yourself confronted with another title - On the
New Women's Fiction Anthology. Now you must start again.
Another colon, another potential definition: New Women's Fiction is on the edge.
But on the edge of what? Postfeminism? Fiction in general? Madness? A
breakthrough? And being on the edge implies not yet having made the choice to
return to the previous state or to jump.
And what does New Women's Fiction mean? I remember the term The New
Woman from the Sixties; she was the liberated woman, but those terms have been
absorbed into so much current feminist language that they seem archaic now.
Perhaps it refers to the fiction itself but if so, is it the fiction we've always known by a
new breed of woman or is it a new breed of fiction by the women we have always
Reviewer and readers then turn to the editors' introductions looking for answers.
And what happens? They are disappointed because Mazza and DeShell don't provide
clean and clear definitions of their titles in their respective introductions, What is
Postfeminist Fiction? and Over the Edge: On Being a Male Editor of a Woman's
Anthology. What's a reader to do?
Read the book. The whole book. Certainly, individual pieces respond to various
levels of what Chick-Lit might mean, what postfeminist fiction might be, what it means
to be on the edge, etc. But as a whole book, it draws itself back to the network of
associations that all of the titles form (except, perhaps, the gum).
Chick-Lit is hip, stylish, confident and sharp - it's also honest and very brave. It
battles and conquers the term Chick; it explores, explains, sometimes gives into
sometimes blows away the notion of a chicklet, trapped by birth to imprint its parents;
it is sexual and sensual in dear or savage or shocking ways. And it proves itself
structurally, lyrically, and formally as lit-erature.
The anthology calls up all of the subtle differences in the prefix post and
introduces multi-leveled ideas of feminism - it's historical, political, social, economic; it's
funny, sad, dramatic, mean, indulgent, moving, scary. It's about mothers, daughters,
wives, lovers, partners, victims, heroes, whiners, friends, Dorothy in Oz. By being so
inclusive, it signals an end to an older feminism in the meaning of post as epoch
well as shooting off new tendrils by calling on post as subsequent to - and
upon - the feminism we may know now.
This collection of fiction draws from the past and addresses a future that forces
us to confront a new array of situations as we move toward the year 2000: it is on the
edge. And it is new in every sense: new writers, established writers doing new things,
new characters handling age-old conflicts in new ways. Many of these characters don't
feel compelled to choose a single way to be: they don't feel the ultimatum to give in to
tradition or to break completely away. The characters are a study in contrasts at once -
brave and terrified, clear and confused, beautiful and ugly, smart and stupid, mean
And this is new fiction in much of its form and voice and content, proudly on the
edge of the genre - making use of standard fiction practices within original reinvented
forms that accommodate new messages, meanings.
The Publishers Weekly review said some of the pieces fail to "soar above
banality"; I mean this sincerely when I say I know mine is one of those. After I had
read the book and thought about it as a whole in the context of its titles, I realized that
while my subject fit into some of the categories the titles imply, it wasn't really Chick-Lit
in the way the other pieces are. I didn't take a big enough risk. I didn't allow my
character to be what she really is: someone who wallowed in guilt and liked it; who
really cared only about herself; who hated her own mother and blamed her
erroneously; who gave things that were easy to give; who was a fraud and knew it
and knew that the poor woman receiving her ridiculous gifts knew it too. I let her
believe in her own dishonesty because I was scared when I should have been
fearless, had guts. Chick-Lit has guts. And so do Mazza and DeShell. They
applauded for not giving in to the urge to be authorities. The work in this book cannot
be confined to a label with an easy definition and that, I think, is what the titles and
the introductions were trying to say.
Diane Goodman is an associate professor at
Allegheny College. She has poems published or forthcoming in Chick-Lit,
Long Baptism, Indiana Review, African American Review,
Negative Capability, Manhattan Poetry Review, Cincinnati
Poetry Review, Gulf Stream, and Pig Iron. Her chapbook,
Constellations, was published by Heatherstone Press.
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