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Archive for September, 2012

I have noticed a pattern in my reading material of late. Three of the novels I finished over the summer have as their protagonists three very quirky single women.

Alexis M. Smith’s charming and quiet novel Glaciers (Tin House, 2012) gives us a single day in the life of a hipster heroine, Isabel, who works in a Portland library repairing damaged books, recalls with nostalgia a childhood in Alaska, shops at thrift stores, and crushes on a former soldier colleague. The surreal Radio Iris by Anne-Marie Kinney (Two Dollar Radio, 2012) features Iris, a loner who works in an office building for a mysterious and shifty boss (at a company whose purpose or product she cannot determine), and who feels drawn to a strange man in an office down the hall. Missy Marston’s The Love Monster (Vehicule Press, 2012) is a portrait of Margaret H. Atwood: senior editor at an insurance company, psoriasis sufferer, soon-to-be divorcee, best friends with a bottle of gin, and object of affection of an alien observer. No, not that Margaret Atwood. Yes, an actual alien.

While all three novels are tremendously different in tone (gently nostalgic, vaguely sinister, and darkly comedic), they all seem to address a fundamentally existential angst. All of these women are seeking fulfillment, meaning, and emotional connection. Unsurprisingly so, the project proves more difficult than advertised. In a refreshing twist, these are not the sad and silly women of Chick Lit who obsess over shopping, socializing, and snagging a man. Nor are they the glamorous women of Sex and the City, and for that I am grateful, for those women always made me feel like a failure at my own small life.

Smith, Kinney, and Marston imbue the quotidian with significance. They do not shy away from the loneliness, the isolation, or the confusion of their characters. They do not pathologize singlehood; nor do they pathologize solitude. They do not diminish the existential crises of their characters by solving those crises with shoe shopping or going for martinis with “the girls”. Their jobs aren’t glamorous; their love/sex lives aren’t fulfilling. There is no guarantee of Hollywood happy endings, and there are questions about what form any “happiness” might take.  Smith, Kinney, and Marston look the sadness of the single girl right in the eye, and accept it for what it is – a path to self-awareness and self-acceptance, and an acknowledgement of the importance of the fleeting pleasures and human connections of this world. Isabel, Iris, and Margaret are recognizable and real, and will resonate with readers because the struggle for connection and for a meaningful life strikes a chord in our increasingly technologically connected, but ultimately emotionally disconnected, world. C.S. Lewis is purported to have said, “We read to know that we are not alone.” In these three female characters, I found kindred spirits.

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