Thursday, September 25, 2008

Time Is a River: Tell Me Something I Need To Know

Pocket Books

July 2008

Provided free from Amazon Vine
Here I was expecting a poignant and insightful novel about breast cancer survival, and what I found was formulaic women's fiction where the protagonist just happened to be recovering from breast cancer. I have real problems with so-called women's fiction on two levels. First, I'm tired of fiction written by women for women, where the protagonist is jolted into a journey of self-awareness by the loutish behavior of one guy with the end-prize turning out to be––what else?––the love of another guy. Oh, there's plenty of bantering among the "sisterhood" in between, but the love of a man is, obviously, the only real reward in life. Second, it shows the ultimate disrespect for women readers to assume we will ignore stock characters and poorly developed plot lines just for a "happy" ending. Though, since this stuff obviously sells, I guess it's true––for some women at least, but not for me.

In Mary Alice Monroe's novel, it takes protagonist, Mia, exactly the length of one summer––during which she is divorcing her first husband whom she found with another woman so soon after her cancer treatments that her hair has barely grown back––to fall into the arms of yet another man. And we wonder why divorce rates are so high. Yes, I'm sure that body image and sexual desirabilty can be a major issue for breast cancer survivors, and I can understand throwing in a sexual encounter, but was that really the best time to begin a long-term relationship? Shouldn't one of her women friends bring this to her attention instead of acting like giggly school girls?

For me this novel represented a wealth of missed opportunities. Part of the strain on Mia's marriage was the strain her illness put on their finances. Were they among the 14 million Americans without healthcare coverage? Or was she one of those who pay a fortune for paultry individual plans with high deductables? When she receives payment for her half of their condo, we learn she had been down to her last $200, but we never felt the tension of this woman, still reeling from her illness, trying to get by on such little income. And what about thoughts on her mortality? Her profound loneliness lasts about two days. Next thing you know, she's got the cabin cleaned up, has a bunch of friends, and is just happy as a clam.

And then there's that mouse issue I mentioned on zine writer.

To some these issues may sound picky, but if women truly believe there is value in writing specifically for other women (other than the obvious monetary one), then they should try writing books that tell what it's really like. Sure, the woman can triumph over adversity in the end, but that should be real adversity, not simply what women's fiction writers obviously consider the worst of all states––living without a man.

Snow White was a fairy tale ladies. It's time to grow up.

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