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Posts Tagged ‘Another Piece of My Heart’

Novelist Meg Wolitzer has a thoughtful essay in yesterday’s New York Times Book Review about women’s literary fiction and how it often is unjustly  relegated to “the second shelf” below books by men. She notes, however, that she is using the term “women’s fiction” to discuss “literature that happens to be written by women,” and not “a certain type of fast-reading novel, which sets its sights almost exclusively on women readers and may well find a big ready-made audience.”

In other words, “popular fiction,” “chick-lit,” “beach books.” Oh, please. I understand that many writers and publishers and critics care very much about the distinctions, which are handy labels for booksellers and librarians, but most readers don’t. They’re looking for good books of all kinds, and, yes, covers can signal  appealing subject matter, but so what?  The contents are what counts, and a great many readers happily turn the pages of Anne Tyler, Anne Rivers Siddons and Anne of Green Gables. (Also Anonymous, but that’s another story for another day.)

I’ve been thinking of this because I just read three very different novels that are being marketed as “women’s fiction.”

In the appropriately dishy Gossip (Morrow; hardcover review copy), Beth Gutcheon follows three friends through the years, with a twist. Although Lovie has been good friends with both Dinah and Avis since boarding school days in the early 1960s, the other two have little in common except Lovie and her tony dress shop. That changes when Dinah’s favorite son, who is also Lovie’s godson, falls in love with Avis’ only daughter.

Lovie is a likable, sometimes catty and possibly unreliable narrator as she recounts Dinah’s short career as a newspaper columnist, Avis’ marriage to a wealthy drunk, and her own long-running affair with an older, married man. As in The New Girls (my favorite of Gutcheon’s many novels), the characters’ lives typify the times. “Dinah said it was as if we’d all gone to sleep one night in the world of Edith Wharton and awakened the next morning at Woodstock.”

Love that Janis Joplin inspires the title of Jane Green’s latest, Another Piece of My Heart (St. Martin’s Press; hardcover library copy), but that’s about it when it comes to this grating tale of a war between stepmom Andi and teenage Emily. Green gives both about equal time to tell their side of things and how Emily’s pregnancy rips the fabric of family, but they’re equally unpleasant characters. Andi whines, Emily bitches, they’re both selfish. I wanted to tell them both to shut up, but I shut the book instead.

By contrast, I was sorry to come to the end of Susan Mallery’s winning Barefoot Season (Mira, digital galley via NetGalley), which is a lot more than the beach book its cover indicates. Michelle Sanderson and Carly Williams were best friends growing up until Michelle’s betrayal severed their bond. Now, 10 years later, Michelle, an Army vet with a bum hip and PTSD, returns to her family’s small inn on Puget Sound after the death of her difficult mother.  She finds the business struggling against heavy debt and is quick to  blame single mom Carly, who has been managing the inn in hopes of becoming part-owner. Forced to work together by a loan officer with her own agenda, Michelle and Carly have to confront the past and weather the present if either is going to have a future on Blackberry Island.

Mallery is best-known for her numerous contemporary romances, and while both Michelle and Carly are looking for new loves, their friendship and the relationship between mothers-and-daughters is center-stage. It’s often heavy-duty stuff, but Mallery’s not heavy-handed as she mixes trust and betrayal, heartbreak and humor. I’m looking forward to the next entry in the promised series.

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