Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Escaping the Literary Amazon Island

A Rant but then, it's my blog.

There is a trend in women’s fiction in particular that troubles me. Insert the most recent best seller title into the following formula: A woman discontent with her lot in life, whether self-determined or the result of outside oppressive forces and historical or cultural societal demands beyond her capacity to at the moment defy, recognizes her fundamental disconnect.  She's unhappy. Suddenly a crisis is either foist upon her or of her own making which seems to lead out of the mendacity of her daily existence. This journey exposes her to knowledge, skills, people, ideas and surprises. Our plucky heroine even marvels to herself at how easily her prior barriers which were so fixed, now seem so tantalizingly thin, and so she passes through, leaving all old thoughts and rules and obligations behind and begins her new adventure; joyous at her new freedom. She discovers the old mold of her prior to the experience no longer fits, and thus she abandons all that came with that self in favor of newly invented creature she could be somewhere else.

But what none of these stories can tell, is why the cycle will not continue. The tedium of domestic life, even emancipated domestic life can eventually become stale if dazzle, newness, fulfillment and ease are the criteria. I can cite The Piano, Bridget Jones, How Stella Got her Groove back, Eat Pray Love, and any number of other tomes that explore the same conceptual theme, but none supply an answer for preventing a perpetual cycle. The stories end because the searcher stops searching, thinking she has found contentment in her new life with her new lover, her new job, her new locale.

But there is no reason to think that these female Odesseuses have found their male version of Penelope, since arguably, in most of these books, they left a hearth and home behind at the beginning on the presumption that the discontent stemmed from the job, the man, the role, the expectations or lack thereof, and the children. The discontent in these women’s hearts stemmed from their own hearts being unwilling participants in the lives they lived. The story then goes on to allow these lost selves to sate their imaginations and ambitions and longings at all costs; and the sated selves then find that elusive happiness they were missing before. Color appears in their cheeks, sparkle in their eyes, youth in their hearts because they were just in the wrong place before and now they are in a place of their own making.

For the modern writer of women’s fiction, fulfillment is found in carving one’s own destiny, painting the room, setting the hours, limiting the world and its access to what one wishes; it’s all about choice and the opportunity to choose itself.  Bridges of Madison County tries to have it both ways where she finds fulfillment in having had that one night of passion, and the memory of that one night sustains her throughout the years of dull pseudo fidelity to her husband and care for her children.

In a Godless world fulfillment cannot reside in the hearth or husband and children or job, for those require long term sacrifice and limiting one's own capacity to choose one's own fate; obligations are chains and restrictions, liberty is all. Happiness in this type of mindset comes not from community or commitment or selflessness, but from the endless exploring, being out on the sea searching without a compass or fixed star for guidance. It doesn’t matter what you choose as long as you do the choosing. So while they may close the story with pulling into a port and settling down again, the same staleness will return; their new lovers will have faults and problems, the new children will impinge upon these females’ newly invented selves.

Helen tires of Paris. If the pages extended beyond "The End" for five or ten years, we'd find the heroine considering this new Eden she crafted to replace the old Eden she forsook, just as dull. This Sisyphean dilemma eventually leads the lost self back to the ocean to try again or finally in fatigue and despair, to reside on the island with Circe, gloatingly self-reliant, indulged in all things but also beholden to no one and convinced of her own superiority.   The heroine chooses "None of the Above," and thus proclaims her permanent immortality as an independent goddess crafted in her own image, allowing her to warp men into lesser beings as fits her world view.

Maybe I'll dust off my Percy, Lewis, O'Connor and Joyce.   Ahhhhhh. Now....I feel much better.


Karen said...

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

These gals on a quest are a big issue for you ... ask yourself why ...

SherryTex said...

Actually, I was doing an analysis of story arcs of books I'd read recently to help with the crafting of my own book and the parallels kept jumping out at me.

It's a natural fit for a greekophile to try to rewrite the Odessey. As I said to my children, whatever you think of, someone in the Greek world thought of some part of it first.

LarryD said...

Sherry - ever read anything by Tim Powers? I recommend The Stress Of Her Regard - has everything, from Shelley, Keats and Byron (as characters), the Graeae, the nephilim and the Sphinx. Riveting could-not-put-down story. What's most compelling is how seamlessly Powers incorporates the poets' poetry in the storyline. Great piece of Gothic horror writing.

LarryD said...

Oh yeah - the story has lamiae as well, so while it could be technically classified as a 'vampire' story, this ain't no Twilight.

MightyMom said...

I blame Betty Friedan and her ilk.

to quote my stepmom (and I emphatically agree) "Feminism has done NOTHING for me except take the honor and respect OUT of the job of keeping a good home and raising children well."

the implication is that keeping a good home and raising children is somehow BORING....somehow INFERIOR to playing tramp across Europe.

but no one asks WHY that would be true, and no one asks IF that is true!

Leaving a comment is a form of free tipping. But this lets me purchase diet coke and chocolate.

If you sneak my work, No Chocolate for You!