A Girl's Life

To chick or not to chick, that is the question

In The New York Times Book Review last year, Curtis Sittenfeld wrote that labeling a book chick lit is like calling a woman a slut. The genre is too easy; there's no challenge, she argued. This Is Not Chick Lit, a collection of stories by "America's best women writers," including Sittenfeld, Aimee Bender, and Francine Prose, presents the idea that fast-selling novels about girls who fulfill all their dreams—namely, catching a man—is somehow a threat to literary fiction. The characters in the collection have little in common with one another; they've all moved beyond the candy world of gossipy co-workers and clean resolutions. In one of the best pieces, Jennifer Egan tops the bitchy boss trope with a story about a New York publicist who has the worst client of all: a genocidal dictator who's murdered millions.

Most stories are funny and inventive, although the book lacks purpose compared to the anthology it inspired called This Is Chick-Lit—"born out of anger," notes editor Lauren Baratz-Logsted. The first piece, Jennifer Coburn's "Two Literary Chicks," dramatizes the rift among female writers with the tidiness of a school play. Jo and Marley took the same fiction class at NYU, but Jo has written a bestselling novel while Marley and her "smarty-pants posse" are still describing drapery as "a metaphor for the tragic frailty of life." "Oh please," Jo says, "How 'bout a plot?" Then they swap manuscripts: Marley reads Jo's "bubblegum" book, tries on her Juicy Couture workout suit, and realizes " how very funny life is." True to stereotype, the stories that follow are glib and goal-oriented and focus on well-dressed women afraid of being 30. The book doesn't try to defend itself against the insult of acting like a girl.

Details

This Is Not Chick Lit
Edited by Elizabeth Merrick
Random House, 321 pp., $13.95

This Is Chick-Lit
Edited by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
BenBella Books, 274 pp., $14.95

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"Who ever heard of such a thing in publishing," writes Baratz-Logsted in her preface. "What next . . . This Is Not a Literary Coming-of-Age Story?"

 
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