When Nick discovers the truth about his wife's abduction, his lawyer tells him to keep quiet. It was too complicated a story, he said. Juries and the public wouldn't be able to follow a complicated reality. People like simple, predictable stories, like "the husband did it." Nick needed to package an alternative story that the public could latch onto.
is just that. A simple, well-packaged novel with one twist that happens in the middle of the book, but it lacks depth and some basic believable characters. [Spoiler alert!! ]
A wife, Amy, is missing. All signs point to the husband, Nick. Halfway through the book, we learn that the chapters that were written in the wife's voice were works of fiction. (It's very meta.) Her diary was all lies and was designed to frame her cheating husband. We learn that we've been manipulated, just like all the other characters in the story. The wife eventually comes home and manipulates the husband even further to keep their marriage together.
That's how the book was sold to publishers. I could probably hone that last paragraph down to a single catchy sentence, the elevator pitch. Publishers want the quick blurb, the neat-o concept, the dramatic title. The words inside don't matter so much. They just want to make that book sale, knowing that most books sit on a coffee table and are never actually read.
Gone Girl is all pitch, and not enough substance. Amy is a two-dimensional psycho - unbelievable at times and inconsistent other times. The supporting characters are too predictable and wooden to feel real. She had no idea of what to do with Nick at the end.
The most honest voice in the book comes from the lawyer, who sneers at the stupidity of the public and their ability to be manipulated. Gillian Flynn, the author, takes this message to heart. She's giving us a well-packaged story, and we're buying it for our book clubs and our coffee tables. Like Amy, she researched the science of pitches and mystery novel plotlines and the formula for bestsellers, and gave us just that.
Call me old fashioned, but I don't like books that assume I'm stupid and easily manipulated by formulas and book club-friendly plot lines. I want a book that is more than a pitch, please.
Last year, I went though a jag of reading romance novels. I wrote about it on the blog and at the Atlantic.
I haven't dipped back into that genre of books in a while. I went through a huge YA book orge this winter. Last week, I reread Angela's Ashes: A Memoir. Right now, I'm reading Defending Jacob
(loving it and will write about it when I'm done).
Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean Inhasn’t even been published yet, and already it’s sparked a national conversation about modern feminism. Though worthy, this has obscured the national conversation we should really be having.Lean In exposes a vein of something truly endemic and toxic in our culture. I refer, of course, to the current ridiculous state of the “Acknowledgments” section, which has perhaps reached its nadir in Sandberg’s work. Lean in, and drop a name.
Two more quick points. First, let me clarify why so many women, including feminist bloggers, are annoyed at the Sandberg book.
Sandberg's advice is for women who want the CEO position and for that small group of people, her advice might be very useful. I think. I do think that anyone who achieves those high level of power, man or woman, has had the benefit of luck and privilege, and that particular road to success might not help anyone else. Books by male CEOs aren't that useful either.
The problem with Sandberg's book is that her particular formula for success (work super hard, don't complain, dream big, whatever) is actually terrible advice for everyone else. For people who want a good job, but not the highest job, they should do the exact opposite. They should get a nursing or a pharmacy degree, instead of a PhD. They should become teachers, not lawyers. They should think smaller.
I also think that a lot of feminist writers find it disturbing to rally behind a fabulously rich and privileged woman.
Sheryl Sandberg's new book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, is getting lots of press, and like all the commentators, I haven't read it yet. I probably won't read it, because it's not terribly relevant to my life. Let's talk about it anyway.
In the past year, Sandberg has spoken a great deal about the central message of this book. She says that there aren't enough women leaders in politics or business, because women give up too early. They are so worried about balancing life and family that they purposely don't try hard enough in the workplace, even before they have kids. Sandberg says that women should put on the steam and not worry about the family stuff until they have to deal with it.
Critics say that Sandberg is blaming the victim. Women aren't achieving more, because they aren't working hard enough? Really? Sandberg's defenders say that she gives plenty of attention to the deficits in policy and plain old sexism. Joan Walsh in Salon gives examples of women in her office who didn't ask for raises, while the men did.
One of my pet peeves is when social critics lump all women together in one group. Women have different preferences and abilities. Some want to make millions and run a Fortune 500 company, Others want a job that pays a decent amount, but doesn't consume their lives. Others want to devote all their energy into their families.
For those that want the CEO office, then Sandberg's advice is most useful. Well, my advice would be even more extreme. If you want the CEO office, then don't plan on having kids at all.
Dolly Parton was interviewed on NPR last week. She said that if she had kids, she probably wouldn't have been so successful as an singer. She didn't regret her decision. She had a lot of neices and nephews and she got her kid fix from them.
A friend of mine and I were gossiping last week about fellow academics who were getting promotions and all that. The commonality? They didn't have kids. Some weren't even married.
My kids are nearly 11 and 14. I always imagined that this would be the time when the parenting responsibilities would ease up. In some ways they have. I can leave Jonah to babysit Ian, when I go to the gym or whatever. Ian, my special needs kid, is simply delightful. He's incredibly happy and content at the moment and requires very little parenting energy. The school bureaucracy is still time consuming, but I'm no longer spending hours and hours teaching him how to talk. Jonah is another story.
Jonah hit puberty like a brick wall last month. He didn't ease into his teenage years gradually. It was a sudden and abupt change in body and mind. My formerly laid back, sweet boy is now moody and sullen. It's a boy version of PMS. The change is so textbook that I have a hard time not laughing when he moans, "YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND!" He requires vast amounts of time and patience right now. I now understand why some parents choose to work through the younger years and then stay at home when the kids hit high school.
Since we could use some extra casheroo these days, I've been poking around at the job market. I'm not sure what I want to do, so I've been exploring all the options from retail to academia to policy think tanks. I ran across a position as a Policy Director at a major foundation helping activist groups with their social media policy, but didn't apply, because it was going to be 60 hour a week job with a three hour commute. If I leaned into this job, I would be dead from exhaustion, and my teenage kid would be left to navigate some very choppy waters by himself. Couldn't do it.
My problem with Sandberg's book isn't her advice. For women who want the top levels of business and politics, women do have to be more aggressive. The problem is that most people don't want that. There are too many sacrifices.
I also wish that I had mapped out a better career plan in my twenties. Unlike the women that Sandberg encounters, I didn't make strategic career decisions. It would have been better for me to work in my twenties and squirrel away the cash, rather than squander time in graduate school. I should have chosen a career that would let me cycle in and out of the workforce seamlessly.
So, I suppose that "leaning in" is good advice for a very small group of women. But most people need something else.
My mom asked if I could sell a set of old encyclopedias on the internet. Maybe. I don't know. I have 24 volumes of Encyclopedia Britannicas from 1944. They weigh about 50 pounds, I think. The photographs and illustrations are kind of funny.
The self, then, has always been at the heart of the literary essay. But the new essay is exclusively about the self, with the world serving only as a foil and an accessory, as a mere staging ground for the projection of the self. Formally, one might describe the work of Sedaris, Crosley, Rothbart, and company as autobiographical comic narrative: short, chatty, funny stories about things that happened to me—weird things, or ordinary things that are made weird in the telling. What we now call an essayist used to be called a humorist. Sedaris’s books are sold as essays, but he is plainly trying to be Thurber, not Addison.
I'm reading Katie Roiphe's In Praise of Messy Lives: Essays. I haven't read enough of the book to give a proper review. Some of the essays are perfectly lovely, like the one describing a trip to Hanoi. Others are disturbing and self-indulgent.
Roiphe is grouchy because she feels she is being judged for having a messy life. She's the mother of two kids with two separate fathers, neither of whom she lives with. As a single mom, there's a lot of juggling and her family doesn't look like the happy blond families on the cover of the parenting magazines. She's a little bitter about this judging and spends a lot of time justifying her lifestyle.
My own family isn't parenting magazine worthy. The boys are blond and my sweet hubby is around, but we're still not cover-worthy. Things are pretty messy around here, even in our blond, intact-family way.
It used to bother me a lot that our family was so weird. I couldn't go to the mommy classes, because Ian would scream and hide under the table. I didn't fit into the working-mom club, because I had too many obligations at home. Everybody else was on a Disney cruise, and I was hidden away watching Mr. Rochester's crazy wife.
At a party last week, I had a long chat with a woman who was slowly going blind with macular degeneration. She was having trouble navigating the house, so I hung out with her in the kitchen where the light was better.
She has two boys, who are the same age as my boys. They are also blond and beautiful. No IEP meetings for her. But she was also wracked with the same guilt that she couldn't provide them with the perfect lives that others seemed to have. She could no longer drive them to after school activities. Even navigating family vacations was getting hard.
I talked her down from the guilt tree, and we commiserated in silence for a while.
I think that Roiphe is so defensive about her own life choices that she misses an important point. Everybody has messy lives, just in different ways. I'm not sure when it was jammed in our heads that a family had to look one particular way. It doesn't. I'm not sure that anybody is really living that life. Even the PTA president with her perfect hair has some shit going on at home.
I've been applying for jobs lately. I still plan on writing, but we could use a little more money. I also need to do something that doesn't involve sitting in front of a computer. I've been applying for jobs where the workers have neck tattooes and big boots. I'm not sure why. I think that I'll fit in better in a place where people celebrate messiness and don't pretend that it doesn't exist.