Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Women writers

I'm in the middle of an amazing stretch of fiction reading. Having finished Life After Life (Kate Atkinson) and The Burgess Boys (Elizabeth Strout), I'm now reading The Round House (Louise Erdrich) and Dear Life (Alice Munro). I've had to read a couple of Peter Lovesey detective novels in between just to keep from being overwhelmed.

That these four writers are female is exactly the point. They are among the best writers today (and one of them is the best), and I don't understand the various biases and prejudices that are still current. Certainly women don't seem to get the press that the glamour boys - Michael Chabon, Martin Amis, the Jonathans (Franzen, Safran Foer, Lethem), Junot Diaz - get. There's the Wikipedia scandal in which women were being shunted off into a separate category of writers, and the on-going study at the Women in Literary Arts website showing that literary magazines are still heavily biased to men.

Not that there aren't terrific male novelists. Jeffrey Eugenides, Kent Haruf, Peter Cameron, Stewart O'Nan, and Howard Norman come immediately to mind. But for controlled passion, exquisite language, fidelity to story and mood and family and character, the women are in the ascendant, if not already triumphant. Men seem mostly interested in their plumage.

It's my bias, of course, but to me it's like the difference between a hot city sidewalk and a cool country shore, between conturbation and contemplation, between "Look at me!" and "Look at them," between the novel-as-TV and the novel-as-it's-always-been. Enough of irony already!



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