Now is the Time for All Good Chicks to Come to the Aid of Their Genre
A few weeks ago we picked up on a piece in The Awl suggesting that romance is the lowest form of literature. Now, in Salon, we’re told that chick lit may be dead altogether. Coincidentally or otherwise, both charges were leveled by women.
“Less than a decade after commentators clucked at bookstore shelves lined with cartoon high-heels and pink cocktail glasses,” writes Laura Miller in this latest sally, “the only debate that the once-flourishing genre inspires now is over when to run its obituary.”
To Miller’s credit, she realizes it might be a good idea to define her terms. She seems to be referring to the spate of shopping-and-screwing novels published at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st. This variant reflected an overheated economy whose excesses were exemplified by glam fashionistas and their Masters of the Universe lovers. “As the first species of popular fiction to treat its heroines’ professional aspirations as seriously as their romantic prospects, chick lit flourished at a time when ambitious young women poured into a robust job market, seeking both love and success, often with a heaping serving of pricey commodities on the side.”
This trend, says Miller, “smells decidedly off in the face of 8.3 percent unemployment.” That may be true to a degree, but the mutual attractions and sexual tensions between gorgeous, ambitious women and alpha males are not ever going to give way to commonplace characters, shabby settings and humdrum sex.
No matter how you define them, the themes and formulas that have sustained popular women’s fiction for centuries have varied only slightly and will not vary in the foreseeable future. Romance continues to thrive as a genre and sustains the trade book publishing industry to the tune of 25% of its sales. Survey the lists of such romance powerhouses as Harlequin or Kensington and you’ll see that chick lit is alive and well, thank you very much.
Perhaps Laura Miller is looking for love stories in all the wrong places?