Magazine article Book

The Women's Perspective: Get out of the Way, Guys: Women Are Bringing Their Own Outlook to the Traditionally Male Territory of Adventure Writing. (the Adventure Issue)

Magazine article Book

The Women's Perspective: Get out of the Way, Guys: Women Are Bringing Their Own Outlook to the Traditionally Male Territory of Adventure Writing. (the Adventure Issue)

Article excerpt

FOURTEEN YEARS AGO, GWENDOLEN GROSS, then a twenty-year-old budding biologist, was in a remote corner of Australia studying the daytime behaviors of spectacled fruit bats. Though she spent most nights at a house with a troop of other students, from time to time she camped out in the jungle. On one such occasion she decided to follow the bats--which are, it should be noted, the size of small dogs--on their way to a feeding ground. As dusk neared, the bats flew out of their base--a clearing in the bush, where Gross had set up her gear--and deeper into the rainforest. Gross followed along with her machete, hacking at the roiling vegetation and listening for the bats' screeches. After some time, Gross realized that the bats were taking an unexpected path. She couldn't walk as fast as they could fly, and she fell behind. The bats' cries died out. Darkness fell. Gross was lost in the thick, uninhabited jungle.

"I listened for the river," she says. "I knew if I could get to the river, I could find my way back to the camp. Finally, I heard the water. I walked toward it. Then I walked along the riverbank, watching for crocodiles." When she reached the turnoff point for her campsite, she forgot about crocodiles and began looking out for snakes. "The main thing you have to worry about is climbing over a log. There could be a snake under it. When you jump back down, you could land on the snake. So I climbed up over this log and I'm busy tapping it with my machete--in case there are snakes under it--and as I'm tapping, I lose my footing and grab on to a thick vine for balance." That vine, of course, was not a vine but an enormous amethystine python.

Years later Gross revisited her encounter with the python in Field Guide (2001), her much-praised novel based on her experiences in Australia. Her second novel, Getting Out (2002), is based on her exploits with an exploration club devoted to serious spelunking, ice climbing, rappelling, you name it. And with its publication, Gross has become the reigning queen of women's adventure fiction. Which, she laughs, isn't saying much, since there aren't many women writing novels of high adventure. Stateside, there's Molly Gloss (Wild Life), Elizabeth Arthur (Antarctic Navigation) and Andrea Barrett (Ship Fever), all of whom write fictional adventure tales, and newcomer Johanna Stoberock, whose debut, City of Ghosts (2003), chronicles a shy young Manhattanite's exploits in Nepal. Across the pond, BBC food reporter Leslie Forbes, who's explored every corner of the globe in pursuit of obscure recipes, spins elaborate literary thrillers--Bombay Ice (1998), Fish, Blood and Bone (2001)--set in the teeming cities and unforgiving mountains of South Asia.

Until recently, few women seemed to be writing anything about adventure--not novels, not memoirs, not even magazine articles for the many adventure mags that have cropped up in the past few years. Adventure tomes had traditionally been cooked up by the boys, from Sir Walter Scott (Ivanhoe and Rob Roy) and Sir Richard Burton (First Footsteps in East Africa) to Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan of the Apes) and H. Rider Haggard (She) to Tim Cahill (Jaguars Ripped My Flesh) and Jon Krakauer (Into Thin Air). Over the past few years, however, there's been a steady increase in adventure books--mostly memoirs--written by women. Though it's hard to generalize about an entire gender, women adventure writers tend to focus less on amazing feats of strength or death-defying battles with nature and more on the people they meet in their travels. "There's the man's ability to get there and overcome a lot of physical obstacles," says Tim Cahill, a founding editor of Outside, "and then the woman's capacity to sit and listen and listen and listen."

WHAT'S LARGELY BEEN FORGOTTEN IS THAT WHILE THEY MAY not have been great in number, there were women as early as the mid-nineteenth century who climbed mountains, slogged through swamps, traded their way through tribal villages--and wrote about their experiences in bestselling books. …

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