Chick Lit: Postfeminist Fiction / Chick Lit 2: No Chick Vics

By Frangello, Gina | Chicago Review, Winter 1997 | Go to article overview

Chick Lit: Postfeminist Fiction / Chick Lit 2: No Chick Vics


Frangello, Gina, Chicago Review


Chick Lit: Postfeminist Fiction. Eds. Cris Mazza, Jeffrey DeShell, and Elisabeth Sheffield. Carbondale, Ill.: FC2, 1995.

Chick Lit 2: No Chick Vics. Eds. Cris Mazza, Jeffrey DeShell, and Elisabeth Sheffield. Carbondale, Ill.: FC2, 1996.

Cris Mazza, co-editor of Chick Lit: Postfeminist Fiction and Chick Lit 2: No Chick Vics, says in the Introduction to the first of these works that she intended the label "postfeminist" almost as a joke, an icebreaker. Going on to provide some descriptive criteria for the term, initially she defines postfeminist fiction by what it is not. Among these "nots" are stories in which the writer or protagonist laments: "my lover left me and I am so sad," "what's happened to me is deadly serious," or "society has given me an eating disorder/poor self-esteem/a victim's perpetual fear." While the back cover of Chick Lit states that it aims to "contradict the myth that women don't write experimental fiction," this goal seems secondary. For one thing, we already know they do; women writers from Woolf to Acker have been instrumental in defining new literary movements in this century. Instead, the question at hand seems to be whether much contemporary "experimental" fiction can legitimately be called feminist, a question that has, of course, prompted debate around Acker's work for the past two decades. What the editors of Chick Lit have done is to abandon such no-win debates, to jump ship and, like the founders of a religion, establish a new world order in which feminism is passe and "postfeminism" is hip. This leaves the reader to decide whether writing that doesn't whine must indeed fall outside the realm of feminism, and also surely begs the question: Whose feminism are we talking about anyway?

The good news is, the twenty-two authors in Chick Lit, and the eighteen in Chick Lit 2, encompass such a wide range of voices that it is impossible to classify them - except perhaps to say that there are none I can think of that wouldn't fall within somebody's definition of feminism. Dont't get me wrong: this project, which might aptly be subtitled The Nightmare of a Common Language, slams forty additional nails into the coffin of that dogmatic and constricting beast popularly known twenty-five years ago as "women's truth," offering instead multiple truths, often from the mouths of unabashed liars. The stories in both anthologies are, as Mazza promises, quirky, droll, and jocular, but they are also erotic, angry, floundering, nostalgic, courageous, and poignant. They mark a momentous occasion not because they close the door on victimhood or feminism, but because they are among the most inclusive compilations of fiction by contemporary American women.

Interestingly, the four most powerful stories in Chick Lit are not the most "experimental," but instead arise from the familiar tropes of motherdaughter relationships, the devastation of violence, and the perils of psychotherapy-albeit, like everything in Chick Lit, therapy of an unconventional sort. "Rescue Fantasies," by Laurie Foos, is comprised of surreal snippets in which a woman pursues her suicidal mother across both a brutal natural landscape and a horrifically banal suburban one, time eternally running out before her. "Stage Fright," by Lisa Natalie Pearson, slowly reveals a disturbingly "invited" act of sexual violence through the day-to-day lives of a man and woman performing for a lonely neighbor who watches their television - and them - through the window across the way. "Up There," by Lily James, depicts a men's impotence group run by a female therapist, in which macho posturing is stripped bare, simultaneously robbing the cult of the cock of its power and shedding an uncomfortably sympathetic light on the misogynist group members, who are unable to integrate sexuality with the rest of their humanity. Finally, "A . : I," by Thalia Field, is a tour de force through the mind of a client in the midst of a tense and nearly wordless therapy hour, where silence has become her only weapon, the only possible route to an urgently needed moment of intimacy via nonverbal connection. …

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