Monday, December 8, 2008

Girls’ Night In – Anthology – Review

From all appearances, this should’ve been a great book. The contributors are a who’s who of 21st century chick-lit stars, featuring Jennifer Weiner, Sophie Kinsella, Meg Cabot, and Marion Keyes, all of whom I’ve read with enjoyment, plus seventeen other names of varying renown. Interestingly, it’s a charity collection, with proceeds going to the very worthy WarChild. And it’s published by Red Dress Ink, which is the hip imprint for strong, quirky women’s voices, for slightly subversive stories which refuse to follow formula (hold that thought, more later).*

The book starts out on a high note, with a hilarious contribution from Meg Cabot, told entirely through a series of emails regarding a corporate holiday party. I can hear you groaning. I have had similar reactions to the concept. I’m sure there are tons of really awful examples to be found. This one really worked though – as someone who communicates a lot electronically, both professionally and casually, I could very much appreciate the picture that unfolded for me in the dialog between the party planner and her best company pal, with color commentary provided by co-workers with questions, the manager of the event site, and the new hot CEO. I think this post-party note from Danny, the IT guy with the big crush on Charity, will give you a taste of what I loved in a nutshell:

To: Charity Webber
Fr: Daniel Carmichael
Re: Last Night
Listen, I know after the fight and the arrest and that fat lady going into shock and all, you had a few drinks, and maybe weren’t quite feeling like your normal self last night. So I just thought I’d ask one more time:

Are you SURE you don’t want to marry me? Because the offer still stands. My mom even promised to move her circular saw collection out of the basement if we do decide to tie the old knot.


Unfortunately, it was pretty much downhill from there.

It’s not that I’m the wrong demographic. Or at least, I can very clearly remember being in the Red Dress Ink target demographic: “sexy, funny stories that follow the struggles of dating, careers, and romance in the big city!”

Yeah, so it’s been a few years, but I spent quite a long time dating, careering, and romancing in Chicago, which is by all objective standards, a big city.

And yet much of the bitterness and angst and, well, just plain nastiness that seems to permeate the lives of these characters remains thankfully foreign to me, then and now. “Dating the Enemy” is a fourteen-page horror story. Really. I get that “chick lit” isn’t romance but geez:

Our pockets are full of matchboxes from bars we can’t even remember, hangouts we have been swept along to at three in the morning by groups of people we don’t know that well. It’s no so much that we think if we stay out till dawn we might finally stumble across The One, bleary-eyed and blinking, like us, in the daylight; no, we want to postpone the moment of going home alone to our single bedroom apartments until we’re too drunk or tired, or both, to be anything but grateful that there are no witnesses waiting up to see the state in which we stagger through the front door, throwing our keys clumsily at the hall table and missing.
Auuggh. One story is about a woman who was trying to get even with her ex by burning down a hedge in his yard (don’t roll your eyes like that, you’ll hurt yourself) and ends up causing an accident that basically burns someone’s face off.

I read the first two or three novels that Jennifer Weiner put out. They were OK, but by the third one, they just started feeling whiny and one-note. Would you want to finish a story that starts out:

It was three o’clock in the morning when Bruce Guberman and another half dozen liquored-up bachelors piled into the all-night World of Bagels and hatched the plan to kidnap the rat terrier known as Nifkin.
Me neither. This is what I do for you, readers; this is the sacrifice I make.

I will say if you can persist through the puerile drunk-frat-boy hijinks over the next dozen pages, I did rather like the end. So there’s that.

I expected something decent from Marian Keyes. What I got was a thoroughly insulting story “cleverly” titled “The Truth is Out There” involving a yellow squishy invisible alien with six legs, who stalks Our Heroine Ros (get it? Ros? Aliens?? haw haw haw!) and telepathically helps her realize she’s dating a douchebag:

”I can’t do it,” he finally said. “I can’t be with a woman who earns more than me.” {snip}

”Why can’t you be proud of me?” she squeezed the words out.

“Because it’s not right. And you want to come to your senses, you‘re no good on your own, you need me. Think about it!”
As if any self-respecting romance heroine would need a telepathic alien to tell her to dump that loser. Frankly, I’d rather just watch Dumbo. Same story only more interesting and hey, music:

I’ve heard really good things about Anna Maxted. This post is getting pretty long, so I’m just going to say that after reading her short story, you couldn’t prove it by me.

This was a 2004 publication, and there was at least one sequel. My advice? Send ten bucks to WarChild and borrow something by Julia Quinn or Jennifer Crusie to read.

*So on the topic of RDI, where the hell did I get that idea? Somebody has a really good brainwashingmarketing campaign going, because Red Dress Ink is actually a Harlequin line. I don’t have anything against Harlequin, I quite like lots of their Mira authors and their NeXt line (which, it figures, appears to be defunct now) but let’s face it, Harlequin has got to be the very opposite of subversive anti-formulaic fiction. Ah well. Learn something new every day.


Erin said...

Thank you for saving me from myself because I so would have bought this one for a couple of reasons:

1. I happen to like Anthologies because I am short on time and attention span; so although I agree with you that they often don't have enough space for decent character developement the format fits my life. Sad but true.

2. I also have enjoyed some of these authors in the past but like you feel that I am aging out of the target market. The pithy workplace angst storylines are wearing thin for me.

So, I would have bought it, read it and then hated the waste of my time. Thank you for taking one for the team!

Stacy~ said...

Sorry it wasn't what you were expecting. I love anthologies, but I rarely read chick lit, so it wouldn't have been on my list anyway, unless I saw some really rave reviews.

Nicola O. said...

Chick-lit isn't my favorite, but I do read it once in a while and I was trying to get some variety in my list of anthologies, you know?

FD said...

I bought this for a train trip when it first came out thinking, "Hey, it's for a charity, I get to kill a few hours and feel smug."

I shoulda sent them a cheque instead and spent the difference on a glossy mag and a charity collar pin.

There are a couple of books along these lines and they are all equally iffy - although one of the other ones does feature a story by
Jasper Fforde, which was entertaining, if a little out of place. It has a gorilla in it, up a tree, in Weybridge. Still not worth buying though.


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