This Is Not Chick Lit: Original Stories by America’s Best Women Writers, by Elizabeth Merrick

This Is Not Chic Lit Book ReviewNew short stories from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie • Aimee Bender • Judy Budnitz • Jennifer S. Davis • Jennifer Egan • Carolyn Ferrell • Mary Gordon • Cristina Henríquez • Samantha Hunt •Binnie Kirshenbaum • Dika Lam • Caitlin Macy • Francine Prose • Holiday Reinhorn • Roxana Robinson • Curtis Sittenfeld • Lynne Tillman • Martha Witt

Chick lit: A genre of fiction that often recycles the following plot: Girl in big city desperately searches for Mr. Right in between dieting and shopping for shoes. Girl gets dumped (sometimes repeatedly). Girl finds Prince Charming.

This Is Not Chick Lit is a celebration of America’s most dynamic literary voices, as well as a much needed reminder that, for every stock protagonist with a designer handbag and three boyfriends, there is a woman writer pushing the envelope of literary fiction with imagination, humor, and depth.

The original short stories in this collection touch on some of the same themes as chick lit–the search for love and identity–but they do so with extraordinary power, creativity, and range; they are also political, provocative, and, at turns, utterly surprising. Featuring marquee names as well as burgeoning talents, This Is Not Chick Lit will nourish your heart, and your mind.

“This Is Not Chick Lit is important not only for its content, but for its title. I’ll know we’re getting somewhere when equally talented male writers feel they have to separate themselves from the endless stream of fiction glorifying war, hunting and sports by naming an anthology This Is Not a Guy Thing.”
–Gloria Steinem

“These voices, diverse and almost eerily resonant, offer us a refreshing breath of womanhood-untamed, ungroomed, and unglossed.”–ELLE

Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (August 1, 2006)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0812975677
ISBN-13: 978-0812975673

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly
“Chick lit as a genre,” writes Merrick in her introduction, “presents one very narrow representation of women’s lives.” This anthology’s 18 stories, on the other hand, present a frequently funny take on women’s experiences ranging from the mundane to the riotously absurd. In the first story, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The Thing Around Your Neck,” a young Nigerian immigrant struggles to find her place in America. In Curtis Sittenfeld’s “Volunteers Are Shining Stars,” a mildly neurotic young volunteer, maddeningly pecked at by her colleagues, is driven to violence. One of the most memorable stories, Jennifer Egan’s “Selling the General,” puts a disgraced publicist to work for a genocidal dictator to pay for her daughter’s private school tuition. Men get some representation too: Cristina Henríquez’s “Gabriella My Heart” sees a gay man reflecting on a heterosexual high school crush, while the married biology professor in Binnie Kirshenbaum’s “The Matthew Effect” pursues a student. Readers who’ve been Fendi’d and Choo’d to distraction would do well to pick this up.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From Booklist
This short story collection examines, in illuminating detail, issues and concerns facing women who won’t find solace in a Prada bag. In no way is the editor trying to denounce chick lit. With these thought-provoking stories, she aims for mind expansion instead of mental escapism. In one story a woman experiences trepidation upon her wedding night, flees her husband, and becomes a protectoress of orphans. Another showcases the battles and execution of Joan of Arc through the lens of a reality-TV television crew, complete with makeover. A first date starts off with much promise until the two singletons admit lying to each other over the most banal facts. The most disturbing story is chick lit but with a perverted twist–a single, anxious woman volunteers at a shelter, observes other couples with both hunger and disdain, and develops a distorted view of a coworker when a child disappears. No less hopeful than typical chick lit but certainly more poignant and serious, this collection should spur spirited conversation among readers willing to discuss comparisons. Kaite Mediatore
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

This short story collection is worth the cover price for editor Elizabeth Merrick opening essay alone. Merrick does not hate chick lit (she freely admits to enjoying and respecting several titles), nor does she want it to die a painful death. Merrick, after smartly summing up your basic chick lit heroine, metropolitan setting, token gay friend, wicked boss, diet rules, and relationship drama, grants chick lit its place in the world of genre fiction. With this collection, Merrick simply wants to shine the light on modern literary talent. She wants to share these stories with the world–stories about pushing emotional limits, experiencing new cultures, setting personal challenges (a steak-eating contest, anyone?), and musing about social status and careers. This is a book to read with a stack of sticky flag-notes in hand, to mark stories which inspire the reader to pursue further study or exploration of specific topics.

The opening piece describes the experience of a Nigerian immigrant in pursuit of the American dream. Her remarks about this upside-down country still resonate with me–America is a place in which rich people look starved and poor people are fat, where rich people dress in shabby clothing, and in which not everyone owns the gigantic house and car that represent the American dream. In another contribution, Francine Prose manages to masquerade a contemplative essay as a fictional story, and the gimmick succeeds wildly. Aimee Bender’s short story reads pretty much like a piece in any of her other collections, making her one of the weakest (but still excellent) links in the book.

The authors represent a veritable who’s who of modern literary talent. Most of them have recent full-length releases (Jennifer Egan’s The Keep is not to be missed). My one (small) complaint about the collection is that the short author bios are relegated to an appendix, rather than appearing immediately after each author’s story entry. When I am consumed by a narrative, I want to explore more about the author immediately. Also, with the plot fresh in the reader’s mind, connections between the author’s life and her writing will leap off the page.

The genius of this collection is that there is no overarching theme or message; these stories are unified by their numerous distinctions. The title clearly attracts media (and blogger) attention, but I hope that readers of both genders pick this one up. The writers may be female, but their written words prove that they are talented writers, pure and simple.

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