the gothic and the girlie

Saturday, November 3

at one of the other bookstores i worked for, "chick lit" was a dirty phrase. the manager, normally a mild-mannered, cheerful, and all around wonderful woman, would shoot you a look full of daggers if you uttered it in front of her. "fluff" would also get you a look, but minus the daggers (probably because it's not gender specific).

but let's be honest. there are some books that, by their nature, appeal more to women than to men. and vice versa. aforementioned manager even instituted a shelving policy to highlight this -- there was a section called "rough reads" that was the male equivalent to the Unutterable Phrase. and those books are not all "fluff," either.

my case in point, when i argue about this with people, is usually Barbara Kingsolver. if you've worked books, you know that the customers who buy these books are almost invariably female. but you'd be hardpressed to find anyone who would call her works fluffy. she tackles serious issues with complex, articulate, and stunning prose. if you don't believe me, pick up a copy of The Poisonwood Bible or Prodigal Summer.

which brings me to my latest read: The Monsters of Templeton, by Lauren Groff. it's Barbara Kingsolver meets Charlotte Bronte. what does that mean? it means that this novel is a gothic family history, told by a narrator just like Taylor from The Bean Trees. The Monsters of Templeton brings girlie to gothic with stunning effect. which means, of course, that i absolutely loved it.

it's funny that i'd find this book so soon after reading The Thirteenth Tale for the first time (but as i mentioned before these things just seem to happen). this was another modern tribute to the gothic mystery. as i read it, i couldn't help but think about it as if Edgar Allen Poe had concocted a family history for A.S. Byatt, which was then revealed by a quietly endearing mouse of a biographer. And then, to top it all off, I picked up Mary Modern, which is gothic by feel if not by plot (who ever thought cloning would feel gothic?) and that's a compliment. Large house with hidden passageways, chronologically displaced characters wandering around, cloning, a rabid preacher -- Camille De Angelis has written a bizarre and fascinating book.

so, while you're waiting for The Monsters of Templeton to hit the shelves (February 2008), you have some books to while away the time.