Is "Bitch Lit" The Cure For The Common Chick Lit Novel?

Sydney Zamora is a brash, calculating and unrepentant heroine who is quick to drop a suitor and curse him out as she extracts herself from the date. Is she the new prototype for chick lit characters?

With her new novel, Feminista, author Erica Kennedy seeks to use Zamora's story as a springboard to pioneer a brand new genre: "bitch lit." And not a moment too soon. Chick lit, the popular and fluffy genre geared toward women readers, is having a bit of an identity crisis. Even Plum Sykes, of Bergdorf Blondes fame, is ready to throw in the towel on the genre:

[Sykes] was skeptical that a new genre of chick lit could emerge from the recession, partly because she believes we've already seen the last of the "sex and shopping book as a publishing phenomenon". She added: "Chick lit seems so out of date now. Not only because of the economic reality but because it's been done to death."

The recession hit, taking the sugary tales of credit card backed retail therapy with it and leaving authors in a panic. Would people still relate to their characters if they stopped living charmed lives? For some reason, publishers seem to think "recessionista reads" are the next hot trend. I'm fairly skeptical, myself - after all, half the fun of a fluffy novel is the escape from reality.

Lakshmi Chaudhry agrees in a sense, writing for LiveMint.com:

The literary problem with the current economic debacle is that its architects are irremediably inane, self-absorbed and shallow-and, therefore, perfect for chick lit-the first fictional genre to wholeheartedly embrace the recession. Hedge Fund Wives by Tatiana Boncompagni, Social Lives by Wendy Walker, The Penny Pinchers Club by Sarah Strohmeyer and The Summer Kitchen by Karen Weinreb detail the travails of affluent women suddenly burdened with shrinking bank balances and AWOL or, worse, imprisoned banker husbands.

What's a Fifth Avenue socialite to do? Tap into her girl power, of course. "One of the big motifs in these books is a sort of empowerment," says Jonathan Segura, an editor at Publishers Weekly, who told The New York Times, "Swathed in Gucci, Prada and what not, their protagonists realign their priorities and realize, ‘Oh, I don't need that Givenchy gown. I can look great in Eileen Fisher, too'". Sacrifice, it's the American way!

But is that what readers want? Listening to the whine of the formerly privileged whose recent brush with brokeness forced them to reflect on the meaning of life seems more like torture than pleasure. And our current cultural mood seems to go between more serious matters (like politics and the economy) with straight up escapism (werewolves, faeries, and vamps, oh my!)

Perhaps writers and publishers could pay more attention to the lives of the women that create their audience. Many of us are scared for our jobs and cutting back, but that doesn't manifest in maniacal penny pinching or schadenfreude. Some times, tapping into this particular type of economic strain, is as simple as allowing your character's thoughts to roam. A good example of this is a highly relateable passage in Feminista:

Sydney had no desire to be that rich. Every rich kid she'd ever known had been completely fucked in the head. She didn't even aspire to be average rich, but seeing that kind of obscene wealth up close made her life seem so small and insignificant. For the last month, she had been agonizing, agonizing, over whether she should waste three hundred dollars on a pair of fucking shoes! She compulsively saved her pennies, never splurging on herself unless she could write it off, and for what? To buy a tiny apartment that was the size of that spoiled bitch's linen closet?

She used to think that if she just had enough, she'd be happy. Enough money in the bank, a decent apartment, a little disposable income to go on a modest vacation or two a year. After reading a widely e-mailed Times story about $200,000 being the new $100,000, she had to ask herself what exactly constituted enough? Before she had finished grappling with that question, the paper of record ran a chilling piece about millionaires in Silicon Valley who didn't feel rich because they lived among people who had tens of millions. Before clicking to the second page, Sydney had to stop and pop a Xanax. The quest for "enough" was what got her out of bed every morning. It was what kept her going when she wanted to give away all of her worldly possessions and move to a tropical island and sell handmade trinkets on the beach. She didn't want to ponder the idea that "enough" was unattainable, that it was a constantly moving goal she might never reach. Because that would force her to confront the possibility that her entire life's course had been charted with a faulty compass. And why put herself through that when she could just self-medicate?

Whether it's chick lit or bitch lit, romance novels or paranormal smut, the key to any selling any story lies in sympathetic characters and the willingness of an audience to want to walk through the world created between a novel's pages.

So, I suppose, the fate of chick lit rests squarely on one key question: what is the audience looking for?

Feminista
End of a chapter: chick lit takes on the credit crunch [The Independent]
Sex and shopping chick lit makes way for recessionista reads as credit crunch leaves its mark on the book shelves [Daily Mail]
How the recession has fuelled chick lit [Live Mint]
Paranormal Smut Novels [Feministe]