In recent years, bestselling author Jennifer Weiner has become somewhat of a spokeswoman in support of successful female authors whose novels about families and relationships are more often than not considered fluffy "chick lit" while notable male authors who write candidly about emotional issues are ususally praised for their groundbreaking cultural criticism. (She once tweeted: "Carl Hiaasen doesn't have to chose between getting a Times review and being a bestseller. Why should I? Oh, right. #girlparts.")
So this anecdote about Weiner's ill-fated meeting with Jeffrey Eugenides, which she related via her blog, is not only hilarious but notable within the context of the issues she often raises.
A few years ago, Weiner gave a reading at Princeton, her alma mater, which she jokes is "a subject of great shame among its stellar writing facility. I like to imagine Joyce Carol Oates and Toni Morrison and John McPhee standing around, leafing dubiously through a copy of GOOD IN BED, saying, 'Jennifer Weiner?....nope, don't remember her at all!'" She was seated by Eugenides, one of her favorite authors, but was too nervous to talk to him, in part "from being told for ten years that I'm not a real writer and I don't write real books, just entertaining girlie fluff." Naturally, Weiner needed some liquid courage to get the conversation flowing:
Finally, I touched his forearm and said (or possibly slurred) "I loooooved MIDDLESEX."
He smiled politely. "Thank you."
I bared my purplish-stained teeth at him in a grin that was meant to be friendly but probably looked feral.
"I read it right after it came out. Right after my first daughter was born."
This factoid was greeted with another polite smile. Please, said the look on his face, please let the poet start talking to me again. But I was undeterred. (Also, possibly, drunk).
"And, you know, even though I'd had amnio, and I knew she was a girl, I made the doctor look extra-close to be sure." (MIDDLESEX readers will remember that much of the book's plot hinges on an aged pediatrician's failure to properly recognize male genitalia when presented with it.) "Because," I concluded triumphantly, in a whisper that could probably be heard in West Windsor, "nobody wants to be the mom who missed the penis!"
At that point, Jeffrey Eugenides was looking at me with an expression on his face that could only be characterized as unmitigated horror, with a soupçon of disgust. I took another gulp from my wineglass.
"Oh, c'mon," I said. "I can't be the only mom who's ever done that!"
Yes, said the look on Jeffrey Eugenides' face. Yes, you can.
Even those of us who aren't wildly successful novelists can probably relate to how stressful it is to meet a "big-deal idol" in your career field — what if you say something dumb, or accidentally insult him/her, or have something in your teeth? But if Weiner hadn't been made to feel "lesser than" for years by her male peers (and some female authors, too; her blog post breaking down "the increasingly angry divide between ladies who write literature and chicks who write chick lit" is worth a read, if you haven't already), maybe she wouldn't have felt insecure around Eugenides, whose most recent book, The Marriage Plot, is the perfect example of male bias in literary criticism.
Almost every woman (and man) I know who read the book agrees that The Marriage Plot, which is about a pretty but dull co-ed and the two self-obsessed assholes who love her, is annoyingly and disappointingly trite. Yet, the New York Times Book Review called it "a new departure...intimate in tone and scale" as well as "daylight realism." Breaking News: Man Dares to Write About Love! How REAL of him.
It's surprising that Weiner hasn't been openly critical of The Marriage Plot — she apparently kind of liked it — because it's a long, boring story about a college love triangle that belongs in a genre I like to call "angsty dude-lit." But perhaps Weiner's sick of being the poster woman for fighting against the lit-patriarchy and just wants some much-deserved respect.
Image via Weiner's website.