Monday, March 27, 2006

Excuse me, I must rant now

I read Revenge of the Middle Aged Woman by Elizabeth Buchan this weekend, and it has me thoroughly agitated.

I don't think the author meant to agitate me, at least, not in this manner. I did expect a different kind of book when I bought it - something between The Life and Loves of a She-Devil and light women's fiction - I like humor, and I like reading about characters reworking their lives after unexpected upheaval. I especially like strong women in stories, women who stand up to injustice in their lives and put it right, even if I disagree with their methods.

What I got was more like Anne River Siddons.

I've only read one of her books -Up Island - and I've browsed the through her others enough to know that she writes for a particular demographic, the 40+ woman. Her novels are generally about middle to upper class women of the same age range who are experiencing that upheaval and change I was talking about, very engrossing. I liked Up Island, especially since the romantic interest was a cancer patient who was missing a leg, but overall it was played very safe. This book would not shock my grandmother, nor would she have difficulty understanding the values and options it deliberated upon.

Elizabeth Buchan did a fine job of rounding out her characters in Revenge of the Middle Aged Woman. It was possible to sympathize with just about every character, even while thinking they were unethical, selfish, and deserving of a good smack to the head at the end. The novel made me weepy more often than I like, and it dragged at points, but I was invested enough in the main character to stick it out to the end so that I could see her emerge from her cocoon and deliver that much needed revenge.

Well, have you ever watched a movie whose plot centered around righting a wrong that was committed against the hero(ine) or someone they care about, and the hero(ine) goes through all this drama to reach a final confrontation with The Wrongdoer, only to tell them that the punishment is that they, The Wrongdoer, will have to live with themselves and what they have done? Egh. Imagine that really, really watered down. And, oh yeah, she's not even seeking revenge to begin with, just trying to live her life. The revenge was simply the consequence of The Wrongdoers actions, come home, ie, bad karma.

It's been my experience that in real life the Good Guys don't always defeat the Bad Guys, nor does anybody have clear idea of what that embodies at any given point, with any given person. When this happens in fiction it's considered more realistic. But I ask you: How often do you see karma really get someone? Do people who do bad things always have bad things happen to them? Or do they sometimes ride off into the sunset, completely unrepentant? A story that relies on karma isn't very realistic in my book, either.

But that wasn't even what got me really agitated. What bothers me to no end is what happened with the daughter in the end. She goes on a trip to India with her boyfriend, they get caught up in the moment, get married, then come back to England to set up a home. Hippy, long haired, bead-wearing, anti-capitalist boyfriend turns into a Suit, advising clients to take their production overseas. He expects dinner ready when he gets home. And when the girl complains about this sudden change in her beau's personality and her new wifey-wifey role, she is basically told to grow up and take it.

If when my boyfriend/ partner/ whatnot and I decided to commit to each other and got our own place, he cut his hair, got a power suit, and expected me to become Betty Crocker, he would have been out on his ass faster than you can say NAFTA. That's not what I signed up for, and I don't think that's what the daughter signed up for, either. Maybe she was naive to think that India could last forever, but one does expect to go home with the same person. She was gypped and everybody was happy about it but me.


Jeanette said...

Don't worry, sounds like that post India couple will be heading to divorce court after a very short time. I watched Woman of the Year this weekend and was similarly disppointed/aggrivated when Katherin Hepburn's character decided that to save her marriage she needed to become Betty Crocker, but at least that was from the 30's/40's

Christine said...

I kind of expect that kind of thing from the 30's/40's, even though it still annoys me. (See: Mr. and Mrs. Smith for a prime example of something I can't stand to watch.)But this book is post 2000, and it's still perpetuating outmoded gender roles while pretending to seriously xplore the options. Ergh!

Zee said...

You know, I would have become infuriated myself. I actually know of several couples that had a similar issue... I have no contact with them.

heather said...

That is frustrating (I haven't read it, but now wonder why my Mum liked it!)

A tale which on the surface is of a similar ilk is The Lady Who Liked Clean Restrooms by J.P. Donleavy, a darker tale but makes it VERY clear that it will not have a tidy-happy ending, but how it is written, that is OK. The illustrations are great.

It makes me think of what Edward Gorey and Helen Fielding would do if they wrote a book together.

wenders said...

Have you ever read Bitch Magazine? I have a subscription, and find it fascinating (and to be honest, sometimes extreme) to look at ways that gender roles (and race, class, etc) are still carried out in our society. It helps me balance out my People Magazine addiction, but is ALWAYS a good read. :)

Carrie K said...

I can't read most of those books because I find them too annoying, but I've got to say, that couple back from India is way more the norm than you'd expect. More than I'd expect, at any rate. Here I am, in nice liberal SF Bay Area, and almost every one of my married friends is some form of Stepford wife. I get that marriage is compromise (possibly why I'm divorced) but 9 times out of 10, they're doing the traditional gender roles. Oh, except that she's expected to work and pull in decent money now too.