April 2013: Doors

Readers Write

Picture 6

The winner of April’s door-themed readers write challenge is Jenny Lapekas with her entry titled “Long Stay”. Congratulations, Jenny, and thank you to everyone who submitted!

LONG STAY

by Jenny Lapekas

My father begins in the middle of the lot, close to the hangar. He is thorough as he scans the cars in one sweep of his oval eyes. The blue sign seems to sigh from boredom: LONG STAY CAR PARKING. A man’s black Bentley sits dazed, bugs still springing within the vehicle’s frame. This man is a stockbroker who will never know my father’s hand has opened his German-made door. My father’s fingertips are soft pads from years of swimming in chlorine and murky springs, orange shorts and shiny whistle wavering above mud and clay, in search of lost swimmers who have become aquatic corpses haunting the dark waves. These are the same hands that look like maps to me, interstates and turnpikes scattered between cornfields and water, a confusing sort of math.

By the time the man recalls his error, he will resent the ground that passed beneath him.  As he sits at a press conference overseas, he has no idea that my father, the man who collected train sets as a boy, has flicked a simple plastic switch and watched the car’s headlights died down. In my mind, my father sits in his Chicago home, a small boy, crashing his toys together and waving to me from a bright red caboose. The man will return to his hotel and never discover that because of my father, his car will start the first time the jagged key turns, and he will return safely to his family.

My father steps out of the car door, one shiny loafer at a time, positions his captain’s hat, so brave, so pronounced, straight and tight around his head. The golden wings glisten on his lapel as he tosses his heavy coat over his arm and straightens his frame. His tie, the one with small globes and smiley faces on it, escapes from his black jacket and flaps in the warm breeze. My father searches for more twin lights begging his attention. These are the headlights others so carelessly, so humanly, forgot to turn off.

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The Male Privilege Plot: Jeffrey Eugenides Broke My Fragile Woman Heart

Essay, Lit, Politics

Jeffrey Eugenides is a wonderful writer.  I loved, and love, Middlesex.  But the recent interview he gave with Salon, specifically the bits about gender in the literary world, surprised and disappointed me.  It’s not his ignorance of the issue so much that bothers me; it’s his denial of it, the dismissive tone of his response, the unwillingness to engage in an analysis of his privilege beyond an offhand “You know, it’s possible.”  Yes, I know it’s possible.  VIDA knows it’s possible.  It’s more than possible.  How could the person who wrote Middlesex –– a novel about the permeability, and the cultural centralization of, sex and gender –– not believe in gender bias?

Eugenides argued that Zadie Smith is as well-respected and reviewed as Jonathan Franzen and the Great (White) Male Writers of his ilk.  I agree with him on that point… but that’s Zadie Smith.  One author.  Marie Curie discovered radium, but one wouldn’t look back on scientific history and claim that women were (or are) as respected or prominent in the field as male scientists.  I could list a handful more women writers held in high literary esteem (Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, Doris Lessing, Alice Walker) but the list would run out far, far sooner than the list of male authors regarded in the same light.

There’s a difference between the work that Franzen produces and that which Jodi Picoult produces, he said.  I agree with him there, too.  Picoult produces beach reads; Franzen produces heavy tomes about”the way we live now” (as Time famously hailed Freedom).   Personally, I don’t enjoy either writer’s work, but there is a clear difference in their sentence, character, and plot construction.  Franzen wins reviews; Picoult wins the “average” consumer.  But Jodi Picoult, in the notorious tweet that launched Franzenfreude 2010, said nothing about Jodi Picoult.  Nor did she say anything about the type of book that Jodi Picoult writes (nor the audience that reads them: typically cast as middle-aged, middle-class, and female, invariably mothers, belonging to a book club full of other mothers).   Picoult was talking about the difference in general between the way men and women are received in the literary world. To misunderstand this as Picoult “bellyaching” about her own work’s designation of low culture versus Jonathan Franzen’s as high culture seems intentionally simplistic and irresponsible.  It shrinks and delegitimizes Picoult’s point by ignoring her point.

Men write about divorce and it’s hailed as The Way We Live Now.  Women write about divorce and it’s hailed as Women’s Fiction.  Because why would someone who isn’t a woman want to read about them?  “[I]t usually has nothing to do with their gender,” Eugenides said, “it’s just the marketplace.”  But that’s exactly my point.  The marketplace itself skews toward the historically most common reader demographic: white men.  Work by writers of color is often expected to concern itself with their race or ethnicity, and when it does, it’s often marginalized –– if not by way of bookstore organization (e.g. “African-American Literature”), by way of cover art (Sociological Images has a good breakdown on this regarding work by writers of Asian descent).  These stories are othered.  We want to highlight the work, the idea goes, but we don’t see it as normative and don’t anticipate the author to receive a widespread American audience.

There are always exceptions –– Jhumpa Lahiri, for one –– but in my experience as a consumer that seems to be the case.  We didn’t even read multicultural authors when I was in public school, now that I think about it.  We read Harper Lee to learn about racism in the American South and Pearl S. Buck to learn about China.  Of course, I can’t speak to everyone’s experience, only my own.

Women writers may not have a designated area of the bookstore, but their work is still discriminated against and marginalized in the way it is marketed.  (Let alone how often it is reviewed, or even published.)  Meg Wolitzer’s article in the New York Times, referenced by Eugenides in the interview, rings true and valid.  Perhaps he should read it again.

Ch-ch-changes

News

Hey there!

A lot’s been going on behind the scenes of Broad! lately.  Lots of rustling in our pockets to find pens with which to take notes, scores of avocados devoured with lemon juice and pepper when we sat up brainstorming at computers.  Noisettes, Frank Ocean, Anais Mitchell to keep us awake late at night.  Changes are afoot.  But more on that in a few days.

The thing to remember right now is that submissions are open for the Winter 2012 issue.  (!!!) We’d like to read your work, if you let us.  The sub period will run until Saturday, October 13, 2012.  Anything submitted after that date will be considered for the Summer 2013 issue.  Please check out our submission guidelines!  

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