This article deals with some of the conversations we’ve had about constructions of authorship and marriage in our reading. Obviously, the work for the course is over (except for the final), but I thought some of you make find it of interest.
There continues to be a lot of talk about gender bias in the book industry. The core argument goes that, while both male and female authors write novels about relationships and the domestic sphere, when a woman does so her books are relegated to “chic lit,” and when a man (like Jonathan Franzen) does, he’s lauded for serious literary achievement.
The covers of books written by men are starker, telegraphing importance, while women’s book jackets feature soft-focus, Mary Cassatt-type pictures of women and children. And, statistically, men’s books tend to command more attention through reviews and interviews. All legitimate, even self-evident criticisms, except when it comes to exceptions like Nell Freudenberger.
From the time she broke into The New Yorker at age 26 with her first-ever published short story, Freudenberger has been regarded as a heavyweight literary phenom, particularly for her 2003 short story collection, Lucky Girls. Her latest novel, The Newlyweds, features a dignified cover illustration of birds’ heads, and it has already generated a ton of reviews, including the coveted cover of The New York Times Book Review. Granted, Freudenberger hasn’t landed on the cover of Time magazine yet, but, surely, Jonathan Franzen must be looking over his shoulder.
The latest feather in Freudenberger’s cap is The Newlyweds, and even those who begrudge her success will have to admit that it’s really, really good. As always, Freudenberger is fascinated by culture clash, here encapsulated in the marriage of our main character, a young woman from Bangladesh named Amina, and an American engineer from Rochester, N.Y., named George, who’s 10 years her senior. This is not a love match.