Picture this: A female author writes a novel about a middle-aged woman struggling through something of a mid-life crisis. She’s been divorced for several years, but she’s still reeling with the aftermath, coasting along in something she calls “The Existence Period”. She’s dated some, but she has recently suffered a crisis in her current romantic relationship and she ponders whether she’ll ever be able to love again. She’s ambivalent about her career and spends much of the book pondering what she should do with her life. She spends a weekend with her troubled teenager, wondering whether she failed as a parent and what she can do now to make things better. The experience awakens her, and she ends the book determined to make things better with her children and her current lover.
What would happen to this book? I have a pretty good idea: it would be labelled “women’s fiction”, it would be given a soft, pastel cover, and it would be dismissed by the critics.
But in reality, this book had a better life. Because it was written by a male author about a male protagonist (with everything else being equal) it was hailed as “a major American novel” (Washington Times) and given the Pulitzer (1996). Continue reading