Monday, October 25, 2010

Review—Crossing Washington Square by Joanne Rendell

Synopsis (via Goodreads): Some women follow their hearts; others follow their minds. In this “charming, witty, and cerebral” second novel from the acclaimed author of The Professors’ Wives’ Club, we return to Manhattan University, where two strong-willed women are compelled to unite their senses and sensibilities.

Professor Diana Monroe is a highly respected scholar of Sylvia Plath. Serious and aloof, she steadfastly keeps her mind on track. Professor Rachel Grey is young and impulsive, with a penchant for teaching popular women’s fiction like
Bridget Jones’ Diary and The Devil Wears Prada, and for wearing her heart on her sleeve.

The two conflicting personalities meet head to heart when Carson McEvoy, a handsome and brilliant professor visiting from Harvard, sets his eyes on both women and creates even more tension between them. Now Diana and Rachel are slated to accompany an undergraduate trip to London, where an almost life-threatening experience with a student celebrity will force them to change their minds and heal their hearts…together.

Review:  I heard about this book during Book Blogger Appreciation Week and it sounded right up my alley.  I’ve always been discouraged by the dismissal of chick lit as “real literature” and think it has certain merit in the world of fiction. 

Crossing Washington Square makes a lot of really great points about the misconceptions about chick lit and the prejudices people have when they see you reading it.  However, by about halfway through I was just like “I get it.  Enough already!”  The “moral” is dragged out way too long and both Diana and Rachel lack any self-awareness so it takes forever for them to make any ground as characters. 

I really wanted to like this book more than I did.  The set-up for the book was great.  I thought it was fun in the beginning to compare them to Elinor and Marianne Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility, but the comparisons, though started out strong, went nowhere.  Both claimed the superficial aspects of each woman, which made them rather bland.  Diana was stuck-up and frigid, Rachel was emotional and flighty and each stayed like this practically until the last chapter when we're just supposed to suddenly buy them as friends.  We're told they've grown, but I just didn't see it so the ending felt a bit jarring. 

Both characters just didn’t do anything for me.  Just when I thought I was beginning to connect with one, they fell back on some stereotype.  Seriously, if Rachel said she was going to “catch me a Carson” one more time I think I was going to scream.  It was a ridiculous statement for a grown woman to say once, let alone five times.  I was really interested in each of the women for the first couple chapters, but the story just went nowhere and I found myself just getting irritated with both women for their lack of action, or, when they did act, it was just so stupid and flighty it made me roll my eyes.  The middle of the book just felt muddled and meandering.  Though it pulled itself together in the end for a somewhat plausible ending, each character still felt vaguely superficial and forced to me.  

I do commend Rendell for bringing to light the way chick lit has been dismissed as “fluff” (on another note: what’s wrong with fluff?  I would argue that anyone who doesn’t want some “fluff” in their life is pretty boring.) and definitely isn’t to be looked at with any kind of literary or critial gaze.  As Rendell says pop culture influences everything we are: how we think, how we act, and what’s going to happen in our lives.  If we’re seriously studying current television and film in Ivy league schools, why is chick lit still regulated to a “guilty pleasure.”

Anyway, Crossing Washington Square highlights a really interesting argument about the current state of literature, I only wish the story that surrounded this argument was a little more compelling. It's got some great academic thoughts but lacks that spark that makes "women's fiction" great.

Lit Snit Verdict: C

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