Tuesday, August 3, 2010

That Chick Lit book

I took a bit of Chick Lit on vacation and refused to admit what it was ahead of time. Well, it's time to come clean, it was A Summer Affair by Elin Hilderbrand.*I took the CD version as read by Isabel Keating.

As the Serpentine One would say, odd spellings of first names like "Elin" are a bad sign. But, in this case not so bad really. Forget it Jake, it's Chick Lit.

Because it is Chick Lit, everyone in this book is a little bit more famous, either a little bit more lucky or more unlucky, a little bit better looking than you are. Many of the things they consume come with brand names. They don't buy a new dress they buy an Anne Klein. They don't drink white wine, they drink Viognier. But even by Chick Lit standards, however, this book is far too glamorous for its own good. I'm willing to believe that the lead character's high school boyfriend became a rock star but I'm not willing to believe he became one of the four or five biggest stars in the world.I'm also willing to believe that the lead character produces nice blown glass objects but not that she produces stuff so good she has a piece in the Whitney.

But what's it about you ask? It's a book about sin. It's about good people who commit sins, the reasons why they do it and what they do to try and resolve the problems. The big sin here is commandment number six (in the Catholic numbering sequence) better known as adultery. And I use the Catholic numbering because this book comes with a  heavy dose of Catholicism. The lead character and her best friend are both Catholic and they go to mass regularly (not quite every week) and even to confession/reconciliation occasionally.

And, although many of the trappings around this theme are silly, exaggerated and improbable, the actual handling of the theme is pretty impressive. One of the things Hilderbrand handles very well is the multiplier effect that happens when people start to damage their marriages. I mean the way one person having an affair tends to trigger her friends to do the same. It's impressive too, that she has the courage to push such a Catholic angle on things and that she has made a bestseller out of it.

There are two major flaws both relating to judgment of sins.  Without giving too much away (and you don't want to give too much away because Chick Lit is all about the plot, these are not memorable characters) several characters have been committing various transgressions but only the really unlikeable guy gets caught. You might think that being socially unpleasant was a worse sin than breaking a sacred vow.

The second problem is that the other characters make no penance or restitution for their offenses. They just stop as if that was enough. As a consequence, they get to have their sin and eat it too. And so do we living the experience by proxy. But it's Chick Lit. The real message is that adultery is an offense. It hurts the person you cheat on, the person you cheat with, the people who depend on you and it hurts you too. That's a pretty solid delivery by the standards of the genre.

So, worth it? Yes, if you like Chick Lit, and I do.

* I'm not providing links because i make no money out of this blog. It's on Amazon if you want it.

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