The Season of Second Chances for The Season of Second Chances, by Diane Meier – A Review & Rant

I recently finished The Season of Second Chances, by Diane Meier and liked it so much that I didn’t want to write about it!

I do that sometimes after experiencing a great movie, opera, musical or book. When something touches me profoundly, I want it all to myself. Talking or writing about it somehow takes the shine off my new found treasure. And then there is that Bridget Jones insecurity tapping me on the shoulder telling me that my review could never give it due justice, or I would gush about it so much that people will think I am nuts. Well, more nuts.

So, I have been holding it in savoring my selfish indulgence until this week when I read Ms. Meier’s poignant commentary on publishing, media and buyers perceptions of literature vs. chick-lit in the Huffington Post. I was miffed. Not only had her charming book received positive reviews from all sectors, it also garnered some not so complementary criticisms from those who wanted to classify it as chick-lit because its forty-something female protagonist renovates her home, and the cover has flowers on it. Flowers? Flowers now disqualify books from being literature and earmark them as chick-lit? Conversely, one reader review on Amazon hated it because it wasn’t chick-lit! Go Figure! Like her sharp, funny and insightful book Diane had the perfect come-back to this dilemma.

Okay, I wanted to respond, I’m sorry that you’re disappointed, but it’s like trying to blame a hot dog for not being ice cream.

Exactly!

What I didn’t see was that the chick-lit argument had landed squarely on my doorstep.

Was “The Season of Second Chances” Chick Lit or not? That, in itself, became the general theme of most reviews, professional and consumer.

“Five stars because it is NOT Chick Lit.”

“Zero stars because it is NOT Chick Lit.”

What? Who asked for this as a mark of critical analysis?

I will let you make your own decision, but first, you must read the book to understand the debate. Here’s a teaser and some thoughts…

Forty-eight year old English literature professor Joy Harkness has been avoiding relationships all her life. After fifteen years in the cold, competitive confines of Columbia University she accepts an exciting new position at Amherst College in Massachusetts. Eager to leave the spurious glamour of the New York lifestyle behind, she packs up her small cluttered apartment and purchases a once majestic Victorian house sorely in need of a major renovation. (not quite as disastrous as Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, but close). Everyone insists that she contact local home restoration magician Teddy Hennessy. The man who shows up does not look very promising and their first few meetings are discouraging, but Joy soon discovers that this thirty-five year old laid back mama’s boy is a genius with plumbing, carpentry, vintage detailing and paint chips.

Joy’s anonymous lifestyle from New York soon changes as she makes connections in the community of supportive female co-workers on campus and a romance with an eligible professor. But it is simple, unassuming Teddy who makes the biggest impact on her life, transforming her house and her heart. In turn, she thinks that he needs a make-over and encourages him to return to college for his degree so he can teach (like her). However, his sad past and his domineering mommy-dearest have a strong hold on him that Joy may not be able to fix with her academic acumen.

Meier has crafted a story resplendent with memorable characters ready to make you laugh out loud and nod your head in recognition of the foibles and follies in us all. Joy is a literature professor who has formed her thinking, and her life around critical analysis of classics books. She treats people the same way. As we follow the narrative she throws in all sorts of literary and cultural references as antecedents peppering the plot with descriptors at the most important moments: “His eyes narrowing like a small-town spinster at the suggestion of living in sin.”, “She was a strange bird, almost attractive in a hard and urban way that “seemed to have flown too close to the scalpel.“”,  or my personal favorite, “Like a stripper, I knew my routine, how much to reveal and when to cover up again.” I read this book during my lunch breaks at work and laughed so hard that my co-workers (fellow booksellers) looked at me in amazement quizzing me on what I was reading. I was happy to let them in on the secret. “The Season of Second Chances was a witty coming of age at any age story filled with astute observations and characters so real and outrageously funny that Jane Austen would smile.” There is more… but I promised I would not gush.

I loved the ending, but I can’t tell you about it. Nope. Won’t go there. I feel a personal affinity to Joy Harkness, being a single woman of a certain age who is having her own season of second chances. I wrote to Ms. Meier and told her so. She kindly replied that she wrote the book just for me! *purr*

Back to the literature vs. chick-lit kerfuffle. If Jane Austen is credited as being the grandmother of chick-lit and she is considered one of the finest writers EVAH – those good folks in book award land should take heed. The Season of Second Chances deserves its own second chance. Let’s call it literature. No chick-lit. Even better, chick-ature. Any thing you call it, it’s a darn good book.

5 out of 5 Stars

The Season of Second Chances, by Diane Meier
Henry Holt & Company, Inc. (2010)
Hardcover (304) pages
ISBN: 978-0805090819

© 2007 – 2010 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Chick-lit dead? Back to Jane Austen folks!

     

Occasionally, real authors walk into my book store and ask to sign their books, opposed to unreal authors who remain in that unknown nether galaxy of far, far away Authorland. 

As a bookseller it’s always an unexpected surprise to meet an author face to face, reminding me that there is actually a person who wrote and rewrote that book before it landed on the book shelf. Last week I had the pleasure of meeting local author Jane Porter who came to the information desk and introduced herself. Friendly and unassuming (no Jackie Collins get-up or airs) she was actually camped out in our café with her laptop pounding away on her latest book trying to finish the last 200 pages to meet a deadline. As she signed the multiple copies of Easy on the Eyes that we had on the shelf she chatted away about the book industry and her career as a writer. The conversation came around to her shocking statement that chick-lit was dead, how the recession had killed it and the affect on her and many of her fellow authors in the genre. Inwardly, I felt embarrassed. I should know this. I’m a professional book seller. It then dawned me that our new release tables were sorely lacking in the tell-tale shocking pink covers that personified the genre. Gone, all gone, along with the billions of dollars that seemingly disappeared overnight from people’s 401K’s and home values. 

Since the economy was in the tank and no one had any extra money to fly their Lear jet to Hawaii, ski St. Moritz or shop in NYC it was no fun reading about hip, stylish, career driven thirty-something women who did. Potter explained that when publishers saw the plummeting decline in sales for their niche imprints they abruptly did an about face, authors were asked to make last minute major revisions on unpublished manuscripts and other authors who had been successful in the genre were now cast aside. Jane is a big name in the chick-lit biz. Her best selling 2008 novel Flirting with Forty was made into a movie with Heather Locklear. She also writes classic romance’s for Harlequin. She is not going away. She has always written about deeper issues with humor and insight. It may have saved her. 

So what does all this have to do with Jane Austen you ask? Ever since the Pride and Prejudice inspired novel Bridget Jones’ Dairy became a best seller in 1996 spawning a genre and million pink book covers, Jane Austen has been called the grandmother of chick-lit. This always amused me. She really has little connection to the genre except her novels contain a few similar characteristics: the importance of wealth and social connections, an erring heroine who lacks the afore mentioned wealth and social connections, and a rich but honorable hero who must earn her love. Jane Austen just happened to be the first modern novelists to use these elements, the current darling of the media and a convenient target to hitch their genre to. 

Trends seem to go full circle. We may not have pink covers anymore, but we still have Jane. She never goes out of fashion and you get a lot more satisfaction from the final denouement. If you don’t know what denouement means, it has nothing to do with sex, though it sounds as if it should. Honestly, I do not think chick-lit is dead. It’s just had a make-over. Now its heroines don’t just shop for shoes and have sex, they have a social conscience while they’re doing it.

If you think chick-lit is dead please don’t tell WriteMeg

Further reading