Feb. 24, 2014
Is the female protagonist of my crime novel a slut? Did I err by creating for her a messy personal life? I took these questions to a group of fellow writers this week in the wake of some puzzling comments by a book reviewer.
Some background and disclosure: My novel, Saving Texas, like many others released by small publishers, didn’t get an advance review. Its debut captured a gratifying spurt of publicity, but not the full review often posted on distributors’ sites to spur interest. So I commissioned one through a company that provides those services. The reviews are billed as candid and unbiased and if writers don’t like them, they can choose not to post them.
I was pleased with the result, except for some discombobulating comments by the male reviewer about my newspaper reporter-sleuth heroine, Annie Price.
The review says, “While Price evolves into a stronger, more intelligent woman, her initial portrayal as a good reporter who’s a hard-drinking, bed-hopping good girl at heart is dissatisfying. Price seems too smart and sophisticated to be careless and stupid about her personal life.”
That seemed simplistic and unfair. Annie, who’s thirty-six, is a problem drinker who sleeps with someone improbable after a traumatic loss. Her drunken one-night stand reverberates through the book and provides a major plot twist. The only other person she sleeps with in the novel is a state senator who’s separated from his wife. She believes that she loves him. She’s attracted to another leading character, but ends the relationship instead of consummating it.
Bed-hopping? Hardly. And hard-drinking doesn’t satisfactorily describe her drinking behavior. Hard-drinking evokes images of men who belly up to the bar most nights for convivial rounds with their buddies. Annie’s drinking isn’t a fun pastime or sport – it’s mostly solitary and veers close to alcoholism.
The reviewer also criticizes her relationship with the state senator, “a man she seems attracted to solely because of his looks and superficial personality traits.”
Well! Is it wrong or unbelievable that a woman would choose a man for his looks and “superficial personality traits?” Sounds like the kind of thing that men have been doing with impunity for years. People choose their romantic partners for a variety of reasons and women probably make as many mistakes in the realm of love and attraction as men. Aren’t we as writers supposed to create characters who are flawed but human? If our characters didn’t make bad decisions and find themselves in trouble because of them, it wouldn’t be a very interesting novel and our characters would be considered as flimsy as cardboard.
My friends, mostly women writers, agreed with my viewpoint. They liked Annie’s complexity and humanity. And they had a word for those comments from the reviewer – sexist.