Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Coming out of the kitchen

My fellow Strange Horizons reviewer Martin Lewis points out this astoundingly blinkered not-really-a-review of A.L. Kennedy's Day:
When, as happens occasionally nowadays, one hears over the PA system the traditional "This is your captain speaking", and it's a woman's voice, you feel testicles shrivel. OK for the gals to enquire nicely about chicken or lasagne ("sir") - but "we're cruising at 39,000, and anticipating a smooth flight"?

...Statistics record that only 4% of USAF and RAF pilots now are women - and these are the highest figures ever. Can a class of writer so institutionally and historically disengaged from a subject write a classic (or even a good) novel on it?

...nor, for the record, do I think a woman writing about what is historically a man's world is any more objectionable than, say, DH Lawrence rhapsodising on the female orgasm in Lady Chatterley. But it raises interesting issues.
The only issues I see on display here are Mr. Sutherland's. In 522 words, he manages to say essentially nothing about the novel other than that it's written by a woman, set in wartime, and not very similar to Len Deighton's books. Instead, he focuses on the shriveling of his "whatdoyoucallems"--which, if he were really concerned about the delicacy of the fairer sex, I suspect he would not be discussing in a major newspaper read by thousands of women--and asks with some bewilderment, "Why, with all those 'women's subjects' at her disposal, did Kennedy venture into this most exclusive of manly enclaves?"

I imagine she did it because she wanted to. For any writer, male or female, that is really the only necessary and sufficient reason to choose a topic for a novel. Fantasy and science fiction writers aren't the only ones who venture in fiction to places they have never seen in real life; it's just more obvious that they probably don't have personal experience with unicorns or alien abduction*. I have no doubt that many authors of murder mysteries have never killed anyone, many authors of romance novels have never had sex, and at least a couple of authors who sell short stories to The New Yorker have happy relationships with people who frequently say more than one sentence at a time. I know this may come as a shock to some of you, but fiction is made up stories.

* Whitley Strieber may disagree.

I'm reminded very much of this Russell Banks quote I posted a couple of weeks ago, which got a lot of scornful comments when I posted it to my personal journal. Most cogent was Marissa Lingen's response:
"I can only write within my own self-concept," seems like a far, far more limiting belief than, "I am a white American male," to me.
It seems that Ms. Kennedy is willing to write outside her self-concept, which I wholeheartedly applaud. It's too bad that this adventuresome spirit causes such distress for people like Mr. Sutherland, who believe that women should not only stay within their own self-concepts but within the even more restrictive concepts that have been thrown at them by men. I sincerely hope that authors of all stripes will continue to take these chances, and the testicular reactions of antediluvian readers be damned.