I had dinner last night with an Alaska fiction writer -- soon-to-be-debut-novelist! (excitement) -- and we talked about many, many things. But one thing that came up was the question of whether we write more masculine or more feminine books. That's a tricky subject, and perhaps I'll be criticized for making any distinction at all. But if feminine books tend to feature smaller spaces and more domestic premises and personal issues/social conflict on the intimate scale; and if masculine books tend to feature more action and more emphasis on external events and a historical/political backdrop, then I seem to write more masculine stories. I do know for sure that I get more reader mail from men, who see themselves in the characters I've written.
I didn't plan to blog about gender as an issue, however, until I sat down this morning and decided to surf a few Alaska writer websites. The first one I checked out was UAA MFA student Erin Anais Hanson's blog, in which she was asking herself why she has so few women writers (only Willa Cather) on her favorite writers list. Many MFA students compile a required reading list, and she was sensing a gender imbalance in her own upcoming year's planned reading. With effort, she did think of Jane Austen, Flannery O'Connor, Carson McCullers, and -- the only living woman on her favorites list -- Annie Proulx. It sounds like she got help adding a few more to read this year: Toni Morrison, Nicole Krauss, and Margaret Atwood.
So, on a bleak and rainy day when reading recommendations seem fitting: What living, literary women novelists might you add to Erin's list, including writers who haven't yet made the canon?
I'll toss out a few, noticing that each one of these writers straddles the literary/commercial world in an interesting way, and each one also has an extremely non-sentimental, acerbic voice, which is perhaps why I like to read them, regardless of gender:
Meg Wolitzer, especially The Wife
Lionel Shriver, especially We Need to Talk About Kevin
Zoe Heller, especially What Was She Thinking? (Also called Notes on a Scandal)
Zadie Smith, especially White Teeth