“Motherhood and ‘mum noir’ is taking over the psychological suspense shelves, but some portrayals have come in for criticism. Author Caroline Corcoran looks into the trend…”
I read a lot of psychological thrillers and mysteries, and women-centered stories have for several years now been a staple of those genres. (See 5 Domestic Thrillers: Terror at Home.)
Here novelist Caroline Corcoran focuses on novels that center around new mothers: “These new mums we are getting to know are human; flawed, not unlike the ones we know in our own lives.”
But, she continues, “Motherhood’s dark side is a fascinating arena to explore but when done in a reductive way that suggests new mums – or those that wish to be mums but are struggling – equal sudden psychopaths, it can lead to something offensive, inaccurate and dangerous.” She warns that we should be “vigilant when it comes to tropes like these.”
Yet, Corcoran concludes, fiction can be a great tool for raising awareness of the issues mothers face in contemporary society.
Writer Emma Copley Eisenberg’s recent book The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia “concerns the deaths of two people who have many living family members, the incarceration of a living man, and a protracted emotional and social trauma of enormous meaning to a great many real and living people.”
Eisenberg wanted to be sure everything she wrote was correct, but when it came time for fact checking she found that “most nonfiction books are not fact checked; if they are, it is at the author’s expense.”
Here she explains what fact checking is and why it’s such an important part of producing a reliable work of nonfiction. She also examines how various publishers handle—or don’t handle—fact checking for nonfiction books.
“The Russian writer’s tales of stasis, uncertainty and irresolution determined the path of 20th-century fiction.”
Chris Power centers his essay about Chekhov’s influence on later writers around the recent publication in the U.K. of Fifty-Two Stories by Anton Chekhov, recently translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. Although this collection does not include many of Chekhov’s most famous stories, Power writes, the stories included illustrate the traits of Chekhov’s short fiction that have been most influential.
Power writes, “in a letter of 1888 Chekhov said it wasn’t an author’s job to give answers, but formulate the right questions.” Chekhov’s stories present emotions felt, poetic moods often created by setting. The characters do not usually arrive at answers but rather consider new questions raised by their imaginings.
These are stories of ambiguity, irresolution. “Meaning is provisional in even the most apparently self-explanatory of Chekhov’s stories.”
While reading a book club book, Erin Davis was struck by “a 35-page interlude about a highly attractive fairy, describing her body in minute, eye-rolling detail.” Annoyed by “this lazy writing,” she set out to discover how widespread this writing approach to creating characters is, because she wants “to read books that explore the full humanity of their characters, not stories that reduce both men and women to weak stereotypes of their gender.”
To answer the question, she and colleagues used a computerized language processor to examine 2,000 books published between 1008 and 2020, the majority published after 1900:
Books were selected for cultural relevance. Our selection pool included New York Times best sellers, Pulitzer Prize nominees and winners, Man Booker shortlisted books and winners, books frequently taught in American high schools and colleges, and books that frequently appear on Best Of lists.
She discovered that “Men and women do tend to be described in different ways.”
Read the descriptive trends the research discovered, as well as a complete technical explanation of how the research project worked.
I find narrative experimentation fascinating, as I’ve written about in these two previous posts:
In this article Dustin Illingworth examines four recent books that illustrate how the manipulation of narrative structure can shape meaning.
In re-examining Faulkner’s fiction in light of the current resurgence here in the U.S. of Black Lives Matter, Michael Gorra writes, “He [Faulkner] was born into an understanding of the way white supremacy works, and a part of him never stopped believing in the racial hierarchy that shaped his boyhood, even as the writer grew increasingly critical of it.”
© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown