In the Media: 2nd November 2014

In the media is a weekly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous week and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. Also, just a note to make it clear that I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely.

The week kicked off (almost literally) with Julia Stephenson writing a piece in the Telegraph with the headline ‘Can a Woman Be Happy Without Having Kids?’ to which Bryony Gordon responded also in the Telegraph. They weren’t the only woman writing about children this week; The New Yorker ran an extract ‘No Babies, Please‘ from Megan Amran’s book; Kate Long wrote about ‘The Five Stages of Motherhood‘ for Mslexia, and Shappi Khorsandi wrote on ‘Raising Girls‘ on Huffington Post.

This was followed on Tuesday by Hollaback’s film of a woman being catcalled for ten hours in New York which raised issues about race as well as the way some men behave towards women in the street. Emily Gould wrote about it for Salon and Hanna Rosin for Slate.

On lighter issues, it seems I was pre-emptive putting Amy Poehler top of the list last week as this week she’s EVERYWHERE. (Which is a good thing as far as I’m concerned.) If you don’t know who she is, I’ll direct you towards her 10 Funniest Clips on the Telegraph first, then you can feast on the rest: Amy Poehler reading from the Prologue of Yes, Please on Pan Macmillan’s Soundcloud; an extract on taping SNL while pregnant on Vulture; talking about writing being ‘hellish’ on Huffington Post; interviewing George R.R. Martin on Vulture; 11 Amy Poehler Stories You’ve Never Heard Before, But Will Totally Relate to Your Life in The Huffington Post; 30 Hilarious Truth Bombs Amy Poehler Dropped During Her Reddit AMA on Buzzfeed; doing #AskAmy at Twitter HQ;

The other high profile funny feminist woman who’s had plenty written about her this week is Lena Dunham, who was in the UK promoting her book. Alex Clark interviewed her in the Observer; Emma Gannon interviewed her for The Debrief and wrote about meeting Lena and her event at the Southbank Centre with Caitlin Moran on Friday night on her blog. She’s on video on The New Yorker talking about Girls and Sex at The New Yorker Festival and there are facts about her on Oprah. While Rebecca Carroll wrote about Lena Dunham’s Race Problem on Gawker and Sonia Saraiya responded in Salon.

The best of the rest articles/essays:

The interviews:

In translation:

If you’d like some fiction to read:

Photo by T. Kira Madden

And the lists:

If I Knew You Were Going to Be This Beautiful, I Never Would Have Let You Go – Judy Chicurel

It’s 1972. Katie and her friends live in Elephant Beach, Long Island. Most of the action takes place around Comanche Street where Desi owns a candy store called ‘Eddy’s’ and Mitch lives in one of the rooms at The Starlight Hotel.

I’d been hanging around Comanche Street for three years and there were still times when it felt like I was watching a movie starring everyone I knew in the world, except me. The feeling would come up on me even when I was surrounded by a million people: in school, on the beach, sitting at the counter in Eddy’s.

Katie, eighteen, has been watching Luke McCallister, twenty-one, for three years. As the book begins, he’s just returned from Vietnam and she thinks anything happening without him in it isn’t really worth it.

She spends most of her time hanging out with her friends Liz and Nanny. The three of them are beginning to understand the world from an adult point-of-view while starting to have sex, drink and try drugs. This is much to the disappointment of Katie’s mum, in particular, who expects her daughter to be upwardly mobile, not only going to Carver Community College because she’d failed a class.

Early in the book, Liz declares she’s had sex with Cory McGill, a twenty-year-old who works at her dad’s car dealership.

‘Do I look different?’ She asked. ‘I feel different.’ She ran her hands down her breasts, over her stomach. ‘What if I’m pregnant?’ she whispered.
Nanny’s eyes grew huge with alarm. She looked at me. Suddenly I felt depressed and I didn’t know why.
‘Is that what you want?’ I asked.
Liz just smiled her new smile, her eyes staring at us backward through the mirror. ‘Wouldn’t that be a trip, man?’ Walking down the aisle at graduation with Cory’s baby inside me?’ She turned sideways, her hands clasped over her womb. ‘Wouldn’t that just be something else?’

The book’s largely taken up with the relationships between those who hang around Comanche Street – who’s sleeping with who; who doesn’t need to find out they’re being cheated on; who’s pregnant – but Chicurel doesn’t turn it into a soap opera and there are two ways she avoids it; the first is the pace of the book: it meanders as though to mirror real life. There’s a loose plot but nothing that’s going to make you want to race through the pages. That’s not a criticism, I enjoyed the slow build, the layering of events and characters, but it won’t be to everyone’s taste. The second is the continual presence of Vietnam, mostly through the characters of Luke and Mitch. Mitch, thirty, who spends his days drinking, waiting for his next disability allowance to be paid, warns Katie about getting close to Luke:

‘Minefields everywhere you look. Tiny little whores, so beautiful they could make your heart stop, packing razor blades. Vietnamese birth control, cut you right where it hurts. Had a buddy kill one of ‘em for what she done to him.
I shuddered just thinking about it. I had enough trouble shaving my legs, trying not to cut my shinbone to ribbons with the razor. ‘But how does that even work?’
‘No fucking idea, but the damage is done,’ Mitch said. He licked the dregs of his glass and signalled to Len for another.
‘And then you come back,’ he said. ‘To this fucking sinkhole. All that Stars and Stripes forever crap. And instead of a ticker-tape parade – though you ask me, who needs that bullshit – you get some sixteen-year-old twat – sorry, sweetheart, but that’s what she was – whose dress doesn’t even cover her ass, asking are you proud of yourself, killing all those babies…But no one ever talks about the four-year-olds with dynamite strapped all over ‘em, walking at you, waving, “Hey, GI! Okay, GI!” Putting their arms out for you to pick ‘em up and hug ‘em so you could blow the fuck up.’

There are some dark and brutal moments in the book. Some of those come from the men who’ve served in Vietnam, others from the young women who come of age in a working-class community.

Through what reads more like a collection of closely linked short stories, rather than a novel, Chicurel creates a world and characters at various stages of their lives, struggling with their reality. If you like slow-burning books, there’s much to savour here.


Thanks to Headline for the review copy.