05 June 2016

It’s the Little Things


by Leigh Lundin

Getting inside a woman’s head is tricky; some say it's nigh impossible. I like trying though… not to mess with her but to write about her. I know what guys think, at least this one, so how can I resist exploring the world inside my favorite subject… women? Brave and foolish, huh, but I don’t entirely botch it. In my earliest days of writing, I wrote a story of a woman with low self-esteem. A professor singled it out as an example of writing from the viewpoint of the opposite sex. I like the discovery. When in doubt, I'm not afraid to ask.

Last month, Eve Fisher reviewed Janice Law’s Homeward Dove. The article was so good, I bought the book. I can’t compete with Eve’s excellent report, but I want to address the book’s characterization– Consider me gobsmacked.

A lot of women write from a male’s point of view. Many are terrific at it, others– meh. Don’t think this hyperbole, but I’ve never seen anyone pull it off like Janice Law.

To be sure, she’s received excellent reviews and awards for her Francis Bacon series. I would find it tricky to get into the head of a gay artist, but Janice pulled it off with aplomb.

In Homeward Dove, she slips into the skin of her main character, Jeff Woodbine. He’s a blue collar 20-something initially drifting and grifting in a big-box electronics store and working in the building trades. Jeff says ‘should of’ instead of ‘should have’ and is better with tools than he is people. He likes beer, sex, sports, and fishing.

At first blush, that doesn’t seem like much characterization but that’s not what we're talking about. A Very Famous Mystery Thriller Author started a series writing from a woman’s viewpoint. For characterization, he stopped the story in places to discuss fashion and to badmouth men. It wasn’t characterization and it wasn’t authentic.

The thing with Janice, her Jeff is so authentic, I can’t see the hand behind the curtain. He’s real. He grows introspective. He matures. She uses setting to her advantage. He lives in New England, so he watches the Red Sox, drinks Rolling Rock, and he doesn’t eat a hoagie, a hero, or a sub– he wolfs down a grinder.

These are minor points, but our boy Jeff knows the intricacies of rebuilding a roof and rebuilding a carburetor better than rebuilding a relationship. He knows his tools and his lumber. More to the point, we feel his fear of heights and fear of relationships.

I can’t discuss a couple of traits without introducing spoilers, but in a way I’m not sure how she pulls off Jeff’s character. Sure, he knows the difference between a rotary and a reciprocating saw and minutiae women aren’t likely to know, but these are like tiles in a floor. We see and admire the tile, but we don't notice the unappreciated grout that supports and enhances the tiles.

Janice understands the need in a male to protect and the craving to be heroic. She also brings out men’s insecurities, not those that women giggle about, but the deeper, little-boy-lost syndromes no man will admit to. In the case of Jeff, he’s the victim of his own quiet desperation.

The novel would make an interesting subject for literary analysis, deconstructing it to see how it works, much like Jeff and the little boy take apart engines to study them.

That brings me to a final point. When Eve summarized the plot, I could not imagine how a little boy might communicate his, well, accusation for lack of a better term. But again, Janice pulls it off.

Who are your favorite cross-boundary authors? What suggestions for writers do you have?

9 comments:

janice law said...

Dear Leigh you made my day!
I am always nervous when people I know and like read my work because I am never sure how they will react. I'm so glad you enjoyed Jeff and his friends.

Leigh Lundin said...

Janice, it was a pleasure reading it and trying to figure out how you pulled off Jeff’s character. I simply express my take.

A Broad Abroad said...

Congratulations on the book, JL.
Thank you for the recommendation, LL.

PS - I trust the 'Little Things' in your heading is not a reference to women...

Leigh Lundin said...

ABA, you’ll get me in so much trouble! I’ll pretend not to see this and you can pretend you’re talking about Louisa May Alcott. Besides, it’s all about Janice’s characterization.

Eve Fisher said...

Janice did a great job with Jeff, didn't she? I was also really impressed with Michelle, the shark-like supervisor, so greedy that her IQ drops ten points every time she thinks of another way to make money. Great characters make great books, plain and simple.

Leigh Lundin said...

Janice made Michelle easy to dislike. Yes, all of her characters are good. And you did a great job bringing it to our attention, Eve.

Melodie Campbell said...

I always caution my students that it is easier to write their first book from the point of view of a male if they are male, and vice versa. To be honest, it's the male writing a female protagonist that I find difficult to read, in that I can *always* tell if it's a male author. I think it must be harder for men to 'think like a woman'.

One of the reasons women write from a male point of view is because very few books win awards if written with a female protagonist. There have been some good posts on this lately, looking at the major lit awards. I fear, at least in Canada, that the same is true. Very few books written by women about a female protagonist actually win the Arthurs. This is the topic for another post I'm writing...soon! grin

Leigh Lundin said...

Melodie, I think you’re right that it’s harder for a male to write from a woman’s standpoint. Gillian Flynn wrote Gone Girl from both male and female viewpoints. I thought the male sections were well done, but she claimed she had a lot of difficulty, so consulted with her husband and other men. Whatever it took her, she did well.

A number of famous books for girls have been written by men– Alice (in Wonderland), Dorothy (of Oz), and the three most popular of the Nancy Drew series.

In that vein, I recently read that children’s authors are finding it exceedingly difficult to publish stories with boy protagonists. Publishers are demanding stories about girls.

Dale Andrews said...

I had rather expected this article to be authored by Velma.