On The Lad-Lit Genre

On The Lad-Lit Genre

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If I were asked what genre my novel-in-progress could be described as, my instinct would be to say "lad-lit." It sort of fits, according to this definition:

n. A literary genre that features books written by men and focusing on young, male characters, particularly those who are selfish, insensitive, and afraid of commitment.

This may fit my novel to an extent. Mostly because I am a man and my novel is narrated by a young male character. But the main character hardly resembles the aforementioned stereotypes of being selfish, insensitive and being afraid of committment. This preconception of what lad-lit is makes me hesitant to put myself in the lad-lit category.

Some of the best lad-lit there is comes from Nick Hornby (often called the King of Lad-lit) and Jonathan Tropper. Do they fit the above the description? Perhaps some of these elements are found in their novels, but I'm inclined to say no. Nick Hornby's High Fidelity centers around Rob Fleming's desire to get back together with his girlfriend who left him. Rob is insecure, and does temporarily find advantages to being single, and yes, when his girlfriend Laura says she wants to get back together with him, he does have a moments of relishing the possibilities of remaining single, and is tempted by another woman... the character of Rob Fleming is far more complex than what can be boiled down in the definition cited above.

What about chick-lit? It is defined as such:

n. A literary genre that features books written by women and focusing on young, quirky, female protagonists.

That probably makes sense, but it avoids tagging the genre with absurd stereotypes, such as "likes to shop," and "loves shoes," or "works in the fashion or publishing industry," that latter example being ridiculously common from what I've seen. I'm not knocking chick-lit, don't get me wrong, I'm just saying... but, there's aren't many books classified as chick-lit that clearly aren't written or marketed in a way to appeal to men.  This, in my opinion, is the real reason behind a perceived problem of author Jennifer Weiner, who has spoken out about how male and female writers are allegedly treated differently:

I don't write literary fiction - I write books that are entertaining, but are also, I hope, well-constructed and thoughtful and funny and have things to say about men and women and families and children and life in America today. Do I think I should be getting all of the attention that Jonathan "Genius" Franzen gets? Nope. Would I like to be taken at least as seriously as a Jonathan Tropper or a Nick Hornby? Absolutely.

I personally don't believe that women authors are slighted the way she suggests in the interview linked and quoted above. But, I've read one of her books, and felt, as a male, that the story didn't speak to male readers. That's not to say that other women authors haven't.

Perhaps the real issue is the splicing of the fiction genre into categories that tell readers "These books are for women, and these books are for men." The limiting of a book's audience by gender is further exasperated by the book cover designs. When you look at the book covers of novels by Jennifer Weiner, Jodi Picoult,  Sophie Kinsella etc. etc.. they look like books that men wouldn't want to be caught reading. The book covers of novels by Nick Hornby, Jonathan Tropper, etc. etc. they often feel less gender specific in design. Maybe I just see it that way being a man, but that's just the impression I get.

Truth be told, not all "lad-lit" is created equal. Some of it is more than willing to exaggerate stereotypes for comedy. There have been some lad-lit novels I've not been able to finish. One lad-lit author I have recently become a fan of is Nick Spalding. I started reading his stuff a few weeks ago. I'm enjoying it. Though I should note, he plays up the male stereotypes in his "Love..." novels... but it's done well, and finishing one book makes me want to read the next. But, in terms of lad-lit style, his writting is very different from the novel I'm working on.

I'd like to believe my premise is unique, plausible, and entertaining... a generally serious story that uses occasional humor when appropriate, but not a situational comedy full of self-deprecation, where everything goes wrong all the time.

So, in many respects, I don't want my novel to be looked at as a novel for men to read, and women to ignore. Honestly, the main female character in my novel is the most compelling character in the book, and I've spent far more time thinking about her backstory and how that impacts her behavior and lifestyle than with any other character. The story is narrated by the lead male character, but the story is about her. So, while it might make sense to market my book as lad-lit, and put it in the same category as the authors I most admire, I'd still sooner refer to it as contemporary fiction.

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