Men Writing About Women

October 17, 2012

I just read a short story by T. C. Boyle. Oh what a writer!

Like other people, I will buy a book, set it on a table to read “soon,” and then turn my head to do a hundred other things. Eventually the book ends up added to a stack to be read “eventually.” Finally, the book is placed on a shelf for “someday.” So it was with PRIZE STORIES 1989 – THE O. HENRY AWARDS.

This morning I awoke at 4:30. Daylight had not yet come. The house was still. I made a cup of coffee, pulled off the shelf this book. “Someday” had turned into “today.” I  thumbed down the list of authors, saw the name T. Coraghessan Boyle, thought,  Oh, that must be T. C. Boyle. His name had passed in front of me many times.  Ordinarily, I submerge myself so much in the classics that only occasionally do I surface for the contemporary writers because too often they are not rich or fine enough for my taste. Jonathan Franzen comes to mind; he knocked me out with THE CORRECTIONS.  Michael Cunningham’s THE HOURS is another. Well, come to think of it, there are quite a few. But this morning I decided to read the short story by T. C. Boyle to learn about this writer for the first time.  The short story was titled, “Sinking House.” Intriguing title.

Astonishing story, simply astonishing.  Exquisitely rendered. Everyone must read it. Men and women.

And that leads me to my point: here was a male writer focusing on women and with total sensibility. It never ceases to amaze me how many great male writers take on the woman’s viewpoint, and do it so well. As with Flaubert in MADAME BOVARY and Tolstoy in ANNA KARENNINA. I wonder how many great women writers do the reverse with male protagonists, understanding their sensibility or even being interested enough.

Are women simply more interesting to write about? If married, yes. If long-time married, yes-yes. We are the nurturing sex, and therefore are built to take on the greater portion of the negotiating load.

I wonder how many novels have been written about staunch single feminists who protect their turf?  These feminists may be too independent to be in sustained complicated relationships of give and take. They may be like the men who say, “I’m outta here.”

“Sinking House” is about a long-married woman whose husband changes into a bastard through the years, then suffers a stroke, and she must care for him until he dies.  Fifty years of marriage and then he dies. What emotional resources does she have left?

Two generations are shown side by side in “Sinking House”: a 1950’s marriage and a contemporary marriage. They seem light years apart in their socialization. But are they?

My congratulations to T. C. Boyle for contributing magnificently to the literature of women protagonists.