Every time I’m at the bookstore I feel drawn to women’s stories. There’s one shelf that holds fiction on one side and essays on the other and while I long to spend time on the fiction side I end up on the essay side. Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Sarah Manguso, Maggie Nelson, for example, draw me in every time and each time I open one of their books I feel blasted by the truth.
On the fiction side I’m more in awe than in shock. The way that Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff, contains perfect sentences page after page but very little information that is new to me. Even the details of the character, one who has a secret and salacious relationship that she kept from her husband for many years, fails to surprise me. All women have hidden lives, don’t they?
In The Argonaunts, Maggie Nelson talks about her and her partner’s feeling that fiction has failed them. But what have they read? Fiction might have the ability to transform sadness — not into something lighter or more revelatory — but into something darker and even harder to imagine. This is the boundary I expect contemporary work to press, and yet fiction has gone soft.