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The New Cliches in Chick Lit

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When Bridget Jones' Diary became a hit in the mid-1990s, it spawned the lucrative chick lit cottage industry. True, romance novels always existed, and Jackie Collins had a corner on the trashy beach-read. But chick lit, with its urban career gals as protagonists, was a modern alternative to the bodice-ripping dime store selections and heavy literary fiction that often got lost in its own depth.

Soon, though, chick lit became a parody of itself, with its pastel colored covers that almost always included a martini and/or a woman wearing stilettos. Plots often involved a disgruntled assistant working in New York media (usually a thinly veiled magazine) and there was usually a gay sidekick and a wacky friend. A crushing break up occurred in the early chapters and our fearless female had to spend the remaining pages rebuilding her life with the aforementioned motley crew in tow.

Writers and publishers aimed to do better, since sales depend on offering readers something new. As a second wave of chick lit is published, the old cliches have been replaced with a few new ones. But at least the pastel covers are gone.

Being a Hedge Fund Wife: Everyone loves a glimpse into the lives of the rich and fabulous, but the trend of being a hedge fund wife was unexpected. It used to be that up and coming gold diggers wanted to be doctors' wives. The hedge fund wife is the new ticket to a life of leisure. (Is this economy?) While there is nothing wrong with writing about niches in society, these new books make it seem like the Hedgies are American's new crop of royalty, which is hardly the case.

The problem is that the heroines in books such as The Ex Mrs. Hedgefund and Hedge Fund Wives are not particularly empowered. Neither leading lady in either selection is employed and both are left by their financial wizard husbands for younger models. (Big shock there!) More disturbing, though, is that both feel entitled to a large cut of his earnings. Maybe if they had jobs they wouldn't have to rely on the ex-husbands for financial security. But that wouldn't be very leisurely, would it?

Regardless of what sector you're writing about, it's important to get the lingo right, a problem that plagues Hedge Fund Wives. Even the most casual observer of the news knows that the current financial crisis was caused by mortgage-back securities, not mortgage-backed equities.. That said, before writing about hedge funds, it's crucial understand Finance 101. There's a difference between a security and an equity.

More baffling: the word 'chartreuse' is used in almost every chapter of HFW to describe everything from ties, furniture to shoes.

Defecting To Paris: Sometimes life in the states becomes too much to bear, and you have no choice but to flee. Luckily, if you're a character in a chick lit novel, France is waiting with open arms. Lizzie Nichols in Queen of Babble heads to a winery outside Paris after her British boyfriend turns out to be a deadbeat. Jennifer Hunter in Love Under Cover high tails it to Paris to work as a bartender after her Fidelity Inspection business takes a toll on her personal life. France offers new chances at love, (who woulda thunk it?) but at the price of being a steaming pile of cliche.

Being A Fat Chick: When Wally Lanb wrote She's Come Undone in 1992, it was extraordinary because writing about the foibles of being a heavy woman was relatively innovative. Sure, Judy Blume wrote Blubber in 1974, but for the most part portly main characters weren't common in mainstream fiction.

Perhaps as a sort of backlash to the thin, media types in the first wave of chick lit, it's now hip to be round. Meg Cabot's character in The Queen of Babble books is a recovering fat girl, who fears, more than anything, carbs. Cabot then created a mystery series starring Heather Wells, a former teen idol who has ballooned to a size 12. (Egads!) Jen Lancaster built an entire brand on being not just heavy, but also a caustic smart ass with some junk in the trunk. It's a clever gimmick to sell books aimed at "real" women, but as a reader, I'm full on the fat girl trend. Next course, please!

Working At Lazard: Momzillas and The Mating Rituals of the North American WASP both have characters that worked at Lazard before becoming either a stay at home mom or running their own small business. While it's a solid company, it's a random choice as far as setting up a character to be competent and financially independent. Why not go Goldman Sachs?

Plots move quicker, though, when money isn't an issue, so it makes sense to give a character a background in banking. What's interesting is that these characters are always alumnae of investor relations, portraying it as some pink-collar job in finance, which it isn't. They are never former traders or analysts, never in private equity or M&A. I understand the need to create evolved female characters, but writers aren't helping the sisterhood by keeping them in the same job, over and over.

Writers of chick lit aren't out to save the world - they're out to entertain. These are books women read on subways and while we're getting pedicures. It's escapism. Given chick lit's audience, authors have a unique opportunity to explore the state of modern womanhood, albeit wrapped in the backdrop of a light love story. Readers are a finicky bunch who demand new themes, a challenge any writer should embrace. Otherwise, we'll defect right back to Jackie Collins.

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