Chick lit gets heavy
By MELENA Z. RYZIK
Zellweger as Bridget Jones
Move over, Bridget Jones! There's a new chick-lit
heroine in town, and she's just as likely to sport
saddlebags as stilettos.
of it as "fat chick" lit. Ever since
Helen Fielding's "Bridget Jones's Diary"
all but created the chick-lit genre in 1998, there
has been an onslaught of novels about size-8 singletons
searching for the perfect man. And even if these
girls-in-the-city wore - gasp! - a double-digit
size, they'd diet before book's end. But in a
slew of new works, the central characters are
getting their man without giving up their cake.
"I've seen a trend for not just average-sized,
but large-sized characters," says Margaret
Marbury, a senior editor at Red Dress Ink, a chick-lit
imprint owned by Harlequin. Red Dress is planning
to release several books with plus-size protagonists
in the coming year, including "Inappropriate
Men," which has a size-24 siren who isn't
afraid to be sexy.
"What fascinated me when I first saw this
book is that the character had such self-confidence
and sex appeal," says Marbury. "She
doesn't at all try to lose weight or make any
excuses for who she is."
Jewish and sarcastic'
Whether this is a new trend or simply an evolution
of an existing genre, it's resonating with readers.
Jennifer Weiner's "Good in Bed" (Washington
Square Press, $14), which many say helped open
the door for heavier characters, spent nearly
a year on the best-seller lists, and is being
developed into a series for HBO. (Weiner has said
she doesn't want a normally thin actress like
Renée Zellweger, who plumped up for her
Bridget Jones role, to portray her heroine, Cannie
big hope is that they find some talented young
actress who's been told her whole career that
she needs to lose weight in order to work, and
tell her that she's perfect just the way she is,"
wrote about a segment of the population that wasn't
used to reading about themselves," says Greer
Hendricks, a senior editor and vice president
at Atria, a division of Simon & Schuster,
and the editor of "Good in Bed." "I
think that's what really made it fly off the shelves."
Reader Lisa Gesson agrees. "I felt like I
could identify with Cannie," says Gesson,
28, an advocate for the disabled who lives in
Manhattan. "We're both big, Jewish and sarcastic.
It's nice to read something that I can actually
see myself in."
Gesson isn't alone in her appreciation of fat
fiction. Jennifer Henderson, a 31-year-old homemaker
in Castine, Maine, runs Dangerously Curvy Novels
(www.curvynovels.com ), a Web site that reviews
books with heavier heroines. "I was getting
pretty tired of the 'Barbie Doll Goddess' sort
of heroine I'd seen so much of in other novels,"
says Henderson, who, at size 16, considers herself
average, but concedes that's she's plump by Madison
reading a review of "Good in Bed," Henderson
wondered if there were other stories that appealed
to her demographic - women who had spent years
battling their weight and low self-esteem, but
were now "living large and loving it."
In response, she launched the site - part personal
reading list, part "you're-not-alone"
inspirational therapy (each review begins with
an assessment of the main character's size) -
and a monthly newsletter.
curvy readers suddenly have a lot of literary
ladies to look up to. There's Josephine Fuller,
the chubby crime-solver in Lynne Murray's mysteries.
And in Laurie Notaro's "Autobiography of
a Fat Bride" (Villard, $12.95), there's a
photo of Notaro on her wedding day, having "completely
abandoned the effort of sucking her stomach in."
a humor columnist and author of the forthcoming
nonfiction title "The Fat Girl's Guide to
Life," thinks it's about time fat women got
some respect. "There are just so many of
us, we might as well get some props," she
says. "Even if we don't look like Renee Zellweger,
we still fall in love, we have affairs and romances."
fact, even romance novels, traditionally more
escapist fare, are hewing closer to reality. In
"Blushing Pink" (Onyx Books, $6.99),
Reese Brock still has bodice-ripping sex scenes
- only this time, they involve a potbellied body.
"There were a lot of 'don'ts' in romance
novels. You would never have a certain age or
a certain weight," says Amy Pierpont, a senior
editor at Downtown Press/Pocket Books. "But
as times have changed and readers' tastes have
changed, boundaries are being broken right and
Bent, a literary agent with the Harvey Klinger
agency who represents Notaro, speculates that
this new breed of chick-lit novels has a "warts-and-all"
appeal. "It's not about women who make us
feel bad about ourselves," she says. "It's
women who look like us. It's real women."
published on July 16, 2003
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