When I heard that Lynn Harris — a frequent contributor to Salon.com and formerly the advice columnist known as Breakup Girl, whom I have adored in both guises for years — had written a novel called Death By Chick Lit, I knew I had to get my hands on it immediately. Not only am I a huge fan of Harris's sharp, funny, compassionate writing, but I am a huge fan of so-called "chick lit" done well — Melissa Bank, Jennifer Weiner, and yes, Bridget Jones's creator Helen Fielding are just a few whose books I've unapologetically and eagerly consumed, like the first pinktini on a Friday night at the hottest new club in Manhattan with my three best girlfriends, all of us wearing our new Manolos.
Of course, I don't live in New York; I'm too old and plain to get into the hottest new clubs if I wanted to, which I don't; my best girlfriend is currently volunteering at an orphanage in Nepal; and if any of my friends could afford Manolos, we'd rather spend that kind of disposable income on books and travel and organic dog treats. There's that. But I do love both fruity drinks and chick lit, so I felt like I should make an effort to meet my readers' expectations.
Harris doesn't seem to feel the same obligation. Throughout Death By Chick Lit, she subverts the conventions of the genre (and in some cases, the mystery genre, to which this also belongs) at every opportunity, giving real weight to her writer protagonist's frequent complaints that practically all recent fiction by women has been unfairly categorized as "chick lit." ("While anything written by a guy was, of course, lit.")
For starters, Lola Somerville, our heroine, is not a single gal looking for love; she's a happily married woman looking for a lucrative book deal and a killer, in that order. The man in her life is not a tall, dark lawyer/doctor/investment banker but an average-looking computer nerd and self-described feminist with a great sense of humor (the last actually illustrated in dialogue, not merely mentioned on a laundry list of positive characteristics) about whom Lola is unequivocally gaga, and vice versa; there is never any threat of her Losing the Guy, and when she remarks on other men's attractiveness, there's no hand-wringing about whether the grass might be greener elsewhere. Lola lucked out with smart, kind, communicative Doug, and although she takes that good fortune slightly for granted, she never, ever forgets it. That fact then sets the stage for another upending of chick lit conventions: Lola's best friend is not a "smug married" — Lola herself is, and her condescension toward her single, drifting friend Annabel earns her a well-deserved (metaphorical) kick in the head.