Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Alice Hoffman and the "woman's novel"

I just reviewed Alice Hoffman's latest novel, and it occurred to me that a strange thing seems to have happened in the past ten years or so. The publishing industry is moving backwards. Specifically, it is no longer possible, from a marketing standpoint, for a woman to write a novel about a woman and have it sold as a literary novel. It must now be marketed as "women's fiction" or something like that.

This is all stuff I wanted to include in the review, but it was too distracting from the fact that her new book is, of course, very good. Yet, I couldn't help thinking of how her earlier novels--Property Of, The Drowning Season, Illumination Night, etc--were designed to look like novels, period. Her last few, with new publisher Little Brown, have been sold in quite a different way. This latest, for example, has a really not-so-great title: Skylight Confessions. And the cover seems to be a Nicole Kidman look alike with her eyes closed and long bangs matted to her face as if she's in a state of pain or ecstacy. If you look closely, you can spot of feathers floating around--they are the only element that has anything to do with the book.

And all of this is ashame, because there are probably lots of people like me who would enjoy reading the book, but may never pick it up, because we do, it turns out, judge a book by its cover.

That said, if you haven't read Illumination Night, please do. It is deceptively simple, and Hoffman is a master at point of view. She also wrote the screenplay for an overlooked movie called Independence Day (not the sci-fi film!) that has an early, amazing performance from Diane Wiest.

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