Tuesday, 18 June 2013

"How to Be Single" (Review, Part I)

Single women, feeling like a minority, naturally look for guides to being Single. Catholics are extremely fortunate in that our tradition has always had places of honour for permanently unmarried people. We can read about any number of unmarried martyrs and other saints from every era. Of course, most of the unmarried female saints were nuns. But the earliest female virgin martyrs were not nuns. St. Catherine of Siena was not a nun. St. Edith Stein became a nun comparatively late in life. And, anyway, I don't think we should discount good and holy nuns as guides to the Single Life, anymore than we should discount good and holy priests as guides to the Single Life.

The biggest difference between a Catholic Single woman and a nun is that the Catholic Single woman usually wants to get married. That is where the nun cannot help you. The nun has made a firm decision to take herself off the marriage market and to take a heavenly Spouse instead of an earthly Spouse and to have spiritual children instead of earthly children. So although a nun friend can give you a lot of counsel and comfort--and prove in her own person that women can have a good, fulfilling life without being married--she can't say "Oh me, too" in your suffering over not having a man and children.

So to the secular world you go, and the biggest influence on the lives of Single women in the English-speaking world when I was over 30 and Single was probably the TV show "Sex and the City."  And the premise of "Sex and the City"--"From now on, why don't we just have sex like men?"--was a moral disaster for the Single women of the world.

I have a love-hate relationship with SATC because I really enjoyed the interactions between Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha. I didn't like the sex stuff--I hit the fast-forward button--but I like the women's interactions, their clubs, their clothes and their amazingly well-paid, fulfilling careers. Every episode of SATC was like a fairy tale, a fairy tale of New York. Freelance writers complained about how unlikely it was that Carrie could afford her apartment, not to mention all those high-priced shoes, but most women swallowed their disbelief and just watched. Many of them watched, I am absolutely sure, for clues about how to be Single, and SATC said the way to be Single was to have friends, buy a lot of stuff and sleep with anything that moved.

SATC told a lot of lies about life. Let's just put it that way. But I didn't feel ashamed for watching it until I found myself watching it with never-married Catholic girls, in particular one who was barely 20. Then I felt ashamed. However, I am not ashamed to say that I loved the first spin-off: a book by two of the show's writers, Greg Behrendt and Liz Truccilo . It is called He's Just Not That Into You, and it is simply the most sensible book about modern men and their courtship habits I have ever read.

In this book, Greg tells his readers how it is, and Liz pipes in and the end of every chapter to say what she thinks. She often says she doesn't like what Greg is saying, which provides a little consensus to the women reading who also don't like what Greg is saying. What Greg is saying is the unvarnished truth, and the unvarnished truth hurts. (NB Greg is not saying the whole truth, however. He does not allow for the high premium many/most religious men place on chastity.)

So fond am I of He's Just Not That Into You that I recently bought Liz Tuccillo's How to be Single (for £1 in a charity shop). I thought it might provide me with useful tips to pass on to you but--alas. After a somewhat promising start--the author has an epiphany when her Single friends hit bottom--it has turned into "Sex and the City". It is a fantasy/romance/sex novel. I cannot recommend it to unmarried readers, and even married readers may want to give it a miss.

This review will be in two parts mostly because I am only at page 218 and have almost another 200 pages of shallow shenanigans to go. The book does not deserve two whole blog posts, for it has very little literary merit, but it certainly gives me a lot to complain about. It also gives me a chance to point out what is wrong with the fantasy world Liz Truccilo has helped create through SATC.

Narrator Julie is a PR agent for a publishing firm in New York. So far so glamourous. Hating her job, she convinces her nasty boss to give her an advance for a book on "How to be Single." She sells all her belongings and buys "the airline version of a Eurail Pass for the entire world." So far she has gone to Paris, Rome, Rio and Sydney, and is now (p 220) on her way to Bali. The idea is that she is going to interview the Single women of the world. It's Eat, Pray, Love with less food and more sex. So far the Pray part is provided by a gal pal back home in New York who becomes a swami.

Julie makes Single friends along the way or is joined by her New York friends who just happen to have the time and the money to fly out from time to time. Divorced Georgia meets her in Rio. About-to-Settle Alice appears in Sydney. It's all so ridiculous. Georgia hires a male prostitute and, feeling lonely, Julie makes a booty call to a guy she met at a club. Paulo provides the same service as Georgia's male prostitute, only he doesn't speak English and doesn't charge $500.

Interestingly, when Julie earlier succumbed to the advances of a married Frenchman (I believe Liz has been reading Nancy Mitford), she doesn't get all explicit about it. But her encounter with the Brazilian is described in pornographic detail. Does Liz think Europeans are for romance and Latin American for sex? Eh? Australians, who apparently can't even see women their own age, are apparently for despising, and Julie never as much as gets hit on in Australia.

The event that set Julie off on her trip in the first place was an encounter with some Frenchwomen in a hospital waiting-room. Julie took crying, divorcing Georgia out for a girls' night with two other Single friends. The object of the girls' night was to meet men. They meet men. Unfortunately, they get really drunk along the way and some of them end up dancing topless in a bar and get into a fight and get thrown out of the club, just as the weakest of their number throws up: alcohol poisoning. The ladies do not look very glam in the hospital, and the snooty Frenchwomen look them up and down and say stuff about them the narrator partly understands.

They looked at each other and spoke in French. It was something like, 'American woman, have no [something]. Where are their mothers? Did they not teach them [something]?'

I understood everything but that one word. Damn that I didn't keep up with my French studies. Oh, **** it.

'Excuse me, what does orgueil mean?' I asked, a little confrontationally.

The one in the long coat looked me straight in the eye and said 'Pride. You American women have no pride.'

Although it hurt to type that, I single it out because the Frenchwoman certainly speaks the truth about these American women. They have no pride. But it's really weird. On the one hand, they are all beautiful (the narrator tells us), talented, extraordinary, but on the other hand they are incontinent and promiscuous and think they are nothing because they cannot get or stay married. (Georgia has children and, 221 page later, I haven't seen them. They are simply not important. They do not seem to provide Georgia with as much meaning or comfort as an hour with a Brazilian male prostitute.)

France was a BIG FAT DEAL in "Sex and the City", so I am not surprised Julie decides the French have the answer to the secrets of Single life and jets off to Paris first. Here, very quickly, are the lessons Julie has "learned" so far:

Paris: Frenchmen cheat on their wives, but it's okay and really sophisticated and stuff if the wife said it was okay and has her own affairs. Frenchwomen have so much dignity, they say nothing when abandoned by their lovers. They smile and carry on. Paris is beautiful.

Rome: Italian men are ruled by their passions and may threaten suicide if rejected. Most Italian women slap Italian men because Italian men make them so crazy. Rome is beautiful.

Rio: Brazilian men cheat so much, Brazilian women just assume their husbands go to prostitutes. Brazilian women have great bodies and will do anything to get them and women with cellulite should not bother going to the beach. Such women still have a chance of getting a one-night-stand, though, as Rio is all about sex. And beautiful.

Sydney: There are not a lot of Australian men, and the unmarried ones can't see women who are over 35. They honestly think they don't exist. There isn't much sex in Australia and although rich (all the men Julie meets in her travels are filthy rich) the men aren't that good-looking. Sydney Harbour, however, is beautiful.

Stay tuned tomorrow for a much better and shorter review. Today I had to vent.  Incidentally, all the women in this book under the age of grandmother are incredibly beautiful, and all the men not in Rio are incredibly rich. The only piece of common sense in the whole darn thing is the idea that you should not complain, cry and carry on in public or to him when your boyfriend loses interest and chases after some other woman. There really is no point, and part of him will be mad that you gave him up with a murmur of protest. It might bug him for years, as I know for a fact. Ah ha ha ha!

Update: Heroine is amazed that her married lover has rented such an expensive Balinese villa for their love nest. I am beginning to see why men worry so much about women's purported love for money. The biggest aphrodisiac in this book is money. Money, money, money, money. I wonder if all paperback romance novels have this obsession with the money of men?


Julia said...

I don't even know how it is that a book like 'How to Be Single' gets published. Seraphic, why does this happen?

I've not read the book, but it sounds pretty awful. Leaving aside the fact that it's clearly amoral trash with no artistic value, it seems as if it's totally unoriginal. I never watched SATC - I was too young to when it was on air, and had I been older I still wouldn't have bothered - but it sounds like Liz Tuccillo has borrowed heavily from the show. I know she wrote for SATC, but I wonder if there's a plagiarism lawsuit in there somewhere...?

PS. There are men in Australia - in fact, based on my casual observations, I'd say there are just as many men as women. Also, not all of the men are rich.

Kate P said...

Man, I wish I could just fly off to adventures because my life's not "super fun" right now. This probably explains why people keep asking me why I'm not traveling more, seeing as how I'm, y'know, so single.

I had to look up the book in my local library's catalog and I just about died when I saw the cover--not sure if it is the same all over, but ours is a woman turned round so you can't see her face, and she's unzipping the back of her dress. What???

And then there's this in the description of her friend: "Ruby, a curvy and compassionate woman, has been mourning the death of her cat for months." Just had to throw in the crazy single cat lady, huh?

Seraphic said...

I hope there is not a plagiarism lawsuit in there. Cries of plagiarism are the worst thing that can happen to a writer, even though all artists are influenced by other artists, most noticeably in music and film. My upcoming novel is heavily influenced by Graham Greene; in fact, it is in a way a conversation with Greene.

Meanwhile, it is not surprising that someone who helped write Sex and the City is going to have a lot of Sex and the City type stuff in her work, and some of the narrator's observations at the ends of her chapters sound a lot like Carrie's observations at the ends of her chapters. This isn't plagiarism; it's a treat for women who love SATC and want more of it.

I would not be surprised to discover that this book was a bestseller. (Must find out.) Not only was it written by a relatively famous writer (thanks to SATC and HJNTIY), it has beautiful, talented deserving women, handsome, rich and sexy men, exotic holidays and even an ashram. It's got sex scenes. In short, although it is not stuff for us, "the creative minority" it's the stuff zillions of other women buy again and again.

Seraphic said...

I have a different cover, the British soft-cover edition.

I just saw the hardcover version while I was looking for other reviews, and---yeah.

The biggest problem with "How to Be Single" is the same as the biggest problem with SATC: it's that it preaches that the way to be Single is to go out and have sex with as many attractive and exotic men as you feel like having sex with. This. Is. Simply. Not. How. To. Be. Being. Single. Let. Alone. Stop. Being. Single. But there are thousands of Single women who now go on holiday thinking that... Oh, it's so depressing.

Julia said...

My brain just goes into Plagiarism Avoidance Overdrive a lot because I'm doing a postgraduate research degree, and the commitment to avoiding plagiarism is one thing that keeps me and my colleagues up at night.

Also, I have just got off the phone with a friend who is a law student, so I'm fixated on legal pedantry right now! :)

Seraphic said...

I can understand that. I was an obsessive-compulsive footnoter in grad school. And I wish there was a way to footnote fiction!

Jam said...

I saw this book in the sale rack at a bookstore once and read the back. How disappointing to see yet another book that thinks "how to be single" is essentially to never ever be without a man, no matter how shallow or temporary the connection. What a sad, silly fantasy.

sciencegirl said...

Sounds terrible. The bad French alone would keep me away.

"L'orgeuil" has serious negative connotations, such as egoism, arrogance, and haughtiness. It is not just pride, but the mortal sin of pride.

"La fierté" is the pride with positive connotations: self-esteem, self-worth, the glow of satisfaction in a job well done.

American women characters who trot about the globe having sex with rich men sound, to me, like they have plenty of orgeuil.

Seraphic said...

My goodness. You are absolutely right. I remembered that l'orgeuil was arrogance but I completely forgot about la fierté and assumed l'orgueil had lots of meanings, like English pride.

Oh dear. Beware American chick lit featuring France, unless by Diane Johnson, whom I looooove for "Le Divorce." (Okay for married ladies unless they are tempted to fantasize about sleeping with very old French generals.)