Women’s Fiction a.k.a. Women’s Lives & Relationships

cover image of Angry Housewives Eating Bon BonsThe Southeastern MA Reader’s Advisory Roundtable (SE-RART) met at the Mattapoisett Free Public Library for the first of two sessions on Women’s Lives & Relationships (a.k.a.Women’s Fiction). We discussed the benchmark title, Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Landvik, and the following readings:

 Saricks, Joyce. The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction, 2nd ed. Ch. 9: Women’s Lives and Relationships, pp. 155–68

Vnuk, Rebecca. Women’s Fiction: A Guide to Popular Reading Interests (2013) Intro., pp. viii–x  and Ch. 1: Women’s Fiction: A History, pp. 1–5

Vnuk, Rebecca. Rebecca’s Rules: Defining Women’s Fiction. March 15, 2013 (Booklist)

Everyone was surprised at the variety of authors who are categorized or marketed as “women’s fiction” authors, but decided that, even so, “women’s fiction” was a necessary or helpful genre to have. When the reader’s emotional connection to the characters and emotional response to the characters’ personal or emotional growth are the strongest appeal factors – more important than the story itself – that is a defining characteristic of women’s fiction, we decided.

The common threads that set women’s fiction apart from other genres are that

  • the central character (or characters) is female, and the story is character-driven;
  • the main thrust of the story is something happening in the life of that woman (as opposed to the overarching theme being a romance, or mystery of some sort);
  • the setting is contemporary (defined, for the purposes of this volume, as after 1960);
  • the author is female; and
  • women’s emotions and relationships are key elements of the plot.

– p.viii, Women’s Fiction: A Guide to Popular Reading Interests by Rebecca Vnuk and Janette Donohue

We talked about Joyce Saricks’ label for this genre: “women’s lives and relationships”. This is a less limiting term, allowing for male readers and for the fact that many women read and enjoy other genres. The genre is hard to define due to the wide variety of novels that may be considered to fall under the genre.

Tone is a “vital consideration in this genre,” Joyce Saricks writes.

“Titles in this genre offer an intimate glimpse into the lives of protagonists. While the tone ranges from more melodramatic to realistic or provocative, it sets up the emotional link that readers want and expect.”
The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction, 2nd ed., p. 157

Most of the group enjoyed reading Angry Housewives Eating Bonbons, and felt that the author succeeded in creating the emotional link to the characters described in our readings about this genre, although some thought the characters were each a little too representative of a type (e.g. abused woman, cheated-on woman, widowed woman, etc.)

Please remember to submit your second title with a brief annotation in terms of appeal factors such as story, characters,tone, style, and pace. Subscribe to the blog to be notified of new blog posts!

Second titles discussed by the group led to more talk about the overlap or hard-to-define differences between women’s fiction and literary fiction:

The Admissions by Meg Mitchell Moore

The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg

Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave

The Good House by Ann Leary

The Mad Woman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell

The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar

If you’re already widely read in this genre, please send in a short list of your favorite Women’s Lives and Relationships authors, and we’ll compile the list for the June meeting.

The Southeast Reader’s Advisory Roundtable (SE-RART) group is in its second year. A genre study is a great way to hone reader’s advisory skills and get more comfortable advising readers in that genre. The SE-RART is open to all in the southeastern Mass. library community. You don’t have to commit to attending all of the meetings to join the group, and it’s fine to jump in at the end. The group has been meeting every other month (October through June) on Wednesday mornings.

Please register for the June SE-RART meeting at the Ventress Memorial Library in Marshfield as early as possible. Supplemental readings for the meetings are emailed to registered participants 3–4 weeks ahead of time.

On GoodReads? Why not join the Massachusetts Readers Advisory Group?

Check out Rebecca Vnuk’s list of Ten Women’s Fiction Authors to Know. We will give a printed list out at the June meeting.

Hope to see you in June!  — Laurie and Miki


One response to “Women’s Fiction a.k.a. Women’s Lives & Relationships

  1. Pingback: Women’s Lives and Relationships II | Reader's Advisory Roundtable -- Genre Study Southeastern MA (SE-RART)

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