Saturday, September 21, 2013

Niche marketing in the publishing world

I discovered a new genre of fiction this week: the non-romance for menopausal women. It's like the opposite of a bodice ripper. Instead of a young heroine who spends most of the book fending off the advances of a studly cad who turns out to be a good guy, the middle-aged heroine of the non-romance spends her time remembering her love life (she gave great head), thinking about what a jerk her ex-husband is, suffering from hot flashes, and fantasizing about hot monkey sex with a seemingly nice guy who turns out to be a cad. The novel ends with the heroine lolling on the beach with a couple of female friends and agreeing that men are more trouble than they're worth, especially when there's always the adult toy store with its stock of industrial strength vibrators.

I found the book, in a word, Bizarre, but then I'm not a bitter divorcee whose spouse ran off with a pole dancer. Maybe if I were single and miserable,  I'd find a book that celebrates learning to live with the fact there are worse things than being alone a little more appealing. Then again, I'd have to be single, miserable, and "a woman of a certain age" because I'm pretty sure female readers in their 20s and 30s really don't want to read musings about vaginal dryness and chin hairs.  

Queen Bee of Mimosa Branch isn't a bad book. The writing is competent, if not great. Haywood Smith is unlikely to ever have to worry about finding space on the mantel for a National Book Award or even a Pulitzer, but she doesn't actively insult a reader's intelligence, which is more than can be said about a lot of the dreck taking up shelf space in public libraries. On the other hand, her protagonist is a remarkably shallow, materialistic woman. She spends a lot of time missing her stuff -- her $6000 coffee table, her lovely ormulu something-or-other piece of furniture, her antique Persian rug -- that she stashed with various friends back in Buckhead when her marriage fell apart. How much sympathy is the typical reader going to have for someone who sits around pining for the days when she lunched at high dollar restaurants and whiled away her hours by shopping? Or, for that matter, how much sympathy does anyone have for someone who apparently made it into the 21st century without mastering any computer skills?

I also wasn't too keen on the way the character's response to her elderly parents' problems -- her father is in the early stages of Alzheimer's -- has been to avoid going home until she suddenly needs a place to live. But even when she sees first hand how hard it's been on her mother, her initial reaction is to withdraw and feel embarrassed by her father's dementia rather than to try to figure out a way to help. The author keeps talking about what a nice person the heroine is, but, nope, that isn't how she comes across. She's nice to people outside her immediate family, the public type of nice that can be remarkably ego-stroking, but her response to family problems is Denial and Avoidance.

The character does grow, manages to develop some self-awareness and moves away a bit from being as self-centered as she starts off, but even so. . . this is not a genre of fiction that I can see myself dipping into again any time soon. I checked it out of the library thanks to the title, which does illustrate that the cover of a book makes a huge difference when the author is someone you've never heard of, but I won't be reading anything else by Haywood Smith.

This was another novel that happened to be set in an area I'm moderately familiar with. As usual, I had a few quibbles about geographic descriptions. Example: if you drive down Peachtree Industrial from the general direction of Flowery Branch (which I suspect is the real life equivalent of the Mimosa Branch of the title), you don't end up in Dunwoody. You end up in Doraville. But that's a minor quibble compared to the overall "meh" feel of the book. It's readable, but definitely not worth anyone taking the time to go looking for. If you find it sitting in a pile of free books, it's better than nothing. . . but not by much.

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