My name is Joseph. I’m a novelist living in Manhattan. My latest novel, “Upper West Side” was skewered in this month’s New York magazine by a young, feminist book critic. She called my female characters “cardboard cutouts” and “male fantasies” who only spoke about love, sex, and romance.
“Has this male author ever listened to real New York women talking with each other?” she wrote. “I suggest that he leave his apartment one day and stop wanking off onto his page. When I am with my BFFs we rarely talk about love, sex, and romance. We discuss feminism, racism, literary criticism, pop culture, and the best new places to get Indian food. This is a book that should die a slow death. Shame on you Random House for publishing such tripe!”
I have to admit, I was hurt by this review. And the comments were even worse, especially the ugly one where someone suggested women should get together in book clubs and discuss fun ways to cut off my dick.
But I’m not the type of guy to lash out. I believe that criticism is important, and I always try to learn and grow. Criticism of your work is part of the job.
And maybe the book critic was right. I do live a solitary life. Writing is a lonely profession, and I spend countless hours by myself. Maybe I need to understand women better.
Wasn’t it just last Saturday that my daughter, Julia, suggested I go on a date with someone, maybe one of my editors?
“I’m too busy for dating,” I told her. “I need to write.”
Besides, Saturday exists for my daughter. Saturday is my happiest day. Julia lives in Connecticut with her mother and step-father, and I live for our one day a week to see a Broadway show or new foreign film.
But how can I be a good father if I don’t understand women? Is this why my marriage failed? Did I not understand Kathy? Do I only see women under the filter of love, sex, and romance, but not living with the same worldly dreams, ambitions, and goals of men?
I decided to take the book reviewer’s advice to heart. After lunch, I closed my laptop, and I took a walk down Broadway, something I never do in the middle of the week. I continued downtown until I noticed three women sitting on a bench, chatting together. They were of different ages; I assumed they were related. I took my position on a bench across from them and closed my eyes to focus on their voices and conversation. I wanted to learn, “What DO women really talk about?”
And I listened. One woman, I think the younger one, had a higher-pitched voice. The older woman was tentative in her speech, but the others responded with respect for her life experience. The third woman was the most educated. She mentioned her advanced degree from Columbia at least three times.
The feminist book critic from New York magazine was correct. I listened with my eyes closed for forty minutes, and NONE of these women mentioned the subjects of love, sex, and romance.
What did they talk about? They discussed a job opening at a publishing house, an acquaintance who was recently unfriended on Facebook, a vacation rental apartment in Prague, a sale on fall jackets at Burlington Coat Factory, a recipe for challah for Rosh Hashanah, whether Hillary Clinton would be a good president, and where to find a good math tutor for the middle woman’s struggling son.
I had finally learned what women discuss with each other.
“Basically, love, sex, and romance,” I said to myself.
I chuckled, then returned home to write a new book.