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This Is Not Chick Lit is a celebration of America’s most dynamic literary voices, as well as a much needed reminder that, for every stock protagonist with a designer handbag and three boyfriends, there is a woman writer pushing the envelope of literary fiction with imagination, humor, and depth.
The original short stories in this collection touch on some of the same themes as chick lit–the search for love and identity–but they do so with extraordinary power, creativity, and range; they are also political, provocative, and, at turns, utterly surprising. Featuring marquee names as well as burgeoning talents, This Is Not Chick Lit will nourish your heart, and your mind.
“This Is Not Chick Lit is important not only for its content, but for its title. I’ll know we’re getting somewhere when equally talented male writers feel they have to separate themselves from the endless stream of fiction glorifying war, hunting and sports by naming an anthology This Is Not a Guy Thing.”
“These voices, diverse and almost eerily resonant, offer us a refreshing breath of womanhood-untamed, ungroomed, and unglossed.”–ELLE
EMBRACE by Roxana Robinson
They're married, but not to each other.
Nat unlocks the door and then steps back, to let Ella go in first.
The hotel room is high-ceilinged and square, and a double bed takes
up most of it. On the bed is a cream-colored quilted spread. Pale
heavy curtains frame the window; thinner, translucent ones obscure
the view. The carpet is thick and cocoa-colored. There is an ornate
bureau, imitation French, and a gilt-framed mirror. The room is
close and airless. They have no luggage.
Ella moves ahead of him, stopping near the bed. She's in her late
twenties, and thin, with long chestnut-colored hair. She turns, so that
she won't see herself in the mirror. She stands facing away from him,
looking down. She has never done this before. She hardly knows this
man, and this is a terrible mistake. She has made a terrible mistake,
coming to this airless room with someone who, it turns out, is a
stranger. She stands motionless, awaiting perdition.
Nat follows her into the room.
He has never done exactly this before, either, never done anything
quite so bold and crude as to rent a hotel room at lunchtime.
What he did was always out of town, with women he never intended
to see again. It was mostly in Los Angeles, a place fullof beautiful,
willing girls, happy to be taken out for dinner and then back to his
hotel. Those encounters had been brief and distant. But this, now, is
in his own city, only blocks from his own apartment, with a woman
he does want to see again, and he's afraid he's starting something
large and irreversible. What it means is the end of his marriage. He
won't be able to go on like this; he's going too far. This is reckless, indefensible,
and he's doing it in the name of lust, which is, right now,
notably absent. He understands that coming here was a mistake,
though he believes he loves this woman.
He wonders if today can be salvaged. Perhaps it's the room--
should he have gotten a bigger one? But no: it's the silence, the
immobility of the room that's the problem, the implacably fixed furniture,
the hushing carpet, the heavy curtains, the whole place awaiting
He likes looking at her. She's small and slight, with a polished
curtain of hair spilling down her back. Her head is bent.
Ella is looking down at the bedspread, waiting for the worst. It is
shameful, it is excruciating, that she's become part of this. What if
she's seen by someone she knows, in this corridor of bedrooms, with
this man who is not her husband? What is she doing here at
lunchtime, with a man she hardly knows? She can't look at him. She
can feel his presence--large, solid, he's much taller and stronger
than she is--as he stands behind her. She's now obligated to go
through with this, since she agreed to come. It feels like an execution.
She dreads his touch.
She thinks of her husband. He's downtown right now, in his office,
in his shirtsleeves and suspenders. He's on the phone, or making
a point to someone--he loves making points--or having another cup
of coffee. He's doing something completely ordinary. He's not betraying
her utterly, betraying her to the bone, though he has. But he's not
doing it right now, and she is. She could call him, there's an ivory
phone on the table by the bed. He'd answer at his desk, his voice familiar.
It was a mistake, but she has to go through with it. She is obligated:
of course she knew what it meant, meeting at the Plaza for
lunch. Now she will have to have sex with him in this strange airless
room. She will have to offer him her naked body. She would
Nat steps closer to her.
It was a mistake, that's all.
He turns her body to him and glimpses her grieving face. He puts
his arms around her and stands still, holding her close without moving.
He can feel her, rigid and fearful. He says nothing, embracing
her quietly. It's a mistake, that's all. What he wants is for her not to be
miserable. He holds her until he feels her quiet, until she understands
that she is safe; that all he wants from her is this close holding,
They're married, and now to each other.
The divorces were tumultuous and unhappy, but Nat and Ella
persevered. They weathered the storms, they made their way determinedly
through the torment toward each other.
Now they have been married for nine years, and they love each
other. They're knitted deeply into each other, and they warm themselves
at each other's hearts. They long for each other, and their
bodies teach each other pleasure, but they fight terribly. They say unforgivable
things to each other. Once, Nat took Ella violently by her
shoulders. "You make me so angry," he said. "Someday I'm going to
Ella, beside herself with rage, was pleased. "Fine," she told him,
satisfaction in her voice. It seemed a vindication, proof of something.
When they are not fighting they are happy, drunk on each other,
but when they fight, Ella fears they will split apart, and if they split
apart, she fears it will be the end of her. She can't imagine herself, if
this marriage fails. She can't imagine her life if Nat were to leave her.
She can't imagine her existence without him; it would be black and
meaningless, the void. It is terrifying to her, this prospect, like falling
into deep space.
She knows, in one part of her mind, when she is calm, that this is
absurd. She has her own life, with friends and a career--she is a literary
publicist, and has founded her own agency. Her life won't really
be over if she and Nat split up. Still, there are times, when they
are fighting, when rationality is not available. She has trouble breathing,
and she thinks of the blackness of deep space, which seems to be
waiting for her.
Now they are driving from Florence to Siena, along a narrow,
crowded motorway. The cars around them are lunatic: on the left,
Maseratis and Mercedeses pass at a hundred miles an hour; on the
right, huge trucks sway dangerously, taking up one and a half lanes.
Behind them headlights flare constantly, signaling them to move
over. For half an hour they have been driving in hostile silence.
Nat breaks it. "I just don't know why you couldn't have gone on
to the market yourself."
"I just don't know why you couldn't have waited for me, with the
car. Or given me the car," Ella says. "I don't know why you have to
decide what we do and when we do it."
Nat makes an exasperated sound. "I see," he says, " I decide everything.
Is that what you think?"
"Do you think I decide anything?"
"Do you think you don't decide anything?"
They get into these maddening, circular series of questions, each
challenging the other, losing the point, going off on tangents, becoming
Nat is exasperated by Ella's self-centeredness. How can she not
know that everything he does is with her in mind? What he wants is
for her to be happy. This entire trip--Florence and Siena, the
churches, the old hotels, the views--was for her. The impassive faces
of the holy martyrs, the mysterious half-smiles of Madonnas. It's early
spring, and wildflowers star the long pale grasses in the fields. This
was all meant to make her happy, and why does it not?
"I decide nothing!" Ella says, furious. "Nothing at all! You decide
where we go, where we'll have dinner, what time we'll leave in the
morning, what we're going to see, everything. You even keep my passport!
I don't even carry my own passport!"
"I keep your passport with mine, and with our tickets," says Nat,
reprovingly. His face has darkened, his mouth tightened. She has
broadened her attack, flailing wildly about, as always. "It's just so I'll
know where everything is. If you want your passport, Ella, of course
I'll give it to you."
"I don't care if I have my passport or not," Ella says wildly. She
feels trapped by him, helpless; he seems both reasonable and unjust.
She knows it's practical for him to keep the passports. Yet why should
he have hers?
"Did you not want to come to Italy?" Nat turns his head and
looks at her, dangerously, in the midst of the manic speed of the motorway.
The car swerves slightly, then swerves back, in and out of the
terrifying stream of cars.
Ella hopes they will crash.
"Of course I wanted to come to Italy!" She is distraught. "But you
don't ask me what I want! You decide everything yourself, and then
you tell me what we're going to do, and then you're furious if I have
a tiny, remote, minutely differing suggestion! I have to do everything
you say, always! It's as though I don't exist!"
What she'd wanted was for him to come with her to the flea market
in Florence, wander through the stalls with him. It was a junky
market, only odds and ends, but it was Florence. The people offering
the broken clocks and plastic dolls were Florentine. Their faces--
surprisingly fair, ruddy, blue-eyed, with red-brown hair--echoed
those in the old frescoes. Ella loved all of it; she always thought the
living scene was as interesting as the museum.
Nat thought it was dreary and trashy. "Why should I want to look
at a flea market, full of junk?" he had asked. "I have to move the car.
I'll take it back to the hotel, and you come back whenever you want."
But Ella feels crushed by the weight of his disapproval, by the
thought that she was someone who wanted to look at junk, someone
he disdained. All of it makes her feel panicky and abandoned: she
speaks no Italian and has no sense of direction. She knows she'd get
lost, trying to find her way back up to the hotel. She is afraid of being
lost, and afraid of asking questions of strangers. She loves him. She
hates being at odds with him. The flea market was a bad idea; she
should never have suggested it. He disapproved of it, and of her. And
now she has made him angry again; he may leave her. At any time he
may leave her. He is easily angered at her. She starts to weep from despair.
She is always doing things wrong. They have been married
nine years; she has not managed to give him a child; he may leave
her. They are always fighting. She will die if he leaves her. She knows
this is irrational; knowing it does not help.
Nat keeps on driving, the corners of his mouth turned down in
disapproval. She is so extreme, Ella, so wildly intemperate, and so utterly
unfair. Her complaints are wounding: he feels that his life is
given over to making her happy, that all their decisions are made on
her behalf. He'd thought she'd like the trip to Italy, and she had
seemed to. This is the way she acts: at first she says nothing, later she
complains bitterly. It's completely unfair. He loves her. He is easily
wounded by her, he is outraged by her when they fight. She is irrational,
messy, late. She maddens him. He is completely absorbed by
her. He cannot wait each night to see her, to see her turn her head,
to listen. He waits to hear what she will say; he is endlessly interested
by what she will say. His body needs hers. They are joined, which
makes all this so excruciating: she levels these wild charges at him, as
though she were dismissing their connection. How can she? How
can she take such extreme positions over something as trivial as the
flea market? These trips seem to be more pain than pleasure. How
can she act so brutal and miserable to him? He never thinks of leaving
her; she's at the center of his life.
At the end of their fights everything is somehow righted. A great
calm happiness floods through them both, like a neap tide rising and
moving through the fields, smoothing out the rutted landscape like
liquid silk. This is hard for them to remember when they're fighting;
it's hard to believe it's a possibility.
Nat swerves more now, across the traffic, into the slower lane,
then he swerves again, cutting out of that lane too. He pulls off the
highway altogether, onto a tiny semicircular pullout, edged haphazardly
by whitewashed stones. A rocky hillside rises steeply above it;
just ahead, on the road, is one of the low stone tunnels that perforate
Italian mountains. The tunnels are pitch-black inside, narrow and
claustrophobic, and the cars race through them at supersonic speeds.
Their car was just about to enter this one, and the traffic beside them
continues to slide smoothly and hypnotically into the small black
mouth, which is like that of a monster. But just before they are
sucked into the dark maw, Nat pulls completely off the road and jerks
the car to a stop in the turnout, the corners of his own mouth turned
Ella sees his disapproving mouth, his lowered brows, his fierce
eyes, and she turns away, to the window. A sob swells her chest: whatever
he is about to do will be terrible. She is afraid he will hit her,
though he has never done this, or threatened to. She is afraid he will
reach across her and open the door, and tell her to get out, to clamber
onto the steep rocky hillside rising above them. Then he will pull
the door shut and drive on, vanishing into the black tunnel and leaving
her there forever.
Nat puts the car into neutral, jerks on the hand brake, and turns
off the engine. He turns to Ella, his brows still dark. He leans awkwardly
across the tiny car, across the gear shift, and puts his arms
around her. He pulls her as close as he can, the upright gear shift between
them. He holds her against him and strokes her head, her silky
They've gotten themselves into this terrible trough of unhappiness,
and this is all he can think of to get them back to the other
place, where they remember each other. He holds her tightly inside
the circle of himself, pressing his cheek against her head. He feels
her collarbones against his chest, her shoulder blades beneath his
hands. Her hair is shorter now, but still silky.
Ella feels his arms close around her, she breathes in the familiar
smell of his skin, and she closes her eyes in relief. She feels her whole
body yield, give way. This is more than she had hoped for. It is everything.<<br>
Excerpted from This Is Not Chick Lit by Edited by Elizabeth Merrick Excerpted by permission.
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Posted June 25, 2010
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Posted May 24, 2011
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