Two Male Authors and Their Books

pilebooksBy Patricia Zick @PCZick

Two books, two male authors, and two similar disillusioned looks at love kept me reading late into the night recently.

I admit I read books written by women with intriguing female protagonists most of the time. It’s my preferred choice because I’m a female author who creates female protagonists in pursuit of truth and love. But I reached my quota a few months ago after reading one too many “bestselling” novels by “bestseller” female authors. The last novels disappointed me with weak plots and annoying female leads.

I decided I needed a break from my “studies.” It’s not that I don’t like male writers – Pat Conroy and John Irving are two of my all-time favorites – it’s just that I study in the genre I write. Sometimes it helps to break with routine.

I turned to Jeffrey Eugenides and The Marriage Plot. I enjoyed Middlesex, his novel that received a Pulitzer Prize in 2002, so I eagerly awaited his next book published ten years later.

The Marriage Plot


The Marriage Plot takes a different approach when a love triangle forms with Madeleine at the center as she writes her senior thesis on female authors from the nineteenth century who formed the “marriage plot” of the era.

Madeleine’s love interests, Leonard and Mitchell, provide glimpses at very different versions of intellectual prowess. The novel begins at Brown University and follows the characters through college and beyond as they travel and do post-graduate studies. The book has received criticism for being pretentious in its literary ramblings and collegial discussions.

I found it refreshing to read a novel not watered down to achieve the eighth-grade national reading level. I learned about things I’d never heard of before , such as semiotics, and I felt intelligent when I understood the genius behind the madness of Madeleine, Mitchell, and Leonard. Thank you, Mr. Eugenides, for taking ten years to write a novel of substance.

Since I enjoyed reading one male author so much, I ventured immediately into another one on my shelf purchased from the discount bin at the local bookstore. Douglas Kennedy creates a rich portrait of a female protagonist in Leaving the World.Leaving the World: A Novel

Again, I found myself immersed in the life of an intelligent and literary main character, Jane. Jane loves, loses, and learns to rise up above the ashes of her pitiful life. Despite the outrageous plot contrivances and the unbelievable tragedies that befall Jane, I was intrigued by her pain and poor decision-making abilities. I moaned a couple of times when I recognized the brink Jane teetered on, but I still became invested in Jane’s redemption.

After these books, I went to another male author. Ernest Hemingway has never been one of my favorite writers, but I wanted to read his account of his Paris years in A Moveable Feast. That’s for another post.

Next, I’m embarking on a book I found impossible to read in serial form when it was released back in 1987 in Rolling Stone. But it’s the twenty-fifth anniversary of the release of The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe so I thought I’d give it a try. Now it will be an historical account rather than a contemporary examination Wall Street and New York City. At 700 pages, don’t expect me to write about it anytime soon, if I can embrace it this time around.

Have you read either of these novels?  What did you think? What are you reading now?

4 responses to “Two Male Authors and Their Books”

  1. I’m a fan of many male authors, John Irving among them, but I haven’t read the books you discussed today. I may check some of the ones you mentioned. But don’t expect me to read Hemingway, though. I’m NOT a fan of his. Let us know how Bonfire turns out!


    • I’m not a fan of Hemingway’s either but I did enjoy A Moveable Feast – mainly some of his quips about the writing process which I intend to share at some point. I keep putting off starting Bonfire – the books is gigantic so I can’t really stuff it in my purse! I’ll keep you posted.


  2. Great! Very informative. I do like to jump genres, as I believe it will make my writing more rounded and appeal to a wider audience. It seems that no matter what you write, though, it’s too much of something and not enough of something else. So instead of trying to please everyone, I write what I like to read. A truly romantic fairytale-like love, troubled by true-to-life issues. Why? Because I believe everyone can relate to the issues, and we all want to find our truelove who’s willing to take a bullet for us.

    And I hear you on the watered down writing! UGH! And I don’t use this many exclamation points when I write, but Grrrr how this touches a nerve. When I have a college graduate with an MBA, who grew up with a doctor for a father, yeah…he’s going to use some big words when he’s trying to show the woman who just dinged him as being “a country boy”, that’s there’s more to him than meets the eye. It irritates me that people think because you grew up in the country and talk with a drawl that you have to be stupid.

    Anyway, my characters sometimes talk in proper speech. So shoot me. And I hate tons of fragments. I don’t talk that way, nor do my fifteen-year-old son and hubby who has a doctorate degree…and hey, he grew up on a farm milking cows and picking potatoes. He also spent the first part of his life as a police detective. No, he wasn’t dumb… He actually walked away from the medical field because he decided it was what he wanted.

    So…yes, as you probably guessed, I heard… “Who talks this way?” on more than one occasion. And yes, I bent…just a little. But overall, no. My protagonists–not all of them mind you–are educated individuals, and I will continue to write them the way I hear them.

    Sorry if I talked too much… 😉

    But yes, I enjoyed the review, and I plan to add “The Marriage Plot” to my TBR list. Don’t think I want to tackle Vanities… But I’ll wait for you to let me know.



    • Thanks, Carmen. I work very hard on my dialogue – I believe it’s one of the most difficult things to do well in writing. I love your comments. I remember once when I wrote a weekly column for the local newspaper a woman said, “I like what you write, but sometimes I can’t read it all because you use too many big words.” I wanted to suggest a dictionary, but didn’t. I also had an editor who always wanted me to dumb down my writing. I did try but if I wanted to use a word such as “juxtaposition” in an essay, I did. What’s wrong with using context clues and learning something new? I think you’ll enjoy The Marriage Plot. And I’m not so sure about Vanities either !


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