Posts Tagged Mark Spencer

Better off French? The writer and French children’s Literature.

A friend of mine has a 1-year old whose father is French. When N. was pregnant, I bought Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up BeBe for the parents-to-be. I thought it might have some good advice and I wanted to know if it mirrored J.C.’s experiences. I’d read an excerpt in the NYTimes and thought the “method” sounded promising. I have since borrowed back the book to read. I don’t have any children, but I enjoy reading on different subjects. As a writer, you never know when information will come in handy or present an idea for a story.


The son of N. and J.C. Photo by his mother.

All in all, most of the techniques described make sense, partly because, other than being served Camembert at 18 months, the style of parenting appears much like what my mother and other of my parents’ generation would have espoused. It sounds as if French children are far more internally motivated and less demanding of attention than their typical American counterparts. Now, there are caveats. Druckerman herself says what she describes applies mostly to parenting in Paris and, possibly, mostly to a particular socioeconomic class within Parisian society. Although she cites experts and other works, the book is based mostly on observation, not hard research.

What struck me as the reason I might be better off French was the short section on French children’s literature. Druckerman writes of American children’s literature, “…there’s usually a problem, a struggle to fix the problem, and then a cheerful resolution.” She adds, “… every problem seems to have a solution, and prosperity is just around the corner.” (p. 162) French stories, she says, start in a similar vein with a problem and struggle to solve the problem, but the solution doesn’t seem to stick for long and often there is no personal transformation or growth. Her interpretation of the less-than-perfect ending? That life is complicated, and no one is completely good or completely bad.

Of course not all American adult or children’s stories follow this format, but it seems there is a constant demand for growth and change in the characters; at least that is a criticism/question that often arises in critique sessions. Offhand, the only modern French novel I can think of that I’ve read is The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Certainly to me those characters were unlikeable, although I suppose they did change. With this as my only example, I don’t know how well adult French literature follows the model Druckerman describes in children’s books, but I know I would like to be free to write unlikeable characters who don’t necessarily find salvation by the end. And does the ending have to be happy? Most of my endings are more or less neutral, which some might see as “unsatisfying,” although the author Mark Spencer called one mauscript heartbreaking. (Yeah, yeah, it was as part of a class I paid for.)

What I  desire is the ability to write “reality” without having to be considered literary. I don’t think my writing is insightful enough,”deep” enough, nor is the prose exceptional enough for that tag, which leaves “women’s fiction” the only category available to me. I’m not sure my writing meets the  standards for this nebulous genre/category, defined at as tapping “into the hopes, fears, dreams and even secret fantasies of women today.”  The Women’s Fiction Writers Association exists for those who write about “stories about a woman’s emotional journey.” Other than the fact that women are the main characters, I still don’t see how this is different from what was once called mainstream fiction, and that’s why it might have been easier for me if I’d been French!

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