Women wanting to cheat on their husbands or following through on the impulse seems to be a recurring theme in women’s fiction and nonfiction at the moment. Cheating used to be the purview of men in fiction, so yay feminism?
However, the more important theme, which is popping up in all sorts of short stories, novels and nonfiction (at least from what I’ve read so far from the 2017 Vancouver Writers Fest book list) is women who are unable to be truthful about what they want in life or from other people. Women are very busy—balancing careers, their families, their kids, their husbands. Being good. Being supportive. Being accommodating. They don’t have time to think about their own needs and wants! This disconnect seems to be spilling out into considering cheating on their husbands and ditching their current lives altogether.
Hunting Houses, by Fanny Britt, is not an exception. Tessa is a real estate agent, married to a musician. They have three boys in elementary school. Tessa feels like a slob all the time and she’s carrying a world of pain around with her. Years after the fact, she’s mourning the loss of a relationship with Francis in her ‘20s. And suddenly, while putting a house up for sale, she learns it’s his house. They decide to meet in three days. Tessa knows the purpose of their meeting is to have an affair. The novel focuses on those three days and delves into the past, all framed by Tessa’s decision to cheat on her husband with the one who got away. The one she has always loved.
Our culture has required niceness and selflessness from women. These qualities are venerated. They can be positive qualities and we don’t need to scorn nice women. But they aren’t the only qualities women can and should have. In fiction, I’m seeing a lot of women struggling with the need to exhibit niceness.
I hope we’ll start to see more books with women verbalizing what they want from others, from themselves, and more books about them being honest about those things (before they’re saddled with kids, a husband they aren’t interested in, and a mortgage).
Women might not get what they want, even if they ask, but our silence is appalling. It’s not like there won’t be dramatic fictional fallout. No one gets everything they want and there is a story in that too.