—. Eleven On Top. New York: St. Martins, 2005. ebook.
From time to time, often towards the end of a semester, my reading group eschews “literary” fiction and takes a look at what is often called genre fiction. In preparation for our next meeting, I have just read two Stephanie Plum novels by Janet Evanovitch, a writer with whom I was unfamiliar. Evanovitch has just published her twenty-third book featuring Stephanie Plum. Our group decided on her eleventh, but not wanting to begin my acquaintance with Ms. Plum in medias res so to speak I decided to read the first book in the series before beginning our chosen volume.
I am looking forward to hearing what other members of my group have to say about the book. What struck me most about the two novels I’ve just finished was their cinematic quality, and I was unsurprised to discover that One For the Money was made into a movie in 2012. The IMDb website shows the movie as having garnered a 5.3 star rating.
Stephanie Plum is a bounty hunter based in her home town of Trenton, New Jersey. She apparently has a voracious appetite for cake, for sex, and for inadvertently trashing her cars. The books are peopled with characters for whom the description “quirky” would be extreme meiosis. As a bounty hunter, Stephanie does not always get her man. In her social (?) life, the situation is somewhat different.
What to make of these two novels? I’m awaiting the meeting of my reading group with some interest. Some of the slapstick action of the novels made me laugh but also left me wondering what it is that is so attractive about female characters like Stephanie: chaotic, disorganized, and frantic. Take the Bridget Jones books, for instance. I remember thinking when I first read Bridget Jones’s Diary, “Do I know anybody in their early thirties who is actually still this chaotic in her life?” Stephanie Plum evokes much the same reaction. Yes, I know thirty is the new nineteen or so, but really . . . . Am I supposed to sympathise with Stephanie or laugh at her?
I can’t help but feel that characters such as Stephanie Plum actually perpetuate a lot of rather negative stereotypes about women. The same cannot be said about Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs or Lindsey Davies’ Flavia Alba, for example. Yes, those two series are set in the past, but they are written now, and their female detectives are lively and independent but certainly don’t verge on being tawdry. Phil Rickman’s Merrily Watkins is not tawdry and successfully navigates the still rather male centric waters of the Church of England. What is it in the air at the moment that validates a kind of squalid behaviour, whether that squalor takes the form of men behaving boorishly with beer or of women engaging in cake fights or misplacing their underwear? Where are the Cary Grants and Audrey Hepburns for today’s popular culture? Too middle class for you? Where are today’s Bogey and Bacall? I know; I sound like somebody’s grandmother, but certainly not Stephanie Plum’s Grandmother Mazur, who is probably as whacky and vulgar as Stephanie.
No doubt, I’m out of step with contemporary taste. So be it. After all, I didn’t like the movie Bridesmaids either, and it gained a ninety percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I shall indulge myself with revisiting Miss Marple and Miss Silver1 and drink my tea from a bone china cup.
1Patricia Wentworth’s detective.