Lit Gloss

By Liz Spikol
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Dec. 24, 2008

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Question: Can you tell if a writer is male or female just by reading their prose? My answer might rankle some feminists (or man-ists), but I believe you can, and often for reasons that line up fairly well with uncomfortable stereotypes. My latest encounter with this gender experiment came in the form of a found book--a creased, worn copy of Against Gravity I picked up months ago from some box or another of books no one wanted. Seduced by its trappings--I admit to being a Penguin ho--I started Farnoosh Moshiri's novel without reading the author's note or looking into the author's background. Not knowing if the author was male or female freed me to read the prose without preconceptions, as did not knowing the writer's nationality of if they were a native speaker of English. But within the first 30 pages I knew the writer must be female. The book's first narrator, Madison Kirby, is a bitter, intellectual eccentric. But his self-expression is utterly unconvincing; there's something feminine and winsome about his voice, though it's clear Moshiri is trying to make him come across as angry in a male way, partly motivated by heterosexual lust and rage. There's something fey and too finely articulated about his voice, though. Then a new narrator takes over: Roya, a young woman from Iran who's emigrated to Houston, Texas, after living in Kabul and India on her way to refugee status in the States. Here Moshiri's prose is gorgeous and natural; Roya feels like a real person, someone truly inhabited rather than a Halloween costume. The book charges forward under her first-person guidance, impossible to put down. The following narrator, Ric Cardinal, another man, is better than Madison Kirby, but again is ultimately unpersuasive. Finally, I did some research on Farnoosh Moshiri. She's a woman from Iran who fled her country and became a refugee in Houston, Texas. She's also a wonderful novelist in one-third of Against Gravity--so wonderful, I can't imagine why she'd want to run away from being a woman. Sometimes the best story we have to tell is our own.

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