I hope you guys have enjoyed this as much as we have. Stay tuned the rest of the week for lots more fun stuff -- Nicola will be here guest blogging tomorrow, and Friday is podcast day. The previous roundtable installments are: here for one and here for two.
Kassia: I just wanted to circle back here because I think it's such a great discussion topic. After Meghan mentioned that it took her awhile to realize that the Atlanta sections were set in the past, I went back and reread some of them. One thing I didn't mention in my ramblings above is that I *have* studied (but not very seriously) various martial arts discplines over the years -- from fairly traditional karate to tai chi. I like to punch things very hard, but I do not like to spar with other humans. The former is a release of frustration and tension when done right; the latter makes me feel like I'm on the edge of losing control. When things are moving fast and furious, I worry about losing control of my hands and feet (and, yes, mind), believing that I could do real damage.
I think there is a great sense of discomfort when it comes to women and violence, especially when the woman makes no apologies for her physicality. Somewhere along the line, we created this crazy-ass myth that women are the weaker, more refined, more delicate, whatever gender. Uh huh. Anyone who's ever been in a girl fight knows how untrue that can be. While society's collective construct of how women are is often perpetuated by women, it's not a reality.
Thus when a character in a novel behaves outside the "norm," I think it does make readers uncomfortable. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that many men do not feel comfortable reading "women's" stories. I have my own theories on that, but when you talk about genre ghettos, you have to confront the idea that this noirish story with a female protagonist, you have to accept that it would be easy for the story to be pigeonholed as "literary" or "thriller" or "mystery" or even "women's fiction," yet do any of those labels actually tell the reader anything about the book? And if Reader A is looking for this book in a bookstore, where does she start? These labels are very convenient for retailers, but when a book crosses so many lines, they're really bad for readers.
As for the Aud/Kick thing, call me a child of the television era, but if Griffith is going to continue writing this character, then allowing her settle into a comfortable day-to-day thing will take some of the edge off the character. No matter how much we all crave it in our real lives, blissful happiness in fiction makes for boring reading. Better to maintain uncomfortable, unstable tension between the characters (but also better not to maintain said tension for too long as it becomes cliche rather than enlightening).
Colleen: This is an interesting question, Gwenda -- I've been thinking about much of the same stuff as far as genre and the female protag. When I first received Always to review for Bookslut I thought it was going to be female noir, something similar to Cathi Unsworth's The Not Knowing (which I reviewed last year and loved). But that is not at all what I found with this novel. I agree with Kassia that it is a combination of many things (and I would throw "gay fiction" in there as well) but because it is not completely any of them, I worry that it will get lost. The mystery genre in particular has had some pretty tough female protags for a long time (Sara Paretsky's VI Warshawski comes immediately to mind), but not gay and not in books that are equal parts family dynamic and mystery. The mystery in Always I don't think is strong enough to sell it as strictly a mystery -- it is part of the literary package in this book but what you would call the whole thing (other than a good read), I don't know.
Something for the publicity folks to figure out, I guess.
As far as Aud's relationship with Kick I hope that the series could remain interesting even with Kick's involvement. Here I would point to Robert Parker's Spenser -- he's still an individual, still involved in some interesting and violent situations, but Susan is his sounding board and his sanity. I'd like to think that Nicola could craft a relationship between Kick and Aud that would allow Aud to continue to evolve and not disappear into domestic bliss (like that happens to anyone...:) I think Kick could be Aud's sanity and still develop as a separate character (she has her own questions about strength and weakness to deal with). I don't think they will ever do the day-to-day thing in a traditional manner, but honestly, few of us do. It's only in books that someone goes to work, comes home, eats a steak and baked potato prepared by someone else and watches TV and goes to bed. (Well, books and my mother and stepfather's lives...:) I'm hoping Nicola can craft another mystery with some more drama and romance and throw Aud into it. And then we see just what becomes of her and Kick.
Finally, I do think Always will make some readers uncomfortable, especially that whole Atlanta storyline. I don't think a lot of people (male or female) want to think about women as that weak or that powerful. They don't want to think about it at all. It's one thing to confidently stand there and say your daughter/wife/mother could fight back but the truth is rarely that easy. Nicola makes a big statement about what it means to be a woman in this book and I'm not sure a lot of people are ready to read it. (Or maybe I should say "believe it.")
Thanks so much to the illustrious panel!