Friday, November 11, 2005

Marry Your Baby Daddy – The Book

Earlier I wrote about Marry Your Baby Daddy Day, a contest in which a group of couples who had a child together and the intention to marry someday were given an an-expenses-paid wedding, arranged by novelist Maryann Reid and Rev. Herbert Daughtry. Rev. Daughtry supplied the church and conducted the services. Ms. Reid wrote the novel, Marry Your Baby Daddy, which inspired the contest. Having been intrigued by the concept, I thought it only fair to read the novel, too.

The premise of the novel is that the loving grandmother of the three Anderson sisters has died. Each Anderson woman has a child with a man she sort-of wants to marry. To their surprise, grandma died with money – three million dollars worth. It will all come to them – if they each marry their “baby daddy” within six months. Romantic complications ensue.

Let me say at the outset that “chick lit” is not my genre, and black chick lit is terra incognita. I am not the target demographic. This is fine – in this great country of ours, there is room for every kind of reader and every genre of writing. Someday I will blog about my favorite genre, fast-paced church history. (I’m sure you can’t wait).

The women range in age from late-twenties to mid-thirties, and in class from the corporate lawyer big sister to the successful hairdresser middle child to the file clerk little one. The men include the sweet one who wants to marry, the decent one who doesn’t want the bother, and the handsome tomcat who is by turns sweet and brutal. Oh, and there is a handsome lawyer handling the estate. I am guessing that experienced readers of the genre could fill in the rest. But novelty is not the point of popular genres. My wife reads mysteries every night, not for the puzzle so much as to be drawn into the setting and the nuance of familiar kinds of characters. The evocation of the particularities of New York black culture, especially in the Brooklyn settings, is engaging. The communication among the sisters, who have only one another to rely on, is believable and really the emotional core of the story.

I was struck by a few features, though, that I couldn’t simply attribute to the genre. For one thing, nearly every chapter contains a detailed sex description. In the “Sex and the City” literary world (as opposed, of course, to real life), is this customary? Moreover, there was not a single married father in the story. We infer that grandma has been married to produce her granddaughter’s mother, but he is so long gone his departure is not even described. The sisters’ mother killed herself when the girls were young. There is no mention at all of their father or fathers, nor a suggestion that her mother ever married. I won’t be spoiling the ending to say that some of the baby daddies become married fathers by the end, but only in that order, and only under extraordinary conditions.

The poor teen moms in Promises I Can Keep, which I wrote about earlier, grow up in a world without married fathers. These women, black, white, and Hispanic, are shaped by their poverty as much as their ethnic culture. The fictional women of Marry Your Baby Daddy, on the other hand, are above poverty. Marriage is not an economic decision for them, but an emotional one. Their questions are, am I ready to settle down, and do I want to settle down with this man? Even in the end, one of the new wives does not want to commit on whether her marriage is permanent.

Jane Austen wrote the great classic chick lit about, and for, women seeking to be wives and (then) mothers. (And wonderful moral tales they are, too, which I admire hugely, lest anyone thing I am disrespectful of the great Jane). Bridget Jones, for all her near-parody of Jane Austen, still seeks the same thing. Marry Your Baby Daddy rests on a different premise, or at least a wildly different order of operations. Is this typical? I would welcome your comments.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

The book "Marry Your Baby Daddy" is a really good book. I enjoyed it. People who have problems and with their baby daddy should get a few pointers from the three sisters who struck through with it ever since they were pregnated.

Gruntled said...

The fact that there is such a term and social type as "baby daddy" seems to me to be a sad commentary on our times. Looking for the silver lining, I suppose it is better to have the concept of "baby daddy" than merely "sperm donor."

Phil Tatro said...

I think "Sex and the City" is just as much a reflection of the real world as "Pride and Prejudice." In fact, I think that the show is a natural outgrowth of "Pride and Prejudice" and is our generation's version of same.

I feel both are realistic, true statements on the very nature of existence. Of course, that existence is upper-class, white, patriarchal, heteronormative and western. This is the world that "Sex and the City" realistically portrays. It may not be your world. I know nothing about you. But it is the world that has the power in America, and it's become the world of America. Even if it only represents a small portion of Americans, it is America. Sadly, that's the way the world works.

"Marry Your Baby Daddy," a novel I know nothing more about than what you've said, clearly takes place in a different existence, a different universe. It is not surprising that it should be radically different from Austen.

If you'd like to discuss this further, please feel free to email me at zharris70@gmail.com. (You could post a comment in response, but I'll never see it.) If you'd like to pretend this random internet encounter between strangers never happened, feel free to do nothing.

Gruntled said...

"that existence is upper-class, white, patriarchal, heteronormative and western. This is the world that "Sex and the City" realistically portrays. It may not be your world. I know nothing about you. But it is the world that has the power in America, and it's become the world of America."

The world of power -- the ruling class -- in America is upper-class, heteronormative, and western. I think it always has been and always will be. The ruling class is, pretty much by definition, upper class. All societies are heteronormative, from the nature of human biology, though some are more tolerant of alternatives than others. America is the core state of the west, from the nature of our core culture and geography.

The American ruling class is still predominantly white, but is less so all the time. Even that statement requires further nuance, because many groups now considered white, such as the Italians, Jews, and even the Irish, only became so through a cultural process of assimilation and amalgamation. One of the great strengths of America is that our culture is not based on a "blood" ethnicity, but an idea, which people of any and all ethnicities can embrace -- thus becoming fully American.

American society is clearly much less patriarchal than it used to be. On the other hand, I do think that we are never likely to see complete parity of men and women in positions of power, from the different choices that men and women make (a subject I have written about often).

As for "Sex and the City," I think that, unlike the works of Jane Austen and of Maryann Reid's "Marry Your Baby Daddy," the financial foundation of the main characters is completely implausible. These single women who are living on their earnings are nonetheless well fed, dressed, and (most implausibly) housed in the most expensive city in America. The fantasy of "Sex in the City" is that such women could live like the upper, or at least the upper-middle class without marrying. Austen's and Reid's fictional worlds do not rest on that fiction.

(As per his request, I have also emailed this to Mr. Tatro.)

Phil Tatro said...

The assertion that the economic realities of the women on Sex and the City are unrealistic is one that's commonly made about the show and one that I can definitely understand from a casual observer's viewpoint. But consider this. Charlotte runs her own art gallery. Samantha is a star public relations representative. Miranda is a corporate attorney. These are all high-paying professions that it's completely plausible to imagine these women having. The character that really strikes one as unrealistic is the protagonist, Carrie, who has what one might imagine is the most meager income of the four (she writes a column for one of the lesser NYC newspapers) and the most ridiculous expenditures (all manner of fashion frivolities.)

But this actually catches up with her in an episode in the fourth season where an ill-timed breakup between her and a former live in boyfriend leaves her without a safety net. She realizes that she's spent forty thousand dollars on shoes over the years. Insolvency looming on the horizon, she goes to the recently divorced and much wealthier Charlotte for a loan. The financial narrative of SatC is much more complicated than a simple fantasy where money doesn't really matter and true independence is possible, and I think the show on the whole is much more complicated than many give it credit for.

Gruntled said...

Phil:

I defer to your superior expertize. I know that my students find it difficult to think about marriage as a financial arrangement (a very advantageous one for both husband and wife). Some even think that thinking about the economic implications of marriage subverts true (romantic) marriage, rather than supporting it.