|Laverne & Shirley's disastrous turn attempting to run|
Interestingly, the Blue Heron books were the first in which Higgins adopted a dual point of view, half of her story told from the POV of the heroine, half from the hero. To me, it almost felt as if to make room for her heroes' voices, to make them seem heroic even when we were seeing inside their more vulnerable, human selves, she unconsciously found herself diminishing her heroines. To make them so nice, so silly, that they almost disappeared as people.
|The card Jenny should have sent to her ex's baby shower?|
Of course, since Jenny is the ultimate nice girl, she's stayed friends with Owen, has become friends with Ana-Sofia, and, when the novel opens, is attending their baby shower. Even Jenny herself terms such behavior "pathetic" (49). But still, she can't seem to stop herself; "I want so much to hate her—to hate them both—but they're just too fucking nice" (909). And so Jenny, in turn, continues to feel compelled to be nice in return—so nice that she ends up helping to deliver Ana-Sofia's child when the baby arrives unexpectedly early.
In comparison to her gregarious younger sister, shy Rachel seems to have reaped the rewards, rather than the pains, of being a nice girl. She's got a loving husband with a lucrative job, a beautiful home in the New York suburbs, and, after months of fertility treatments, triplet girls whom she loves almost more than she can bear. But Rachel's niceness does not allow her to see, never mind acknowledge, the fissures in her perfect life. Being a stay-at-home mom is all that she's ever wanted; admitting that taking care of triplets on her own might just have brought her one inch away from the "moms who look fifteen years older than they are. Who have inches of gray roots showing, who wear their husbands' clothes and smell like stale milk and spit-up, who are weepy and exhausted" is terrifying (209).
Confronting her husband when she suspects he's having an affair is the last thing that always-make-peace Rachel wants to do. Taking him back after such a transgression would have once seemed impossible. But now that she's so enmeshed in her suburban life, Rachel finds herself reconsidering her former unconciliating stance towards adultery. Wouldn't a nice wife forgive?
While If You Only Knew creates not one, but two female protagonists who are as ridiculously nice as Higgins' Blue Heron heroines, this book doesn't just feature overly nice women; it takes on the issue of female niceness itself, calling attention to its self-erasing tendencies in the lives of too many women. Though Jenny does find romance by book's end, If You Only Knew is more women's fiction than romance; both Jenny and Rachel coming to understand where the line between being nice and being too nice lies. While that line may be different for each sister, both ultimately negotiate a way to retain their self-identities as nice women, but women who simultaneously do not allow their very niceness to allow others to take undue advantage.
It made me smile to see that Higgins' recent Publishers Weekly apologia for the romance genre was entitled "Never Read a Romance Novel? Grow Up." Because there's no phrase "Mrs. Nice Woman," is there? It's only ever "nice girl." Girls (especially in America, white girls) who are only all too often taught to be nice to the point of erasing their own needs, never do grow up, do they?
So happy to report that Higgins's fiction is back to hanging out with the grownups, too.
Laverne & Shirley: DVDtalk
Baby Shower no-show: Alpha Mom
If Only You Knew