Recently I’ve gloried in the prose of some of my favorite female writers: Alice Munro, Paula Fox, Christine Schutt, Diane Williams, Kim Chinquee and Lydia Davis. The way they see men fascinates me.
Here is an excerpt from Davis’ novel The End of the Story. The narrator is talking about a younger man she had an affair with:
I wasn’t sure I would speak to him, because when I imagined it I was disturbed by the anger I saw in his face. Surprise, then anger, and then dread, because he was afraid of me. His face was blank, and stiff, his eyelids lowered and his head thrown back a little: what was I going to do to him now? And he would move back a step as though that really took him out of my range.” p. 7
Danger is all around in this passage, but the female character is seen as the aggressor, though the man is clearly afraid that his not loving her anymore will throw her into a rage and he lives by looking over his shoulder.
In Alice Munro’s story ‘Hired Girl,’ the narrator describes Mr. Montjoy, the owner of an island resort she is working at one summer:
His blustering was often about things that he had misplaced, or dropped, or bumped into. “Where the hell is the-?” he would say, or “You didn’t happen to see the-?” So it seemed that he had also misplaced, or failed to grasp in the first place, even the name of the thing he was looking for. To console himself he might grab up a handful of peanuts or pretzels or whatever was nearby, and eat handful after handful until they were all gone. Then he would stare at the empty bowl as if that too astounded him. p. 241
Here, a powerful, rich man is seen as a buffoonish, perplexed, unable. How he has ever risen to such a station in life is a wonder.
Finally, near the end of Desperate Characters, Paula Fox goes into the mind of Otto Bentwood as he looks at his sleeping wife Sophie:
He knew she must be awake. But he would not speak her name. He would not say anything at all. Sometimes, over the years, that had happened, his not wanting to talk to her. It didn’t mean he was angry. But sometimes…he simply didn’t want to talk to her. It was a very deep feeling, a law of his own nature that, now and then, had to be obeyed. He loved Sophie-he thought about her, the kind of woman she was-and she was so tangled in his life that the time he had sensed she wanted to go away from him had brought him more suffering than he had conceived it possible for him to feel. p. 144-5
There is no obfuscation in this passage, no mystery or metaphor, no wasted word, the pattern is simple. In all the books and stories I have read no other writer has described the darker corners of my experience as a man in relation to women so well as the paragraph above.
Can women see men more clearly? What about in your own writing. Do you shy away from one gender? Would you not put a story in a woman’s voice if you are a man? Vice versa?