The Secret Life of Bees movie‘s main cast.
I have two daughters and my wife has four sisters, so I’ve heard plenty of conversations among women. But I’ve obviously never heard them speak when a male isn’t around, which is one of many reasons why women-centered novels written by female authors appeal to me. A person can learn a lot while “eavesdropping” on female characters interacting with each other, whether those fictional women are mostly feeling camaraderie or things are more fraught.
Female-only interactions can of course be between friends, sisters, mothers and daughters, grandmothers and grandchildren, cousins, couples in same-gender relationships, co-workers, sports teammates, etc.
Not surprisingly, this post was partly inspired by novels I’ve recently read. One was Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees and the other was Joy Fielding’s Grand Avenue. Both very compelling books that are well worth the time.
Bees is narrated by 14-year-old Lily — a white girl who, with her household’s Black maid Rosaleen, leaves home in 1960s South Carolina to escape her abusive father and search for information about her late mother. They end up in the household of three Black sisters: wise/friendly beekeeper August, not-so-friendly teacher June, and emotionally sensitive May. The conversations of these five characters are something to behold — reflecting the bonds between females, racial dynamics, and more. Meanwhile, there’s the threat of Lily’s (bigoted) father looking for her…
It almost goes without saying that most women-centered novels feature men in some scenes, but they are scarce in many other scenes.
The Ohio-set Grand Avenue, which spans the late 1970s through the early 2000s, starts with an irresistible premise: four mothers who live on the street of the book’s title hit it off immediately while watching their young daughters play in a local park. The mutual loyalty of high-powered attorney Vicki, magazine editor Susan, former beauty queen Barbara, and homemaker Chris is a delight until the quartet’s many differences — as well as the vicissitudes of life (an abusive husband, a shocking murder, etc.) — put major stress on their four-way friendship.
Other women-written, women-centered novels that offer memorable, believable characters and meaningful female conversations and relationships include Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride, Terry McMillan’s Waiting to Exhale, Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle, Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, Kate Quinn’s The Alice Network, Jennifer Ryan’s The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, and Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent, to name just a few of many.
Any women-centered novels you’d like to discuss?
My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.
In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” local topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — in which both George Washington and Yogi Berra get comedic mentions — is here.