A Fiction for Men

1 Jun

This month Esquire magazine will publish a series of ebooks called “Fiction for Men.”  These will be “plot driven and exciting, where one thing happens after another,” says Esquire editor in chief, David Granger.

Even in my not-so-exciting feminine life, one thing happens after another.

For instance, after I read about “Fiction for Men,” I happened to pick up a Chekhov short story, “The Proposal.  A Story for Girls.”  It’s very short.  Just two plot-driven pages, beginning with the handsome young Valentin Petrovich Peredyorkin, hardly able to hold back his excitement, setting out for  the home of a certain Princess Vera Zapiskina.

How sad, dear reader, that you have never met the Princess. She is a gentle and enchanting creature with soft heavenly-blue eyes and hair like a silken wave.

Valentin Petrovich, whose soul, he tells the Princess, has been filled with unquenchable desires, will be utterly miserable if these desires are to remain unfulfilled.

She lowers her gaze.

A moment of silence.

Valentin Petrovich stammers: He regards the Princess as the most suitable . . . and he’s rich . . . and they’re neighbors, after all . . . .

More silence.

“Yes, but what is this all about?” asks Princess Vera in a soft voice.

He jumps impetuously to his feet: “My dear, permit me to propose to you . . .”

And, then, suddenly he sits down again, leans in close, and whispers: “I am making the most profitable proposal possible . . . . This way we shall be able to sell a million poods of tallow in a single year . . . . Let us start on our adjoining estates a limited liability company dedicated to tallow boiling.”

The Princess considers for a monent and consents.

Chekhov ends the story with this sentence:

The feminine reader, who expected a melodramatic ending, may relax.

That’s “A Story for Girls.”  No wonder we need “Fiction for Men.”

  1. Women read only romance novels.
  2. We care only for domestic themes: love, relationships, family.
  3. We’re obsessed with our feelings.

That’s what Chekhov is poking fun at.  I’ve heard it all before.  And how, I ask you, how do you think this makes me feel?  Vexed?

Oh, come on.   It’s Chekhov, a gentle and enchanting creature.  I laughed.

The masculine reader, who expected a shrill feminist ending, may relax.

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov with hair like a silken wave

35 Responses to “A Fiction for Men”

  1. sledpress June 1, 2012 at 10:51 pm #

    Just when I admire Esquire for its hilarious annual roundup (ah for the days of “Oh Bill [Buckley], You Bitch!” they throw me this curve.

    Are they telling us women don’t like stories where shit happens?

    I will be on their doorstep with my collections of John Buchan, Rider Haggard and Stephen King ever so shortly. Really. As soon as I can find time in a life where shit is always happening. To me.

    • jenny June 2, 2012 at 6:13 am #

      In a way, it’s a terrific marketing ploy. Most readers are women. How better to hook and reel them in than by excluding them?

      • sledpress June 2, 2012 at 6:49 am #

        Except that everything I’ve ever encountered under the “for men” rubric has been fairly ghastly. Have you ever smelled Axe cologne?

  2. Thomas Stazyk June 1, 2012 at 11:53 pm #

    I will so be giving those stories a skip. The writeup says the stories are also about “passages in a man’s life that seem common.” I prefer to read about uncommon passages. Plus (I know what they’re trying to say) I find revelations about hitherto unknown emotions, especially those related to fatherhood, extremely tedious.

    • jenny June 2, 2012 at 6:15 am #

      I found the phrase “passages in a man’s life that seem common” particularly icky, too.

      • sledpress June 2, 2012 at 6:48 am #

        “Passages” makes me think of a prostate exam.

      • Thomas Stazyk June 2, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

        Who knows, that may be what one of the stories is about!

  3. Christopher June 2, 2012 at 6:23 am #

    The hell with Esquire’s fiction for men. If you want to read fiction for men, look no further than Tom Clancy.

    If you’re a man and are waiting all alone for a bus at midnight in a high-crime area, pull out a Tom Clancy novel and start reading it. No-one will dare mess with you.

    • jenny June 3, 2012 at 10:14 am #


      At first I was scared. Then I got out my Tom Clancy novel and all those tough guys left me alone.

      We’re taking this idea to the NRA.

      • Thomas Stazyk June 4, 2012 at 4:14 pm #

        Jenny you got me thinking on this whole idea of fiction for men and it gets way too complicated. But I think a good archetype is “The Bear” by William Faulkner.

  4. Terrell Finney June 2, 2012 at 7:47 am #

    Great post, as always! Anton to the rescue,

    • jenny June 3, 2012 at 10:16 am #

      It’s almost always Anton who rescues, Terrell. Some day, perhaps, I will be clever enough to say something about the plays.

      • dafna June 3, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

        you already have… reminded me of the plays. thanks you for that.

        i had never seen a picture of dear anton. since your post all the characters from the cherry orchard are wandering from room to room in my mind, gazing and speaking in their disconnected way.

        i have never seen a production:( but the play stays in my mind, it took your mention of chekhov to unlock the memory.

        it’s nice to be connected. these blogs reinforce the forgotten idea of the importance of a strong liberal arts education.

        how different a person i might have been for lack of studying the great thinkers?

  5. Andreas Kluth June 2, 2012 at 9:18 am #

    This post is really about tallow boiling.

    We men looove reading about it.

    • jenny June 3, 2012 at 10:21 am #

      You know very well that tallow boiling is an exciting and plot-driven activity way beyond my imagination, Andreas. But, here’s what I did: I asked myself how Tom Clancy would handle it, and–presto!–blog post!

  6. Christopher June 3, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

    @Dafna – “……how different a person i might have been for lack of studying the great thinkers?……”

    You’re much better off for not having studied them, if Paul Johnson’s book, “Intellectuals”, is anything to go by.

    It looks at the lives of some of the great thinkers and intellectuals (all men, by the way) that we’re all supposed to admire, and shows how stupid and hypocritical they were, and how they messed up their lives, when not penning their great thoughts.

    The book might better have been called, “Do As We Say, And Not As We Do.”

    Best to stick to “Eat Pray Love”.

    • sledpress June 3, 2012 at 4:02 pm #

      Reminds me of how one of my ex’es who has actually made a name for himself in international relations (at least as an academic) contracted, at an age when most people should know better, one of the most disastrous marriages of all time, involving coercion, conception through blackmail, denial of avowed gender identity… ten years of it, punctuated by countless incidents of violence requiring police. I have lost all my awe of academic experts.

      • jenny June 4, 2012 at 6:27 am #

        Sled, are you making this up?

        “Denial of avowed gender identity” AND “conception through blackmail” is an ambitious combination.

        Actually, “denial of avowed gender identity” is just a really funny phrase. It has a lot less sting than the choice of words I think your ex must have used when crying on a bartender’s shoulder.

      • sledpress June 4, 2012 at 8:55 am #

        The mention of a bartender is inspired because I think if I told you the whole story we would need to go through most of a fifth of single malt. It involves a dismantled grand piano, Lavoris, Freecycle, the Bulwer-Lytton awards, county police, transgender support meetings, and a succession of cats all named after Leon Trotsky.

      • Thomas Stazyk June 4, 2012 at 4:10 pm #

        Yes, the use of the word “avowed” opens up a whole spectrum of interesting dramatic possibilities. Speaking of which, we’re waiting for the screenplay!

      • sledpress June 4, 2012 at 8:27 pm #

        Well, it was my ex’s wife who denied his avowal that he felt he was at heart a woman, and insisted he live out that denial… kind of hard to find an elegant phrase for it all. I was earnestly encouraging his ultimate embrace of a female identity, once he got out of the marriage, right up until he flamed me on e-mail for dissing Rush Limbaugh.

        That was right after I had been the only cis-woman at his/her Labor Day barbecue (I was the butchest thing there) and learned many things, such as if you have not yet had the surgery, you shouldn’t wear Daisy Dukes.

        I could NOT make this stuff up.

      • Thomas Stazyk June 4, 2012 at 8:33 pm #

        I had to Google “Daisy Dukes.” OMG

  7. dafna June 3, 2012 at 5:13 pm #

    Christopher and Sled,

    I am NOT in awe of the artist, in fact I can’t stand the music of John Lennon nor the work of Picasso because I find it impossible to divorce their private lives from their creative work.

    the medium sometimes enhances the message thank goodness. you have never met me. for all you know I am a screaming banshee with a brood of bastard children who suckle off you hard earned tax dollars. but when I post, I edit.

    to borrow a phrase (which I would not know unless I had been exposed to it through education); I admire those who are simply good and my life is enhance by those that have been good for something. 😉

    • jenny June 4, 2012 at 6:31 am #

      Well, Dafna, sometimes I am a little in awe of the artist. The Cherry Orchard is a really great play. And Chekhov was handsome, huh?

      • dafna June 4, 2012 at 9:01 am #

        and sometimes so am I. but my earlier post seemed to inspire critique of “intellectuals” or the artists themselves – so i tried to rephrase. it would seem chekhov put his good looks to good use too? but not to the point where i would not take advice about love from him.

        but you got it. woody allen is a brilliant director and i loved his latest film, by why the hell would i take advice about love from him? 😉

  8. Christopher June 3, 2012 at 7:55 pm #

    In the matter of bloviating intellectuals, I just love *this scene* from “Annie Hall”.

    • jenny June 4, 2012 at 6:41 am #

      Yes, Christopher, I love this scene (and just about all the others) from “Annie Hall.”

      And, isn’t this a great example? Why the hell should anybody listen to what Woody Allen has to say about love? But I’ll take the last ten minutes of “Manhattan” over “Eat Pray Love.”

  9. david osman June 4, 2012 at 11:51 am #

    nicely done

  10. thoughtsontheatre June 5, 2012 at 1:12 pm #

    Love that ending line. He’s got such a way with words.

  11. Mr. Crotchety June 9, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

    After I finished blushing I looked it up. Pood. Of course. That’s 40 Funt. Good to know.

    A more appropriate title would be Fiction for Guys. Esquire is really for guys, not men. Edward Abbey did a great job of describing this distinction.

    • jenny June 10, 2012 at 7:43 am #

      For a couple of summers I studied literature with a Georgian princess. The kind that’s recognized as royalty not so much in Atlanta, but in Tbilisi.

      (Hold on, Mr. C, this really is a response to your comment.)

      Whenever she mentioned a book I hadn’t read–and there are poods of them!–or, even worse, a writer I’d never heard of, she graciously said: “What pleasure awaits you!” I thought that was classier than expressing horror at a middling midwestern literary education.

      The latest awaiting pleasure: Edward Abbey. I’m on it. Where does he distinguish guys from men?

      • Mr. Crotchety June 10, 2012 at 4:28 pm #

        The Fool’s Progress: An Honest Novel.

        […]That’s what they say in more advanced circles.
        What’s that?
        All men are brothers.
        That’s what they say in more advanced circles.
        Those punks ain’t men. They never will be.
        They’re the new breed, Will. Not exactly men, not exactly women, but something in between they call “guys.”

        A Georgian Princess. Yeah right.

      • Mr. Crotchety June 10, 2012 at 5:47 pm #

        “[…]My father would womanize, he would drink. He would make outrageous claims like he invented the question mark. Sometimes he would accuse chestnuts of being lazy. The sort of general malaise that only the genius possess and the insane lament. My childhood was typical. Summers in Rangoon, luge lessons, studying literature with a Georgian Princess. In the spring we’d make meat helmets. When I was insolent I was placed in a burlap bag and beaten with reeds- pretty standard really.”

        Dr. Evil or… Jenny H.!

      • dafna June 11, 2012 at 2:06 am #

        touché mr. c – i also suspected some false modestly regarding the midlin’ midwest education 🙂 i have no doubts about the princess, we had something like one at Miami U (ours was not so well read).

        Edward Abby, you had me at the title “The Fool’s Progress: An Honest Novel”, now there is an argument for a subtitle (with or without colon, semi-colon).

        thanks for the book recommendation!

      • jenny June 11, 2012 at 6:19 am #

        There you have it, Mr. C! Dafna confirms: Late 20th century America was positively thick with princesses. You missed out if you never met one.

        Some people say that all girls are princesses.
        That’s what they say in more advanced circles.
        Those punks ain’t princesses. They never will be . . .

        Throw me a frickin bone here!

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