Book Talk: Market Street by Anita Hughes

Chick lit, beach books, whatever you want to call it, this stuff is my (zero-feelings-of-guilt) pleasure. Market Street by Anita Hughes embodies everything I love and everything I find wildly problematic about this genre.

Cassie Fenton is a thirty-something wife to a Berkeley ethics professor 10+ years her senior, and heiress to the Fenton’s luxury department store. While she hails from one of the fanciest families in town, Cassie feels more comfortable in a t-shirt and a pair of gardening gloves. When Cassie discovers that her husband may have slept with one of his students (an affair which should surprise exactly no one, given the questionable circumstances under which Cassie herself and Aidan began their relationship), she hauls herself over to BFF Alexis’ San Francisco mansion. While staying with Alexis, Cassie must decide not only how to/if to proceed with her marriage, but also whether she’s ready to take the helm of Fenton’s newest venture–a food emporium.

When it comes down to it, what I love about chick lit is the fancy clothes, the money, and the high-powered jobs–and Market Street certainly delivers on that. Is it realistic? Of course not. But that’s why it’s so fun. Market Street will make you want to blow this month’s income on designer accessories and then turn around and quit your job to open your own boutique (but please don’t do that). And while I love the careerist aspects of this book, it suffers from one major problem: wildly obnoxious men.

First off, Cassie’s husband Aidan may be super sexy with his dark brown curly hair, but we quickly find out that he’s kind of rapey, sex-obsessed to the point of creepy, and possibly, um, overly enthusiastic about his female students? I don’t know how anyone else felt, but Cassie’s initial meeting and first hookup with Aidan is just like a giant red flag on fire. I don’t even know anymore if this is an accepted male characterization within chick lit, or if, indeed, we dear readers are supposed to be wary of this weirdo. Also, I find it hard to believe that a Berkeley ethics professor would be so traditional when it comes to his views on the place of women in society and their role in the family. I just didn’t buy it.

Then there’s James, the other guy, and while theoretically he’s a way better man than Aidan, he does some something (I’m not going to say what it is for the sake of spoilers) that would be wildly inappropriate if it happened in real life. And then he proceeds to do it again. Ugh, what’s wrong with these men?

There are plenty of other problems with this book beyond the questionable men and its tenacious grip on traditional gender roles: the dialogue and description is often flat and unrealistic (Find me someone who actually says the words “piping hot”), the plot was more than a bit contrived, and Cassie is frustratingly passive when it comes to men.

But whatever. It’s chick lit, and I’ll continue to read it. Now bring me that cup of piping hot tea.