Chucklit, or the rise of the man-boy novel

I’m an eclectic reader. I will read serious literary fiction as well as Star Trek spoofs. I will read classics as well as contemporary fiction. I will even read works in translation. I’m an eclectic reader but I’m not uncritical. There are many types of novels and there are better and worse examples of each.

Recently I’ve spotted a new novel type. It has probably been around for a while, so no doubt it is only newish to me. For lack of a better term, I’m calling it ChuckLit.

Chucklit is typically written by a male author. Its protagonist is also male, usually over 30 but under 40.  He is presented as an everyman but a special breed of everyman. He is smart but under-appreciated. He is financially comfortable either due to his own efforts or the largesse of some fabulously wealthy friend or relative. He has male friends who range from the aggressive loudmouth to the emotionally fragile. But they are all good guys. The kind of guys you would go out to a bar with weekly (or more frequently). They stick up for each other and have been friends probably since they were teens.

In ChuckLit, the protagonist has a low self-image yet seems, perhaps miraculously, to be surrounded by young, buxom, and entirely available women who think he’s great. But it’s so hard to choose! Or having chosen, to stick with your choice.

These are relationship novels. Although there will eventually be some form of violent action at a moment of crisis, in reality the acting out is all about the restructuring of the protagonist’s self-image.  (Despite appearing somewhat weedy, the protagonist will typically summon inner strength that manifests itself in the form of punching some guy who really has it coming.) Once that self-image has been restructured, he is capable of new/better/different/longer-lasting/fulfilling relationships with one or another of the available buxom young women.

And that’s about it. There may be some glancing nod to a topical issue or superficial psychological insight. But mostly it’s about a man-boy becoming, not exactly a man, but at least a new and improved man-boy.

There is something tiresome about such books.

It’s not just the laddish behaviour. Or the gratuitous scenes written as though the real goal is the movie deal the author may be able to negotiate. (Thus there are typically one or more scenes set in bars where bands are playing, which offers opportunities for a cool soundtrack for a movie, and one or more scenes set in strip clubs, which offers opportunities for some gratuitous nudity that the lead actresses may not wish to partake of.) It’s not even the disproportionate relationships with entirely average guys taking up with incredibly beautiful women. That can happen.

It’s the lack of effort, honesty, and insight in the writing that I find disappointing.


Posted in thinking.