Named after a fictional girls' etiquette handbook, Elissa Schappell's 2011 short story collection, Blueprints for Building Better Girls, offers a multi-perspectival, intergenerational portrait of American womanhood. Told with impressive care and patience, the eight stories of the collection inspire a familiar uncertainty at odds with the trite didactic moral lessons the title promises.
The protagonists of the stories are involved in an intricate web of acquaintance. Characters mentioned in passing in one story appear later as main subjects, all the while coping with the shattered illusion of safety that so often pushes people toward adulthood before their time. The collection is bookended with the stories of Heather, the "school slut" whom we see first as a teenager and later as a concerned mother. The six stories in between jump forward and backward in time, examining the characters' set expecations for their own lives versus the realities they face.
Put on those literary thinking caps, 'cause it's time for a game of "First Lines of Feminist Fiction"!
Here's how it works: we provide a list of opening lines from feminist fiction and you guess which books the sentences are from. The books are listed at the bottom of the post, so don't scroll too far unless you're ready to check over your answers.
Once you've given the game a go, let us know which opening lines are your favorite!
I am in awe of feminist author and activist Dorothy Allison.
Born in South Carolina in 1949 and now living in California, Allison has attracted numerous accolades in the last thirty years for her six published books. (They include Lambda Literary Awards, ALA Awards for Lesbian and Gay Writing and a ridiculous number of others.) She is the rare writer to reach, in my opinion, wonderful heights in nonfiction, fiction, and poetry, though her two already-released full-length novels, Bastard Out of Carolina and Cavedweller, are her most famous works.
What makes a work feminist? It's worth answering that before we begin. In some circles, depicting strong female characters resisting sexism is feminist. That's not enough for me. To qualify as a feminist work, I think that something actively needs to include an anti-oppression message, not just an anti-sexist one. A feminist work is one that challenges beliefs and attitudes about race, culture, gender, sexuality, disability, and much, much more. Not necessarily all in the same work or all at the same time, mind you, but I don't give a passing grade to works that are anti-sexist while conveying other -isms.
Your mileage may vary, and for the purposes of these evaluations, I'm looking at work that is considered feminist by society in general, not necessarily by my own standards, which means that these works might not pass my own personal litmus test. Or yours!