A few years ago I was reading, I believe, Elizabeth Berg, when it hit me: This was, in my view, lady porn, by which I mean that it seemed intent on offering to a particular group…well, exactly what they wanted. I thought this contemptuously: Who, I thought, would only listen to what they wanted to hear?
But the weird thing is, I had a similar thought about The Cobble Street Cousins series, by Cynthia Rylant. If you don't already have a 7-year-old girl addicted to this, it's something you might want to consider: Three cousins live with their beautiful maiden aunt (a florist!). Their parents are ballet dancers, away on tour! They live in a beautiful attic! They make cookies! And I thought: Wow, it gives them exactly what they want. But this time, I thought it affectionately.
What gives? I have just finished my third and last library sale book: Songs Without Words. It's by Ann Packer, and I somehow thought it was by Ann Patchett (oops). But, I thought, why not give it a try?
It seemed to me that it too did this thing: it offered a certain kind of wish fulfillment, that of the well-heeled, well educated white mother. First it scares her with the specter of her worst fears: your children are not OK, your husband is repelled by you, your best friend finds your neediness insupportable. And then…everything is better (as does, indeed, sometimes happen). Your children are fine, your husband is attracted to you, your best friend wants to have lunch.
Why am I contemptuous again? Why is it OK for children to be given every pleasure they long for in books: cloaks of invisibility! Dragons! Boxes of chocolates!, and how is it different (and I think that it is somehow) to give poor adults some wish fulfillment? Why does it feel so different?