With TV comedies like Difficult People, The Comeback, OITNB, and Nurse Jackie racking up praise and awards in recent seasons, women who are “not here to make friends” are definitely having a cultural moment. This trend has also been going strong in literary fiction, and 2015 was an especially great year for novels about women who do what they want without apology.
As a reader, I’ve learned that good fiction about “bad” women penetrates my psyche in a way that no self-help book can. If I find myself having a charged negative reaction to a character, I can be pretty sure that I’m being triggered by similar qualities in myself. The following brassy broads who made their debuts this past year, from a revenge-obsessed ice cream mogul to a demanding feminist know-it-all, showcase why thorny female protagonists are the new black.
In The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman, Russian Jewish immigrant Malka Treynovsky remakes herself as a Jewish Italian American Marie Antoinette/Leona Helmsley/Martha Stewart/Joan Rivers ice cream diva. Her story is a transcendently human tour-de-force of hurt, humiliation, resentment, delicious revenge, regret, and resilience.
Lucky Us, by Amy Bloom, introduces readers to motherless half sisters Iris and Eva Acton. The pair hardens themselves, lies, steals, kidnaps, survives scandals, and reinvents themselves as they plow through Hollywood and America pre- and post-World War II.
Author Alison Jean Lester’s novel Lillian on Life begins with her title character narrating in bed beside a man who won’t wake up. Throughout her tale, Lillian can be relied upon to say the things we all think (but rarely speak out loud) about cultural norms that don’t feel normal at all.
Another titular character, Florence Gordon, the creation of writer Brian Morton, is a 75-year-old feminist writer from Manhattan who doesn’t hesitate to demand that everyone she meets embody their true and dignified selves. She is arrogant, uncompromising, and relentless—to the death.
Finally, in The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty by Amanda Filipacchi, one character is beautiful and disguises it by wearing a fat suit, while another is horrifyingly ugly and invents a way to dupe people into believing she is beautiful. Craving and obsession are misunderstood, as are connection and true love. Plus, this book contains one of the funniest dinner-party scenes ever written.
By Betsy Robinson
This article originally appeared in the December/January print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!
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