I had been opening The Rules of Engagement and reading random passages. Writing this post got me thinking about the concrete differences between litfic and fluff. I usually chalk it up to intangibles and had never really sat down and analyzed what it is that sets them apart. But as I sat there, I realized I had a self-described (by the author) chick lit book that I could look at. (I picked it up this summer because of a six-degrees thing w/ the author–she once paid my writing a compliment that I’ve never forgotten.)
So. This is the opening of The Rules of Engagement:
Lux was coming. Already she was somewhere in the wide expanse of London. My awareness of her presence unsettled me vaguely. Sometimes, before she flew into visit, I dreamed strange dreams. Like a breeze, she stirred up things.
Midafternoon, I rode the Northern Line home to meet her and stared at the people scrunched on the surrounding banks of seats. Across the aisle, a man in aviator shades sat sketching in a notebook–I wondered if wearing dark glasses in the underground made the world easier to draw. Another man, sweating profusely, clutched a tabloid paper without reading it. Beside him, a woman in a golden sari clamped two polythene bags of groceries between her feet. Out of curiosity, I tried to imagine how each would look transformed by anger. How would the soft, relaxed line of the first man’s lips contort, or the sad-eyed desolation of the second man’s face, or the woman’s dreamy distraction? I studied the first man’s hands, dark fingers grasping a pencil, the thick wales of ruddy skin over the other man’s knuckles. The woman’s fingers were laced and folded over the pleats of cloth in her lap. I wondered what violence each was capable of and what was the worst act of violence they had committed in their lives so far. Had any of them ever punched someone, or drawn blood? If so, how did they explain their actions to themselves?
Okay, so the interesting (fortuitous?) thing is that the story opens with Catherine Bush’s narrator contemplating whether any of her seatmates have ever punched someone.
Well. Lani Diane Rich’s Time Off For Good Behavior starts with her narrator actually punching someone. At least, she tries. (Could I have picked a better comparison if I had done it on purpose? Ha!) The swing-and-miss actually comes a few pages in, so I skip a bit after the opening paragraphs:
The court date fell on the Friday of what had been a very bad week for me as an account executive at Hastings Channel 8. Any week in which you take people’s money and give them airtime is a bad week, but that week had been unusually degrading, seeing as I’d dropped my card off at more than thirty businesses and had, in no particular order, been screamed at, spit on, and called a bloodsucking leech.
On that Friday morning, I put runs in two separate pairs of panty hose, was forced to wake up my landlady so she could get her nephew in 2B to give my crappy Hyundai a jump, and stained my favorite skirt with cheap, 7-Eleven coffee. By the time the bailiff escorted me to the witness stand, I was already in a bad mood and would have been snippy with Mother Teresa. As it was, the defense lawyer representing the sleazeballs at Hastings Gas & Electric, who were responsible for the explosion three years ago that destroyed Whittle Advertising and nearly killed me, was definitely not Mother Teresa.
I almost heard it, the pop and hiss as my fury erupted. I pulled my arm back and swung at Pencil Face [the defense lawyer]. He’d turned to glance at his sleazy HG&E guys, so he didn’t see me coming.
To be continued…