Thursday, September 1, 2011

The World of Jane Green

I don't precisely remember how it happened but I've found myself immersed in Jane Green books this summer. I've read two and am in the middle of the third.  Possibly the attraction is that her main characters are often leading a parallel life to mine: Young to mid-30's, moms, careers.  In the stories, these women are discovering they have at some point in their lives settled for less than what they want or deserve and they experience these epiphanies of longing. Of wanting a better life, a life that reflects who they really are, what they really want, not just what they've fallen lazily into. And suddenly life works out well. Things fall together, happiness ensues.

Clearly I'm writing this with a pinch of sarcasm.  Not because I think the endings are cliche but because I think there is a piece of me who feels the same way. That has trouble with contentment. That wonders "what if" about certain decisions I've made along the way.  I'm betting many women I know would feel the same way, deep down. It's not something we necessarily admit or talk about, but some vague discontent. I've heard some of the questions asked that I do ponder. Is it possible to be in purposeful mission when you're elbow deep in diapers and ABC's?  Can you really "have it all" and not be overwhelmed?  Is it ok to not feel totally fulfilled by motherhood and family life? What are healthy desires?

At the core of these books is the premise, of course, that each of us deserves in life to be happy. That our end goal and the means along the way should be self-satisfaction. Making the decisions that are best for us as individuals, moving on in marriage if you accidentally married the "wrong" guy, getting angry or, to be frank, bitchy to assert that we are not pushovers and can claim control over anything we want.  Over and over again these characters make poor decisions. And over and over again there is this glaring thing missing. The author stops short of identifying that core longing and doesn't choose to make much commentary on the ridiculous nature of these characters' sexual, moral and, to be frank, pretty selfish decisions other than that eventually they'll happen miraculously upon the "right" decisions. But to me, on each page, there is this clear void. This overwhelming need to be fulfilled and while the author rightly helps her protagonists realize that happiness doesn't lie in the number of Manolo Blahnik shoes one owns(I didn't actually know what these were before reading the books, given that my primary shoe store is Payless) they never quite get past finding happiness and contentment in relationships and self-fulfillment.  The longing stays a longing.

I imagine if there were a real-life epilogue to most of these stories, say 10 years down the road, these women would be discontented again because we are not meant to be fulfilled by anything other than God. I related so uncomfortably close to these women in some ways and had to be reminded that my happiness, first of all, is not my goal in life and, secondly, that no matter how much longing I have, the only place that space will be filled is at the foot of the cross.  Not filled by a new baby, not filled by a foray into grad school or a new career or anything I can achieve myself.

I'm convinced that this author has hit what a lot of women struggle with right on the head.  She has done so humorously and with elements of hope. But the success stops there. Without God, everything else is just so uncertain. Even with God, most things are still pretty uncertain. But at least when I'm pointed in that right direction, the uncertainties don't sway me as much. The lack of control isn't quite as terrifying. The "what-ifs" not quite as loud or condemning.  The poor decisions, hopefully, become fewer. The longing may stay, but the joy of it is that it's a longing with a clear fulfillment.

I'm thankful for these books, thankful that they've reminded me of my innate tendency to desire things, to desire fulfillment in my own achievements and to always, always seem to long for more.  I'm thankful that it is clear that nothing earthly can possibly fulfill those longings and that every time I put down one of her books I am drawn back to scripture, drawn back to true hope and the only safe place to truly process those longings.

I am also very thankful that these books make me laugh out loud. Anything that helps me take life less seriously is always a welcome addition to the day.  

1 comment:

  1. I read "Love, Charleston" this summer and in doing so stumbled on another genre of fiction... the author is in the same circle of friends as the Webers and her husband was a professor of mine. I think you might like it-- stories of women in different places in life, dealing with discontent/ longing & other issues. But there are a couple characters who love the Lord and you get to see them shine out and the ending is great- not all cleaned up & pretty, but redeemed. Beth Webb Hart, check it out.