Gender takes between a ‘social’ and a ‘domestic’ novel

Vendela Vida: What do you think is the difference between a so-called male novel and a so-called female novel?

Susan Straight: It’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to… How come a woman writes a novel about a family, it’s a domestic novel, but if a guy writes it, it’s a great social novel?

Even if it’s a big huge sweeping novel, if a novel has, at its center, a family, and it has a woman’s name on it, then it’s called a domestic novel. One of my favorite novelists in the world is Pat Barker, from England. She wrote that great trilogy: The Eye in the Door, Regeneration, and The Ghost Road. They’re all about World War I. And she’s written a lot of other novels too. She’s one of the greatest social novelists there is. She writes about war in a social novel, and she writes about this family disintegrating under the pressures of someone who’s mentally ill. Is it a domestic novel, or is it not still a social novel? And Leslie Marmon Silko–look at all the social issues tackled in not just Ceremony but her second one, Almanac of the Dead. It was this huge, Tom Wolfe, Bonfire of the Vanities-size book. How come when Tom Wolfe writes Bonfire of the Vanities, it’s a social novel?

Excerpt from a The Believer interview.


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