Monday, January 05, 2015

Fiction is better, Installment #748,923

Jessica Valenti has located "the worst man in America." Scott Lemieux has a similar reaction to the dude in question. As does much of the rest of my Twitter feed. These all being writers I like, I had to see what the hubbub was about. And it's about William Giraldi's personal essay about a misspent paternity leave. Specifically, this passage:

My son was born in March, and my sabbatical went from early May to mid-January, which, in a tidy coincidence, is nearly nine months. But since his care was taken care of by his mother—whose apparent willingness and capacity to do almost everything for him flooded me with awe—I spent those nine months trying not to be bored while not writing a novel that was coming due.
And so ensues a gently self-deprecating tale of macho drink-consumption and sloth. What, with a different tone, might have read as a Very Serious confession of alcoholism, or a meditation on the dangers of having too much free time, comes across as "[c]lueless male privilege." Passages like this one don't help:
Okay, the university made me sign a document that swore I’d be incurring more than 50 percent of parental duties. But let’s be honest: even in self-consciously progressive households, it’s a rare new father who does as much baby work as a new mother.
The idea behind paternity leave is, one might imagine, that the other parent - typically the mother, and typically the person who just gave birth - can return to work. It's hard to see past the dismissal of paternity leave and get much out of the various musings the essay kind of feels like it wants to be about. And so begins the first feminist 'Gate of 2015.

Giraldi, meanwhile, is apparently a great fiction writer. Perhaps a better one than he is a personal essayist. And what struck me - of course, and thus the post title - was how much better this story would have worked as fiction. A man who takes paternity leave and finds himself with too much free time, and experiences a brush with substance abuse could be a flawed but compelling character. That the author here is the character does no one any favors.

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