October 2004

Veronica Bond

21st Century Fox

Her Name Was Lola

Like most chick lit heroines, Lola Somerville, of Lynn Harris’ Miss Media, is a young, plucky, cute journalist just getting her big break by signing over her Internet column to a large pro-woman media company. But that’s where the similarities, thankfully, end. I’ll admit that I was a bit uncertain about opening this book, even after reading decent reviews in other magazines. The plot seemed washed up and full of barely disguised references to real life media items, a gimmick I find exasperating. But, again thankfully, once I flew through the first few chapters I realized that my prejudices were completely wrong.

Lola’s job is what every struggling writer dreams of -- after making a name for herself on the Internet though her “AskLola.com” column, dishing out advice on sex, love, and relationships, she’s picked up by the parent company “Ovum” to run the column under their expenses. The Ovum company, in parallel to its obvious counterpart Oxygen, is a network run for women, by women, with their employees serving as proof that women can be “both smart and hot.” It’s a place where Lola’s work can thrive, which it does admirably as Lola makes sure that her column is never reduced to an outlet for her to discuss her own insecurities: “Lola never referred to her own love life in her column. In fact, on her short list of public enemies were those women whose oeuvres were basically guy-bashing mini-memoirs of their own lame dates and loneliness and/or lame dates and blow jobs. As Lola often pointed out… her column was for, and about, her readers. Not herself.”

The book is rife with guilty pop culture references -- the names Scully and Mulder appear several times during conversations, and with Mariah Carey, spongeworthiness, and the use of instant messenger transcripts, Harris anchors the story in a specific time and place as well as gives the reader a solid idea of just what kind of consumer Lola is. While Internet references and the use of IM usually fall flat in a novel, Harris doesn’t rely on them to make the story seem any cuter than it is, but brings them into the novel because they are a part of Lola’s life. Though the writing is not technically stream-of-consciousness, we’re frequently made privy to Lola’s inner thoughts, which read satisfyingly like one’s own might. With a bit of sarcasm and a bit of self-deprecation, Lola’s thoughts are one’s that an actual woman might have, while recognizing the stupidity within some. “Eeee. Long-lashed eyes, half-shut, moving closer,” her inner monologue runs while she kisses her date for the first time. “Oh. Lips, closer, too. Oh my. Now touching. Touching. Up on sneaker tiptoes. Touching. Soft, like kneaded dough. Soft. Dough. Does that Atkins Diet really work? Wait, what? HELLO, Lola. Miles. Is. Kissing. You. Pay attention so this time you remember, you dumbass. Mmm. Yeah. Noted.”

It’s passages such as this that made me give up my biases and start enjoying the story. Harris’s words are so pleasant to read -- her choice is always spot-on, allowing her to make the exact jokes she desires, never cheesier or duller than she means them to be. Unlike most chick lit, the characters in Miss Media are real, with real thoughts and real problems, and their conversations allow the reader to more fully appreciate them. Lola isn’t someone who spent too much money on shoes. She didn’t sleep with hordes of men, only to be surprised that none of them want to marry her, and she doesn’t think that the answer to all of her problems is to find a rich man she doesn’t love and allow him to cater to her for the rest of her life. Her career predicament is real and she intends on solving it herself, if only with a little help from her friends.

More importantly, Harris doesn’t try to disguise Lola’s feminist intentions, though she hardly uses the character to impart her own propaganda on her readers. What results is a refreshing example of what feminism has done for pop culture and how Lola, as a feminist, operates within it. Lola is an actual, thinking woman who encourages her audience to figure out what’s best for them, instead of shoveling blanketed, pseudo-woman-power responses. I actually found myself nodding along with some of Lola’s readers’ questions, interested in what the relationship advisor had to say, a testament to how real Harris wants her story to be -- something her readers can identify with on a fairly intelligent level. Lola is sassy, clever, well-read, and compassionate to others’ quandaries; she’s aware of herself and is able to analyze her own sometimes wacky thoughts and actions: “…this job is too freaking good to be true and I still don’t quite get that it is mine and I have to find a reason to freak out about it because that’s what humans to do mess up their dreams.” Finally -- a chick lit heroine I can actually admire!

There’s plenty of foreshadowing in the book that lets the reader know that Lola’s job is, in fact, too good to be true and that the higher-ups have it in for her and her Internet column. The ongoing war between single and married women plays a large role in the plot, and it’s a dichotomous battle that Lola can’t quite figure out herself, “How come when men want to get married, they’re settling down, but when women want to get married, they’re giving in?” she writes to one of her readers. “The letter ‘S’ for Single is much less scarlet than it used to be, but that doesn’t mean staying that way is Plan A. You know, we can’t win. They look at us funny if we’re not married, and they look at us funny if we say we’d like to be.”

The plot itself is maybe a little far-fetched -- there’s a large movement brewing to get women more interested in marriage to support “traditional” family values -- but who’s to say that something like this couldn’t happen? The media, and popular culture especially, have a great impact on what is deemed acceptable in our society and it’s not entirely implausible that a large media magnate, with government aide, would push against the feminist movement. The surprises keep coming during the novel’s climax -- who’s funding this movement, who’s really in charge of it, and what they hope to gain from it -- but in the end it’s clear that both Harris and Lola know who their enemies are: not just chauvinistic men, but dogmatic women too.

The conclusion to Lola’s story is tidy -- the group of friends expose Ovum its true intentions and Lola ends up finding a very nice man. It’s a very neat ending for a surprisingly thought-provoking book, but I can forgive the author for this. After all Lola’s been though, I think she deserves it. Lola is a good feminist without being militant and it’s easy to get the feeling that the author has actually read those feminist works to which she makes reference, instead of simply tossing out names that might get her attention. Even more satisfying is that Harris brings up some very good points about feminism and although I don’t think her goal was to create the next feminist tome -- because that’s not what she did -- her composition of an amusing story with a strong, feminist lead is a fine accomplishment in itself. In the end, Miss Media is most definitely chick lit, written by a woman for the benefit of other women. Thankfully, Lynn Harris proves that that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

Miss Media by Lynn Harris
iUniverse, Inc.
ISBN: 059528776X
224 pages