canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

The Flea Market
by John Moore
Ekstasis Editions, 2003

Reviewed by Adam Swimmer

Can a man effectively write female characters? As a male writer myself, perhaps I'm not the best person to answer that question, but it's one that begs to be asked of John Moore's novel, The Flea Market, which is written in the first person from a woman's point-of-view.

Moore avoids painting the main character, Eve, as the classic bimbo or bitch persona many male writers assign to characters of the opposite sex. Her actions, for the most part, don't come off as stupid or malicious. However, as an ex-model turned agent, the reader assumes she is quite attractive. In fact, she states it outright in the first chapter: 'I always looked better in jeans and a t-shirt at a laundromat than most women did dressed to the nines in a nightclub.'

And although I can't claim to know the inner workings of a woman's mind, Eve seems to be more obsessed with sex than the average man. And not to imply that I believe all women are simply 'sugar and spice' but her turn of phrase, even if it is in her head, seems a little crass and derogatory to be coming from a woman. For example, at one point Eve explains her boss, Laine 'couldn't have gone from glad to mad faster if I reached across the glass-topped desk and tweaked her tits nestled in their countoured La Senza cups.' But then, Laine is even crasser than Eve. Here, it seems Moore wrote the most chauvinist, bossy male character he could, and then used 'Find and Replace' with the names and personal pronouns.

The Agency, Eve's work, frowns on models sleeping with clients in order to get more work because of the image it presents and Eve becomes indignant when she finds borderline child pornography of her boss's deaf daughter. But Eve casually refers to women she doesn't like as 'cunts,' and spends much of the book ruminating over the various sexcapades she and her husband engaged in between their fights, from the time they made love on the cold cellar floor while moving boxes in the cellar, to how her husband was 'like a cat burglar trying to steal a Farewell Fuck Diamond' from her after she told him she was leaving. So she reduces women to little more than sex objects herself.

It seems Moore envisions Eve as some sort of classical beauty from a perfume commercial, who's secretly a dirty girl who likes it every which way she can. Even the storyline, which takes awhile to get going as the first few chapters are loaded with largely unimportant exposition and backstory, follows suit. The second book in Moore's series on West Coast life, The Flea Market follows the uptight Eve as she learns to fill the emptiness of her soul and breaking out of her stodgy career and perceptions by taking up with a man she met at a swap meet. Remove the swap meet and it's like numerous French foreign films (read softcore porns) for rent at the local video store. Unfortunately, all of the 'good bits' are missing and the book has no pictures.

But then perhaps I'm being harsh. The point of the book is that Eve frees herself from the shackles of her previous life by selling off her possessions, from housewarming gifts, to various trendy objects she has collected over the years and had no real use for. That and the relationship with Buzz, the junk store owner, allowed her to reinvent herself.

And I know this because the book told me so in so many words:

'The Sunday before, as Buzz and I sold off the house-warming presents to a young couple who were thrilled to get such a deal on a set of pillowcases for their young daughter's first single bed, I experienced a feeling of relief, of lightness and liberation, more intense than anything I felt when I left the oppressive house in Toronto. I hadn't had so much fun since I learned to masturbate.'

In fact, much of the book is hampered by this forthrightness. The reader is not allowed to discover things in the novel as everything is so directly put and it becomes a bore to read.

And even if the reader was to acknowledge the book's reasons for Eve's transformation, it still seems shallow and not very interesting. As Eve says to her boss:

'I don't want to sell people anymore, Laine. Not even their images. I don't want to take young girls and turn them into vapid bimbos to sell toothpaste, tampons or clothes. But I can sell things. Buzz has taught me.'

So instead of making insipid spokesmodels for the consumer world, she instead joins it herself by selling secondhand junk at unreasonable prices. Hooray for Eve!

So as for whether male writers can write women characters, I'm still not sure. But I think I can safely that John Moore cannot.







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