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Anything Boys Can Do Paperback – Sep 15 2006

5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Strong Is the New Pretty

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Product details

  • Paperback: 183 pages
  • Publisher: Thistledown Press; 1 edition (Aug. 17 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1897235127
  • ISBN-13: 978-1897235126
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1 x 21.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 204 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #314,123 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


At the outset of “Not That Hard”, one of twelve stories from BC writer Angie Abdou’s first collection, Anything Boys Can Do, a young woman prompts a friend: “Remind me again where we’re going and why we’re going there.” Applied to the broader context of contemporary women’s lives, this sentence reveals a great deal about the book’s scope. And as you read on, you might begin to wonder whether women are truly further ahead of where they were fifty, even a hundred years ago. Any woman who came of age in the ’60s or ’70s, who rode the hopeful wave of modern feminism into professions and a still largely male-dominated culture, would like to think so.
Certainly in many ways, women today lead far-different lives than their grandmothers and great-grandmothers. The social limitations of those eras were usually insurmountable, yet an intriguing comparison is made in the story named above, as three young divorcées drive out of Calgary to tour a Hutterite colony. As one of the colony residents shows them around, they note the differences in lifestyle and beliefs, then hear a startling answer when one of them boldly asks, “In this life, where’s the happiness?”
If the actions of the new generation coming of age reflect deeper truths, we would see that the wave of change which rolled ashore about thirty years ago is slipping back into the abyss, virtually unnoticed. Abdou’s stories reinforce any doubts we might have. Her ‘snapshots’ of young women are less the “irreverent vivisection of cultural myths of gender” (as described on the back cover) than they are an indication that women, no matter how they might try to play the game like men, are missing something. The term ‘equal’ may apply to the choices women make and the way in which they are able to direct their lives, but Abdou’s representations suggest that beneath the surface runs the same undertow of human dissatisfaction and disillusionment, and the same age-old disconnect between the sexes. The bombast in these vignettes, all the imitation of traditionally ‘male’ behaviour is simple posturing, a veneer that barely covers a sea of uncertainty-perhaps the true focus of the book, rather than the surface ‘girls-can-too’ chant.
The women Abdou writes about are young-ish, educated, independent girlfriends, wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, coworkers, colleagues. Yet they remain dependent on the validation they receive (or wish to receive) from men. The way in which each story peers into this dark truth is overwhelmingly ironic, disturbing, and perhaps tiresome. We sense an awareness of this through the characters, but we still feel the cumulative effects of apathy and lack of hope.
In “East/West”, the main character, known only by the tag “Weezie”, ends up with five male guests when an old university pal (who was also her lover and gave her “[n]othing but a couple of bladder infections”) shows up with four “muscle-head” buddies for the Calgary Stampede. She submits to the role of den mother, barkeep, chauffeur, and even as ‘pimp’ when they instruct her to “call some girls to come.” The title refers to the term her ex uses to describe how “weird” another woman’s breasts were because they slid apart when she was on her back. “That’s because they’re real, you knob!” a buddy scolds, while Weezie pretends this banter “touch[es] her in no way.”
She drives them, as requested, from bar to bar, till they find one with sufficient “silicone”. When she thinks one of her ‘guests’ is interested in her, he bursts the bubble by asking her to help him “work the jealousy angle” to win a petite woman’s attention, and then saying, “It must be hard for you to meet guys, eh Weezie? I mean, you’re a friggin’ giant.” Of herself, she observes, “I obediently stick to my script and do just what he expects me to do: I nod, I smile, I laugh, and I look generally enamoured with him. As soon as he begins a conversation with the blonde, I, needlessly, excuse myself to go [to] the washroom. And I leave. No one will notice.”
The gumption the book’s title leads us to expect of its characters doesn’t surface. What does become clear is that young women are blindly relinquishing societal gains and submitting themselves to humiliation, even resigning themselves to mistreatment they have the power to correct.
In the collection’s opening story, “Flannel Nightmares”, the wife of a professor reenters the workforce as a university librarian, and then takes grad students as lovers to countermand the onslaught of middle age and the stifling obligations of being a wife and mother. While she would rather sing along with songs on the radio, all youthful exuberance, or play road hockey, her ‘station’ dictates that at academic social functions, which are “a chance for the men to boast about their latest publications, to pontificate on their limitless knowledge,” the women must “look pretty and act smart, but not too smart, on the arms of their accomplished husbands.” One affair ends when she realises she’s losing control of it; her lover writes of “true love and soul mates, of infinite beauty and absolute connection, of emotional intimacy and unhindered communication, in short, of things that have no place in the world of marriage.” Most revealing of all, she understands that this letter was to her “what the lake was to Narcissus.”
These women, outwardly believing that they are defying old standards, are nevertheless caught in the same turbulence other generations have encountered-after all, the range of human emotion and experience is finite, regardless of the era. And while appearances suggest improvements in terms of finance, education, and social freedoms, the women remain encumbered by imperfect communication with men, by expectations, and by the persistence of outdated views. Individuals crave meaning from life, understanding and acceptance from partners, parents, and friends. However, women also judge each other harshly, as evidenced in “Five Ways to Make a Barren Woman Cry”, which describes the lack of empathy and compassion, even cruelty, that can and does exist between women.
In the story “Bruised Apples”, a Ph.D candidate leaves her husband for six weeks to work as an applepicker in an orchard. While there, she recalls how she baked her husband apple pie when they were first together, and how lucky he thought himself . But “Saint that Steve was,” he eventually lost patience with her uncertainty as to what she wanted to do with her life: “it’s always a melodrama with you.” Resonating with echoes of Eve in the garden, this is a woman learning to pick apples without dropping and bruising them, and discovering that she wants someone who will “pay attention!” She acknowledges that her husband is “unwilling to give, or unable to understand” . . . “‘I’ve lost faith’ is how I explained my academic leave-of-absence to curious friends and relatives. I wonder if the same could be true of my marriage.”
These views of women engaged in affairs, one-night stands, vacation dalliances, flirtations, and divorce aftermaths, of wives accepting extant double standards, of sisters and daughters trying to detach themselves from the fear they endured while with male members of their family, give us pause. As Abdou describes, whether man or woman, a person’s actions may be “a cry for help, like the noise of a rumble line indicating that someone has fallen asleep at the wheel.”
Abdou’s writing is competent. The sometimes irony-thick, sex-and-image-oriented outlook of a generation comes through loud and clear, though themes are often replayed. These may be honest stories mirroring a cliché-ridden reality, but they don’t often go deeper than the surface of the bitter mirrored self.
Still, Anything Boys Can Do is an oddly compelling read, fixing our attention like a car crash, wearing down our sense of hope for a good outcome. At best, it investigates actions and motivations-we’re all just looking for happiness, it tells us, and happiness isn’t easy to find. Feminism offered women options. These days, you bet, anything boys can do, girls can do too, but as Abdou’s stories testify it would be useful to remember that women can also do far better than that.
Ingrid Ruthig (Books in Canada)
-- Books in Canada

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October 24, 2006
Format: Paperback

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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars 1 reviews
5.0 out of 5 starsNot your average chick lit book - Anything Boys Can Do
May 27, 2008 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
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