Downtown, $12.00, ISBN 0-7434-6980-1
Contemporary Fiction, 2003
Pamela Ribon may not be a familiar name, but mention pamie and you may go “Ah”. Yes, Ms Ribon is the same pamie from pamie.com. She also writes recaps for Gilmore Girls and a few other TV shows on Television without Pity. The self-styled “Pop Culture Princess” is also a comedian, a former columnist, and is an aspiring scriptwriter. Her debut novel Why Girls Are Weird can’t go wrong, right?
Actually, yes. This book is a very familiar typical chick-lit book that never deviates from the rules etched in stone by Helen Fielding. From the whiny heroine to the contrived and self-conscious cynicism, pretty much everything here explains why it may be a hit among teenage girls enamored with the Witty Urbane Blogger Chick myth that Ms Ribon espouses. Those less willing to buy the fantasy will see it for what it is though: a calculated book that recycles some of the material found on the author’s pamie.com website. It is filled with self-conscious formulaic plot elements straight out of the How to Be the New Helen Fielding: Life after Cosmo handbook.
Anna Koval is still somewhat confused emotionally when it comes to her break-up with her boyfriend Ian. I believe she has a job – I vaguely recall the words “librarian” and “waitressing” being bandied about – but her story begins when she learns HTML and sets up a blog website where she starts writing half-fictitious, half-autobiographical entries. This earns her fans (at one point it is revealed that five thousand people visit her website a day). Fan emails start pouring in, and two stand out: one is from a stalkerish groupie named Tessa and another is a male admirer LDobler. Yes, that’s LDobler as in Lloyd Dobler, the hero in that lovely movie Say Anything. As momentous events occur in Anna’s life, she soon realizes that it is not easy to separate “Anna K”, her online persona, from the real Anna Koval.
Trying to be everything from a Sweet Valley University version of You’ve Got Mail to a PhD treatise on megalomania, Why Girls Are Weird doesn’t seem to be anything more than a glorified morality tale about how we shouldn’t reveal too much of ourselves online. Anna’s initial entries to her website is pretty funny, especially the one about Barbie doll porn and how a woman can fit in with the guys by pretending to know things about football. But soon, as Anna’s megalomaniac selfishness escalates, her blog entries become more opaque, filled with meta-references more suited to the pretentious ramblings of a teenaged girl, and I wonder just who will be bored enough to follow Anna’s self-indulgent blog entries. Anna’s real life adventures are far from charming. She’s all about herself. For her predictably gay best friend Dale’s birthday party, she decides to gift him with printed pages from her website. Lovely. I think I’m going to give my mother on her 80th birthday printouts of my own website too. Watch me get my name struck off from the will.
Readers more familiar with the author’s pamie persona may have a few moments of entertainment trying to figure out how much of Anna is the author, I guess, but even so, doesn’t that feel like just another calculated “Me, me, me!” gimmick?
In the end, Anna attracts the attention of a newspaper editor, gets a new job, and then, having done her Bridget Jones whine and cheese party, announces to her fans and all that she is retiring her website for good because lo, she has learned her lesson, she’s a better person now, and oh, now that she has her fans hooked on her website, everybody go read her column in that newspaper now! Excuse me if I’m more in the mood to ask Anna here to go fly kites on a short pier.
The saving grace of this utterly predictable tale is that the author does hit hard in a few major scenes. The scene where Anna hides behind a stack of peas at the food section when she sees her ex and his new girlfriend works very well – it captures that moment and a woman’s confused feelings in that situation perfectly. Anna’s relationship with her father and her sisters are not developed well enough, but I find that there is a realistic bittersweet quality in the way the author portrays Anna’s family. The few good moments in this book convinces me that the author knows how to capture the female perspective very well.
Why Girls Are Weird has a few scenes that are good, but all in all, I’d say this book is best recommended for fans of Ms Ribon’s pamie persona. Anyone else, well, let’s just wait and see how the next book will be.