Janet Evanovich’s mystery novels featuring semi-hapless bounty hunter Stephanie Plum are sort of like my junk food. I know they’re fluffy and silly, but whenever a new one comes out, I have to read it, if only from the library. Stephanie is the kind of character that some will point to as a strong female character, while some won’t. I think there are arguments either way, even though I come down on the side of Stephanie-as-good-female-character.
For one thing, she is undeniably herself. What I mean by this is that I am always running across problematic female characters who don’t really have defining characteristics. “Duh, she’s a female detective in a field dominated by men,” is probably what the author would say. And my reply would be, yes, that’s great, but who is she? Can the reader make an imaginary list of what movies she would like? What are her likes and dislikes? Can we predict how she’d react in a certain situation? For me this is what differentiates a strong female character from a weak one. “Strength” doesn’t refer to the character here; it refers to the characterization. It’s amazing how often you run across female characters who are defined by their being “the girl.” What do you mean, who is she? Hello! She’s the girl! Didn’t I say that already?
But we know Stephanie has a weakness for junk food, and is too stubborn to admit when she’s in over her head. We know her family drives her up the wall, but her grandmother is still one of her best friends. We know she’s not academically gifted, and in fact sort of flaky. She has a family that features in the books, and several female friends. She has romances with two different men, but they sort of pop in and out of the books rather than define the story.
I really admired that about the first book, actually. While she does have sex with him, she never definitively gets with Morelli, the cop boyfriend. Their relationship is left ambiguous. It was different from the usual “we solved the mystery AND we ended up together, THE END!” After several books they’re engaged. Then they’re not. The “sort of boyfriend” is a rare character that I like to see. It’s a bit more like real life, where relationships aren’t tied up neatly with the heroine and the hero together at the end. And we certainly get enough “sort of girlfriends” in serial literature, so some equality is nice. And I like how Evanovich doesn’t let the Ranger-Stephanie-Morelli love triangle devolve into love triangle lameness. There’s not a huge dramatic fight over her. There’s not an “Oh my God, I must choose!” moment, although I guess there might be at the ultimate end of the series. But I hope not. I would love to have the whole thing end ambiguously. I would be immensely tickled by this.
But I think other fans would be less pleased. Too bad.