Genre: Nonfiction, Cultural Studies, Women’s Studies
Image via: Amazon
When you think of the word “trainwreck,” who comes to mind? Amy Winehouse? Lindsay Lohan? Britney Spears? A woman, right? A famous one who had some noteworthy fall from grace, which the paparazzi and media outlets graciously shared with the world? That’s the premise of Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear…and Why in a nutshell—we all know and recognize these women (because, according to Doyle’s logic, and I agree, the “trainwreck” is almost always female) and what the “trainwreck” label implies. We treat them as examples of where women can go wrong, as road-maps for how other women can avoid similar damning missteps.
And so, Doyle takes us on a journey from Charlotte Brontë and Mary Wollstonecraft to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. And it’s both informative and fascinating. I had no idea that Charlotte Brontë, for instance, obsessively wrote letters for her former employer, and I knew very little of Billie Holiday’s backstory. I even learned new information about Britney Spears—whom I watched skyrocket into global stardom and later, into a laughingstock, over the course of my adolescence. Doyle writes compellingly, weaving “case studies” into larger conversations about how we view women on a broader scale.
I must admit that the book does get repetitive at times, especially when Doyle essentially makes the same point ~10 different times over the course of a chapter. You can tell she’s well-educated and well-spoken, but she’s essentially trying to rephrase cultural studies theories so that even people who exclusively read gossip mags will still appreciate her argument. And speaking of that argument, it’s deceptively complex and therefore hard to follow at times. This is especially true when she compares people like Mary Wollstonecraft and Paris Hilton. True, they’re both flawed women who were attacked for their sexuality (whether the accusations were true is irrelevant), but are they really comparable?
I’m sensing that my hesitation to fully accept her comparisons demonstrates the book’s larger point: we are all women, all flawed, all “trainwrecks” as a result, and we really only judge people like Britney and Whitney because society tells us to, and probably because we can’t help but engage in a bit of schadenfreude. Maybe, then, my inability to fully appreciate her choice to find common ground between such famous figures demonstrates my inability to remove myself from this mode of thinking. At the very least, the book has forced me to pause when somebody mentions an actress and I find myself thinking, “Ugh, I don’t like her” without any logical explanation to justify my reaction. It’s a start.
So, I stand by the “lit” verdict, despite feeling like somebody else could have done a better job of writing this book. At the very least, if you read it, you’re pretty much guaranteed to learn something, and sometimes, that’s exactly what you need.