Eyes on You by Kate White
It’s embarrassing that I chose to follow Light in August with Eyes on You by Kate White, but that’s the way it happened. What do you even read after that? It’s a book I couldn’t even do justice to part of, a book so complex you could spend years thinking and talking about it. And yet…I had to move on. So I chose a book recommended by Id8, the e-book service I use through my public library.
Eyes on You tells the story of Robin, the co-anchor of a television show called Pulse, which appears to be an entertainment/news type show. Her co-anchor, Carter something, is a hottie. But someone is scaring Robin in a way that calls up a past she’d rather forget!
Seriously. I mean, Robin is fine. She seems nice, if a little dim. She works hard, and she wants to be good at what she does. This is a book populated by women, written for women, and it passes the Bechdel test on its most basic level. But I think the book suffers from and even perpetuates the mistaken perception that, in a professional (or even personal) setting, women cannot rely on one another — ever.
Robin is surrounded by the following women:
- Maddy, her second cousin and intern. Maddy seems to have no purpose except to screw up and get yelled at by Robin.
- Charlotte, a producer on the show. Charlotte continually dresses inappropriately and her segments always fall apart. She is portrayed as an idiot who blames others for her own failures.
- Stacy, a makeup artist. Stacy unwittingly spreads tetrachloride acid all over Robin’s face. She is otherwise unremarkable.
- Vicki, another anchor at the network. She apparently has sent former co-workers Barbie dolls with their eyes gouged out and is portrayed as an un-nuanced Cruella De Vil-type character.
- Ann, a PR person for the network, who lets Robin down when she needs her the most.
- Bettina, a socialite whom Robin uses for her house and otherwise dislikes.
- Janice, Robin’s stepmother, who was emotionally abusive.
There is not a single positive female relationship in this work. Vicki and Robin have a conversation (screaming match) about guests on their shows; Robin and Maddy talk about family issues: Robin and Ann have a few conversations, none of which are about men (except their final one). So, Bechdel test.
But in this world, apparently men are the only sane, rational creatures. You can rely on men, this book seems to say — except Robin’s dad, I guess, though really he gets off easy. Women scream at you, manipulate you, try to cut your legs out from under you and destroy you. Women destroy the things you love, put cockroaches in your coffee, and reveal all of your most personal secrets. They will try to destroy your skin and poison you with tranquilizers.
Men, on the other hand, are significantly less complicated. They, apparently, will take you to nice dinners and tell you you are beautiful; they will obligingly bend you over a kitchen table if you would like to have sex to forget your horrible day. They will turn out to be excellent cooks with secret law degrees who somehow, despite being a producer working 80-hour weeks at a television show, find time to volunteer at the DA’s office and drive out to the Hamptons to see if you’re doing okay.
All of that is well and good. Who doesn’t want a man who does that? But as a reader with a Popular Literature degree, I have to look at this book as a manifestation of women’s anxieties about other women in the workplace. Is this how we look at other women, as obstacles to overcome, or villainesses whose downfalls we applaud?
I agree that women often can feel…maybe not more comfortable working with men, but less competitive with men in the workplace. Depending on the dynamic, it can be easier to ask men for help rather than to look weak in front of a competitive female colleague. Robin’s turning to Carter and, later, a male producer, for help is not unbelievable, but it does smack of her being a damsel in distress who needs to be saved from an evil stepmother and a wicked witch.
In other news, it later turns out that Robin is essentially being stalked and punished as the result of a casual sexual affair. I mean, this happens (apparently, though to no one I know), but again — the message here is that no one should trust women, and that if you have sex, other women will stalk and kill you. You could die because you had sex. Really?
As a reader, I want this book to be better than that. It follows a formula, sure, and the ending is exactly as you’d expect. But surely if we’re not going for strict realism here — and it appears that we’re not — one might set one’s sights a little higher and hope for positive female relationships.
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