We’ve come together (meaning Circuit B and I) to discuss our outrage against the outrages against intellect. And what better way to start with credibility than by doing what internet users do best –complaining about something petty!
To be fair, I do have a reason for my dislike of this book-titling trend. It’s a combination of years as a librarian and my own interest in the publishing industry. When putting books away for hours on end, it’s easy to notice trends. These trends signify marketing choices that, in turn, say something about the industry and the consumer-public. What are the current tastes? How do they relate to the product?
That being said, “The X’s Daughter” Phenomenon:
Do you want to identify middling literary novels? Just look for titles that say the following: “The Such-and-such-professional-title’s Daughter”. Don’t believe me?
The Gravedigger’s Daughter, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, The Heretic’s Daughter, The Abortionist’s Daughter, Galileo’s Daughter, The Spice Merchant’s Daughter, The Hangman’s Daughter, The Apothecary’s Daughter, The Bonesetter’s Daughter, The Glass Painter’s Daughter…
There are more. Granted, this isn’t 100% foolproof. Some of these I haven’t read and may in fact be excellent novels. But, most seem to be of the middle-brow, book club variety, the kind that spring up and spend a moment in the spotlight, before being easily replaced with something exactly the same.
I don’t know how to explain this phenomenon. What purpose does this serve? What’s strange is that you don’t see this with sons in nearly the numbers. In fact, I can’t really think of anything besides Son of the Witch. Are the books trying to express that these characters are the identified only as the offspring of their professional parent, and as such have an identity crisis?
Actually, none of these seem to be about that subject. It sort of begs the question as to why the titles aren’t, I don’t know, more focused on who these daughters actually are. Are the books really about the daughters? Or, are they books about the having of a daughter whilst simultaneously working in the above profession? ( I know, Galileo’s Daughter isn’t quite the same, but it still follows the general pattern.)
And, why does this seem to happen in books that are trying to be literary? Is it just literary to identify characters as the offspring of their professional parents, rather than as real characters? Is that supposedly highbrow? Does it sell? What’s the rationale behind this trend?
It seems as if a lot of these stories imply that the daughters are all caught up in the identity of their parents, but isn’t that a little… boring? I mean, sure, having an abortionist for a parent would probably lead to many emotional issues. Having a “memory keeper” for a parent would be puzzling (considering I have no idea what that is, although I assume it’s about scrapbooking hoarders with delusions of grandeur). But, if your character’s interest is totally contingent on the fact that her parents are interesting or unnerving, then why isn’t the book about the freaking parents? Yes, I know, seeing an alternative perspective can be refreshing. For example, The Time Traveler’s Wife takes the time travel subgenre of science fiction and focuses on those left behind, and how the events might affect them. That can be interesting. But, this should not be their defining characterization!
What if I went around describing myself in this way? “Hello, I am the offspring of an economics major and a psychology major.” Not to downplay my family, but that’s not the totality of my existence. I’d like to think there’s more to me. I’d like to think I’m an adult person. I’d like to read about characters who are more than their parents’ offspring. Because, for all I know, The Bonesetter’s Daughter is a couch potato and The Memory Keeper’s Daughter just sits around and plays WoW all day long.
These titles tell me nothing about what I might see in the book, but, even worse, they don’t intrigue me. They don’t make me wonder. They make me ask questions, but these are questions of confusion and frustration. Why, I have to ask, is this trope so popular? Why? My immediate thought is that the stories should probably be about the parents, and I usually suspect that the actual story is going to be fairly uninteresting. Is this just a ploy to sell uninteresting stories?
Here, try this: The Daughter of an Astronaut, Who Lived a Boring Life, Watched Talk Shows All Day, Gained a Lot of Weight, Lost It, and Is Generally Quite Vapid. Whoop-de-doo. Now that’s an accurate title, but not a sellable one. However, let’s see what happens when we re-title it:
The Space Traveler’s Daughter. Why you can almost hear the epic blast of fanfare…
Later, you realize you bought a book that really has nothing to do with space travel, but what does the publisher care? You just spent twenty bucks.