Narrative Intimacy in Contemporary American Fiction for Adolescent Women

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2011-10-21

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This dissertation offers the term ?narrative intimacy? to refer to an implicit relationship between narrator and reader that depends upon disclosure and trust. By examining contemporary American fiction for adolescent women by critically- and commercially-successful authors such as Sarah Dessen, Stephenie Meyer, and Laurie Halse Anderson, I explore the use of narrative intimacy as a means of reflecting and reinforcing larger, often contradictory, cultural expectations regarding adolescent women, interpersonal relationships, and intimacy. Specifically, I investigate the possibility that adolescent women narrators construct understandings of the adolescent woman reader as a friend, partner in desire, or ?bibliotherapist,? which in turn allow the narrator to understand the reader as a safe and appropriate location for disclosure. At the same time, the novels I discuss offer frequent warnings against the sort of unfettered disclosure the narrators perform in their relationships with the reader: friendships are marked as potential sites of betrayal and rejection, while romantic relationships are presented as inherently threatening to physical and emotional health. In order to interrogate the construction of narrative intimacy, I rely upon a tradition of narrative and reception theory concerning the roles of narrator and reader. I also turn to other cultural representations of adolescent women and their relationships, from films, television, and magazines to the self-help and nonfiction literature that provides insight into current psychological, sociological, and anthropological understandings of adolescent womanhood. Ultimately, I argue, the prevalence of narrative intimacy in fiction for adolescent women reflects a complex system that encourages adolescent women to seek intimate interpersonal relationships even as it discourages the type and degree of disclosure that is ostensibly required in the development of intimacy. The narrator thus turns to the reader because the ?logical gap??to borrow a term from Peter Lamarque?between fiction and reality allows for a construction of the reader as a recipient of disclosure who cannot respond with the threats of criticism, judgment, or rejection that may be presented by other characters within the text. The reader, in turn, may come to depend upon narrative intimacy as a space through which to vicariously explore her own understanding of intimacy.

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