“I liked that I could do something that scared other people,” she recalls finding her voice. “I liked discovering that I — often having to ask those teachers to repeat my answer multiple times, my voice was so quiet — could fill a room with sound.”
There are plenty of stories these days about what it’s like to be a woman observed by the “masculine gaze.” It’s an expression Anna and her friends would no doubt use, if the sometimes heavy-handed dialogue about tampons as “capitalist” or Latin as the “language of patriarchy” is any indication. (Anna’s roommate is writing a book that she describes as a “feminist deconstruction of the relationship between men and women in the Internet age.”)
But Anna is not just an object of that gaze; she begins to mold herself into it – begins to see herself, to interpret, to appreciate herself, by how she sees how Max perceives her.
“If I saw myself naked in the mirror, I would try to see it the way he would,” she says.
“I felt like he was studying me too closely and estimating my worth, as if I were a piece of jewelry he was considering buying.”
“I craved his look, and when I wasn’t with him, I missed it.”
In some of these moments, “A Very Nice Girl” is an all-too-real reminder of what it’s like to be a woman in your twenties, looking for who you are, trying out identities, or being stuck in a complicated pseudo- relationship, even when you know you shouldn’t be. It is a book about judging your worth through the eyes of other people – parents, friends, a lover – and about being observed: by an overprotective mother, by men on the TV, by those judging her auditions, by classmates vying for her spot, and ultimately by the public. And yet, for the strength of Crimp’s writing, it might have benefited from a less predictable plot. Vulnerable young woman alone in a new town, seduced by an older, wealthier man who turns out to be a bit of a jerk… readers may be disappointed to find there’s no real twist here – unless, of course, you count Anna the man around himself getting back.