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SUNDAY BRUNCH | OUT AND ABOUT

'Dear Diary: Why Do My Critics Hate Me?'

July 12, 1998|Irene Lacher

You think your life is a stressfest? Try being a media icon.

OK, so 98% of you already are. Have you ever noticed how much nuttier the press whirl gets when you cross an ocean?

To come to the U.S., that is. Bridget Jones, that single, diary-writing girl who's been surfing the British bestseller list for a year, was warned about us stiff-upper-lipped Americans.

"You are entering a shark tank, where the too-white smiles of your American sisters are a prelude to engulfment," Christopher Hitchens wrote to her in the London Evening Standard in March. "Your humor will become an accessory to their humorlessness."

At the moment, we are trying to wrap our extremely white teeth and stiff upper lip around a tasty chunk of salmon--they are out of shark--at the Beverly Hills hotel, where Helen Fielding, the actual author of "Bridget Jones's Diary" (Viking), is holed up turning the book into a screenplay for Working Title Films ("Four Weddings and a Funeral").

The feministas of Hitchens' prediction already have had their way with her. Time magazine and the New York Times have slapped Bridget's manicured hand for being single in a way that's so, well, annoying--so annoying, they say, that she verges on the ultimate in icky single-girlhood: Ally McBealness.

"Frazzled, self-absorbed," harrumphed Time in a recent cover story that inquired, "Is Feminism Dead?"

"Such a sorry spectacle, wallowing in her man-crazed helplessness, that her foolishness cannot be excused," hissed one of her many critics at the New York Times.

Help is on the way. OK, not that Helen and Bridget need it. Helen is completely unruffled by being compared unfavorably to authors of feminist classics.

"That's not a good parallel," she says sweetly. "It would be better to compare it with 'Bewitched'--a sitcom--or 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.' It's parody. It's not analyzing in a self-conscious way the state of womanhood. I don't think if you're writing fiction you should be prescribing. You should be reflecting."

As for the footloose Bridget, she's already cruising bestseller lists across the country-- the "Diary" has been enjoying the view from the top of the Los Angeles Times' fiction list for a month.

Nonetheless, we American feministas are, as Hitchens put it, "solution-obsessed." So in the spirit of sisterhood, allow us to offer help that's unsolicited.

Solution No. 1: It's absolutely true that it's not acceptable to be frazzled and self-absorbed if you're a single girl. Make Bridget a studio exec.

Solution No. 2: Remove the source of Bridget's frazzlement: man-crazed helplessness.

For research purposes, we had another lunch, this one with our worst nightmare. (Of course, for Bridget, lunch is her worst nightmare. She is, as duly noted, unfeministically obsessed with weight. Of course, if she moved to Los Angeles, she'd probably be above that, much like just about every human we know here.)

Smith and Doe aren't really our worst nightmare. They're just the bearers of bad tidings, which, as luck would have it, they've packaged for your buying convenience as "What Men Don't Want Women to Know" (St. Martin's Press).

Smith and Doe are a frazzled and self-absorbed film exec and producer who decline to reveal their true identities, citing fear of retaliation. Ergo, they wear disguises. Ergo, they're stuck at Amadeus, having to slurp down their sauteed fillet of beef with oxtail shallot reduction and foie gras under Groucho Marx noses. You must suffer for beauty.

"We're into promoting relationships," Doe says between slurps. "The problem is the average marriage in America lasts four years."

Could it be because women have to marry men?

"That's one of the main reasons, yes."

In essence, their book about men says boys will be boys. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to calculate your man's net worth; get his answering machine code and check his messages; and keep him from attending bachelor parties by removing his limbs and tying his torso to his bed. In short, you must train him.

"Men want to be kept in line," says Smith.

Which brings us to Bridget. Bridget does not keep her man in line. She finds him on the roof of his apartment with a naked American woman, a state of affair that is likely to induce frazzlement.

The Smith and Doe solution? Trick him into confessing.

Option No. 1: "Come home one day with an anguished look on your face, holding a Manila photo envelope in your hand. When he asks what's wrong, remain grim. Do not smile. Tell him you need to talk."

Option No. 2: "When you've been away from him for any period of time and then return to his home, go to the phone he uses most often. Hit the redial button and eventually you'll hit pay dirt: A young, attractive female voice will answer the phone. To take this to the next level, say, 'Hello, I have Mr.-- calling. Please hold.' Then hand him the phone and tell him it's for him. And watch the fireworks."

*

Off the Beaten Path: What's the price of success?

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