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Among Cris Mazza's many honors—starting with a 1984 PEN/Nelson Algren Award for her first novel, How to Leave a Country—is the dubious distinction of coining the term "chick-lit." She and Jeffrey DeShell invented it for their 1995 anthology, Chick-Lit: Post-Feminist Fiction. A literary innovator and excavator of complex emotional terrain, Mazza later lamented that her tongue-in-cheek hyphenate came to be associated with hot-pink book jackets featuring high heels and martinis. In her new novel, Various Men Who Knew Us as Girls (Emergency Press), Mazza uses the ponderous ramblings of "Hester Smith" (a pseudonym used, we're told, because "this is a true story") to explore difficult questions about the sexual agency of girls, the hypocrisy of moral indignation, and the ways men manipulate women. When Smith's discovery of a sex-trafficking ring coincides with a revelation from her past, parallel narratives are born: one about a plan to free an enslaved girl, the other concerning the ambiguous relationship Smith had with a mentor 30 years earlier. Throughout a narrative that includes letters, journal entries, and breakout quotes, Smith begs us to forgive her self-centered ruminations, particularly in light of the real horrors faced by victims of sex trafficking. It's a mantra of the book that each of us is the center of her own universe—but where most of what's currently called chick-lit would treat that insight as justification, here it's an indictment. Mazza reads at a Series A event, with local novelist Davis Schneiderman. a Wed 3/2, 7 PM, Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S. Cornell, series-a.org. F —Kathie Bergquist

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