Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Sherri Teppers Singer From the Sea

You know, I worry about Sherri S. Tepper. I began reading her books in the 80s, and I loved them--loved their original and fiesty themes, loved the way that the women weren't weaklings, loved the tough but graceful prose that was rather like that of macho dirtbag Hemingway on a good day (Hey, I can like some of his prose while detesting him as a person, okay?). Then I noticed, in the 90s, that Teppers themes were getting a bit, well, nasty. There was less charm to her characters, less realism, and more bloodshed, more hatred, more absolutes. Then I read "The Family Tree" and nearly wept. It was AWFUL. The kind of book that has no redeeming value at all, just miles of vitriol and lots of characters, in this case animals that are anthropomorphized to a ridiculous extent, that don't even seem close to reality, and are therefore not very interesting or fun or enlightening to read about. The whole theme of the book was that mankind has been so evil to all those poor critters out there for so long that we deserve to make a giant leap backward in the food chain and become beasts of burden and food for critters. Yeah, I know...stupid theme. It's like the whole "Soilent Green is PEOPLE" wail from Charlton Heston. I mean George Orwells Animal Farm was meant as social commentary on the hierarchy of humankind, but not as a real treatise on the treatment of animals. Animals have small, often tiny brains. They don't live long lives, they don't invent or create anything but food products, and their main purpose is to create sustinence for humans. There is a reason that we are high on the food chain...we have opposible thumbs and minds that are capable of much more than animals. I think people who ascribe all sorts of sophisticated feelings, moods, thoughts to a dumb animal, like a chicken or a cow or a pig are just NUTS. They're generally the kind of people who have never set foot on a farm, too. I grew up spending serious time on both a beef and a dairy farm, and I know that although they appear sweet, the farm animals really are just stupid creatures with little to offer humanity but their bodies as food. I swore after I read Family Tree that I would NEVER pick up another Tepper novel. Then I happened upon a copy of Singer From the Sea. And I foolishly thought that Tepper deserved a second chance. Unfortunately, this time, she's taken the idea of a good book like "Gate to Womens Country" and turned it into a screaming treatise on the horrors women would face in a culture set up to be similar to that of the Iraqi or Saudi people, but on another world. Especially if a plant was discovered that, when fed with lactating women's blood (all of it) becomes a cure for old age. But of course, this wonder drug is only given to men in power. Old, evil men...because we all know that men are the root of all evil. There are so few men that are anything but base, vile, cruel people who would kill thousands of women, their own daughters, their mothers, whomever, to live for 300 years. Sigh. This makes me want to roll my eyes, because its "so 30 years ago" as the teenagers say. Tarring all of mankind with the same brush is just ridiculous, and too harsh, but it would seem that Tepper can't see beyond her rage at patriarchal society and men in general. There is one good man in the book, but he gets pretty beat up, and he is portrayed as weak in terms of values and compassion. Genevieve, the main character, is, of course, brilliant, beautiful and, by the end of the book, able to swim and communicate with the all fish and critters in the sea. So of course, she ends up able to destroy the longevity plant and save the world, all while being a good mom, too. Its so pat it's almost insulting. Women are god-like, men are lucifer incarnate. Why does Tepper persist in this slavery to a black and white ethos? I wish I knew. But I find myself feeling insulted at the end of her books, so now I am really going to swear off them, forever.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Psst! The Secret History of the Pink Carnation is a Funny bit of Fluff

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig is a surprisingly goofy, funny historical romance that takes todays conventions and injects them into characters from 200 years ago. Willig, according to the dust jacket, is a Yale grad who is getting her PhD in History from Harvard, as well as a law degree. So she's obviously not a dolt. Why she'd choose to write romance fiction that has been tarted up with history is beyond me. I can only think she is trying to cash in on the chic lit craze and popularize the history of spies and espionage for women. Perhaps that is the only kind of fiction that she could sell for enough to help pay off her student loans. Who knows? Her cover art is wonderfully arch and her female characters way too liberated and modern-sounding, but altogether, it makes credible chick lit. That said, I liked the book, which has verve and some very funny moments, despite the gullible and ridiculously naive heroine, Amy, who would have been dead several times over in real life. The male characters shine, of course (romance novels always have heroic manly men) and the evil-doers are dastardly and fanatical, with limp hair, evil leers and plenty of vitriol ready to spew at our hero Lord Richard Selwick, the Purple Gentian, when he's inevitably caught. I was rather surprised that the author gave the heroine such a whimpy, boring name when she had a whole raft of lovely French and English names to choose from. The French in particular have lovely female names, and I can't imagine the author putting any real thought into choosing such a dull little piss-pot of a name for a fiery character...Amy. Yawn. Not a lot of heroic Amys out there, when you think about it. But I suppose that Eloise, the modern-day character, makes up for it with her dairy-cow name (Eloise was the Borden Dairy mascot cow in Iowa for years). Eloise, too, acts stupid around men, and is somehow determined to develop a romance with the aristocracy, which hardly seems plausible, especially for an American grad student in London. Her part of the story seemed much more realistic than the 1803 part, however, so I was glad to see that the author didn't have the two plots mimic one another right up to the end. I feared that Eloise would fall into bed with Colin Selwick and all would be forgiven in a deliriously cliche-ridden love scene. Thankfully, it didn't happen. The book ended with the feeling that the second Pink Carnation book isn't far behind. I might pick up a copy, if I can get it from a bargain bin for under $5, but I won't pay full price for it. All in all, the prose was in need of a bit of a trim here and there, especially when detailing the heroines thoughts, and the plot slowed down a couple of times, but other than that it moved at a nice pace, and the modern characters did nothing too jarring. The 19th century characters were way too modern in their dealings with what women were and were not allowed to do, and the treatment of women in society. The men were also a bit too lienient for the times, in my opinion. This was still a good read and a fun distraction for a day, and well worth a look at the second in the series when it comes out.