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.

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