Blogsam and Jetsam

Flotsam is the part of the wreckage of a ship or its cargo found floating on the water. Jetsam is cargo or parts of a ship that are deliberately thrown overboard, as to lighten the ship in an emergency, and that subsequently either sinks or is washed ashore. This is my personal blog version of the above. Loot freely.

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Location: The Hinterlands, Upstate NY

I'm annoyed that the world is going crazier faster than it used to be. But it's interesting to watch.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Another Book Review

Over the snowy weekend I finished The Red Tent. It didn’t suck quite as much as I thought it would.

Yeah, I know, that requires explanation.

Back when the book first came out, I heard some of the hype and thought "A ‘red tent’ because of menstruation?!? Ya gotta be kidding me. Oh and it’s religious too? Eegads." I put it squarely on the "not my thing" list but did notice it getting carried through the hospital cafeteria and waiting rooms. I’m older and more mellow now so I thought I’d give it a try.

I’m not religious or scholarly enough to comment on the Biblical accuracy of the story. I quit reading the Bible in any regular way after confirmation class and have picked it up only rarely since then, usually to look up the words of the Magnificat. I can paint the story of Jacob and Esau with only the broadest of brushstrokes and wouldn’t have a clue what happened after the big trickery in any case.

So I treated the book as a fairy tale.

It was the epitome of chick fairy tale. The author had a good voice and kept things moving along but like all fairy tales it required a certain suspension of belief which was...difficult:

Voice of Reason: You mean they dyed an entire TENT red?! Where did they get that much dye, how did they get the goatshair to take it and why waste the resources?

Storyteller: Shut up. They’re goddess worshippers. They dyed the tent in homage to their goddess. Consider it a temple equivalent.

The beginning of the book was a lovely word-painting of ancient times reminiscent of Clan of the Cave Bear or the Mary Stewart Arthurian series and blissfully didn’t dwell on the menstrual details. The characters were well-sketched and classic family conflicts were established.

Politics ensued.

I fell into the story, although the Voice returned now and then:

Voice of Reason: The womenfolk all take three DAYS off each month? Who’s doing the work of the tribe in the interim? What are they doing on Day 4 when they haven’t stopped yet?

Storyteller: Shut up. Wouldn’t you like to have an automatic vacation during Days 1-3 each month? Wouldn’t you like a little acknowledgement for the crap you do all day every day? Wouldn’t that be just great?

V of R: Yeah it totally would but my time is the full moon. They’d probably stone me. So what DO they do about the women not in synch? Or about the ones who bleed longer? And did you read that "feet not touch the GROUND" part?!?!

Storyteller: Shut up and read the book.

So I read the book. It was pleasant and escapist and ancient midwifery was brought in early which is always a bonus for me. Jacob was established as Jewish but tolerant of the pre-existing local deities and things moved along nicely. I thought making Rebecca a Crone was an interesting variant and that having Our Heroine stay with her was a decent, if predictable, plot turn.

After that the plot and I started parting company. It started with Rebecca’s prediction that the whole concept behind the Red Tent would die with her. I wondered "then what’s the point?" but was fond enough of the characters to press on.

It wasn’t the menarche; that was fine. If I was supposed to be shocked I wasn’t; if I was supposed to be awed I wasn’t that either.

It was what came after, which was Jacob smashing the household gods of his beloved favorite wife. Not only could the Voice of Reason not explain but the Storyteller couldn’t either since the "petty theft" aspect on which that particular plot device hung seemed thin.

It was downhill from there.

In classic fairy-tale fashion, Our Heroine was summoned to The Castle where she fell in love (and had sex) with A Prince. Even better, The Prince came to rescue Our Heroine and make an Honest Woman of her through marriage. Great, right? Daughter of a successful shepherd attracts the hand of royalty; what’s not to like?

He isn’t circumcised, that’s what’s not to like. In a burst of amazing audacity Jacob insists that not just The Prince but ALL men of his house be circumcised before handing over his daughter in marriage.

Well now that’s just dumb. There’s a huge dairy farming operation on the next road over and I’m sure they aren’t trying to tell the Mayor how to govern, much less how to wear his personal parts although it would make for amusing editorials if they did. So I started getting turned off right then.

But wait! It gets better!

The Prince is SO in love with Our Heroine that he manages to get the family talked into the crazy scheme. Did you ever?!?

So fine, after a few days of pain and anguish they all lived happily ever after, right?

Wrong. Older Brothers steal into the palace at night and kill The Prince in Our Heroine’s arms.

The "why" was never adequately explained. Oh sure there was some talk of their constant dissatisfaction and feeling cheated by life, but not enough to motivate the highly stupid and suicidal act of storming the damned castle and killing the heir apparent in his sleep.

That’s just bad writing.

If it really IS Biblically accurate then no wonder so many have lost the faith. [editorial note: No wonder indeed--read.]

Our Heroine was furious to lose her True Love, scorned her birth family and went to live with the in-laws.

Of course she was pregnant; can’t lose that plot device. She seemed surprised that Mother-in-Law would claim the baby as her own which I thought was hopelessly naïve but by then I’d pretty much lost interest. I pressed on to see if the writing would pick up again but it never did.

The story suffered badly from "second half syndrome" which is when th the writing and the pacing fall off dramatically after some big plot turn. Dinah went to Egypt, worked as a midwife, met someone else and eventually paired off with him but not before a couple of fairly predictable setbacks. She lived, she died. Ho-hum. The shoulder dystocia was the most interesting part.

Marion Zimmer Bradley did it earlier and better with The Mists of Avalon.

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