Women v. Religion by Karen L. Garst, Ph.D.

UnknownWomen v. Religion: The Case Against Faith – and For Freedom

edited by Karen L. Garst, Ph.D.

I recently had a conversation with an acquaintance that left me astounded, angry and disturbed.  I knew this acquaintance is a pretty serious Christian, and she knew that I am atheist – but even so, the conversation was not something I saw coming.  It began with, “Did you hear about so-and-so who has worked at the high school being arrested for having a sexual relationship with a student?” and led to her expressing her belief that the existence of porn is to blame because it perverts people, which led to her sharing various other strongly held beliefs, such as the fact that men are genetically designed to be the providers (“So there’s a provider gene, then?” I asked), that the pay gap between men and women is a myth cooked up by liberals, that homosexuality and transgenderism are mental illnesses that we should be helping to cure instead of encouraging and enabling, that women do not belong in combat (she herself was in the Navy), nor do they belong in high-level positions in the workforce because they’re just going to go have babies anyway (as God intended), that without God there is no morality (“But look at me!  I don’t have god and I’m extremely moral and ethical!” I said), and the list went on.  I asked her what the basis is for all of this “knowledge” she claims.  She cited some ancient text of stories passed down orally by illiterate shepherds a few thousand years ago.  You know, the Bible.

What pissed me off about what she expressed to me – besides the utter ignorant prejudice – was how her views, which are undoubtedly held by many, many people, hurt women and girls.  It’s not a simple matter of different people hold different beliefs and to each her own – these are the beliefs that drive the public policies that continue to harm and oppress women.  These are the people whose willfully ignorant, self-righteous views will continue to harm my daughters – and their own daughters.

This stands out as a perfect example of how bad religion is for women.

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Karen Garst’s Women v. Religion: The Case Against Faith – and For Freedom is an excellent follow-up to her Women Beyond Belief.  Like Women Beyond Belief, Women v. Religion is a collection of essays by women from various religious backgrounds, from all walks of life, but it goes beyond just sharing personal experiences of leaving religion and delves deeply into the whys and hows of the harm religion and religious faith do to women and girls, mainly by perpetuating the notion that males are preordained by God to be dominant over females.  I read Women v. Religion with highlighter in hand, and when I was done, half the book was pink.  I certainly didn’t need convincing, though.  The fact is, religious faith and real feminism cannot peacefully coexist.

Garst’s books should be required reading for anyone who cares about women, and certainly for anyone raising daughters.

The Dry by Jane Harper

UnknownThe Dry

by Jane Harper

One of the latest in the current slew of thriller/who-done-its, The Dry opens with a grisly scene told from the perspective of a swarm of blowflies feasting on a freshly murdered family on a farm in Australia.  It appears to be a murder-suicide carried about by longtime resident of the small town of Kiewarra, Luke Hadler.  His wife and 6-year-old son are found brutally shot to death in their home, and Luke himself is found shot to death in the head, gun in hand, in the bed of his pickup truck.  Only the Hadlers’ baby daughter was spared, and she’s too young to provide an account of what happened.Luke’s boyhood best friend, Aaron Falk, now a federal agent

Luke’s boyhood best friend, Aaron Falk, now a federal agent living and working in Melbourne, is summoned to the funeral by Luke Hadler’s father.  Aaron has been gone from Kiewarra for twenty years, having fled town with his own father in the wake of another death which cast suspicion on Aaron and Luke.  Now Falk is brought face to face with old secrets and the mistrust of the town in which he grew up.  When Luke’s parents beg him to look into their son’s family’s deaths which is so easily being written off as a murder-suicide by the town, strange revelations begin coming to light, and suddenly nothing seems clear-cut.

Set against the backdrop of a severe drought which is causing the ruination of the farming community of Kiewarra, it’s a tinderbox of the literal variety, as well as the figurative.

I enjoyed this novel for what it was: a fast-paced, cleverly constructed story that keeps you guessing.  It’s an impressive debut, though I’ve certainly read better thrillers.  A little on the forgettable side, but engaging enough to keep you turning pages.

Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser

91vThlwB-sLPrairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder

by Caroline Fraser

I was first introduced to the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder when I was in grade school, and the books immediately became my favorite books, dearly loved.  I read the series over and over (and still have that original boxed set I got when I was eight years old), and like many girls at that time, dreamed of being Laura Ingalls.  I had intricate fantasies of growing up and leaving civilization and escaping to the frontier (believing it still existed), wearing old-fashioned long skirts, and living blissfully in a log cabin on the prairie.  I would change my identity and be Laura Ingalls.  That was my idea, at my tender, naive age, of the perfect, happy life.  IMG_2089

Laura Ingalls Wilder the author was conflated in my mind for many years with the Laura of the Little House books, and so the author became a hero to me not only for being an author (because most authors were always heroes to me) but for having lived this wonderful pioneer-girl life.  It wasn’t until many, many years later – well into adulthood – that I began to discover that although the real Laura Ingalls’s life had provided the framework for those Little House books, the stories in the books were embellished and fictionalized.

Still, Laura Ingalls Wilder has remained larger than life to me.  My fascination and even reverence for her hasn’t diminished.  I read a biography about her several years ago which opened my eyes to many facts I never knew, like the fact that she had a baby boy that died, that she had an often contentious relationship with her daughter, Rose, and that the authorship of the Little House books has long been held in question.  Although some of this news was a bit deflating, it all made Laura seem even more human and real to me, and so my fascination has not abated.

So when Prairie Fires was published, I was eager to read it.

At 640 pages, Prairie Fires is a hefty read, but it’s never boring or dry.  Exhaustively researched, the book covers the entire chronology of Laura’s life, beginning before she was born, with her parents’ backgrounds and marriage.  Always on the move chasing prosperity that was always out of his grasp, Charles Ingalls never succeeded as a farmer or a businessman, and often could not provide for his family.  The family skipped town to escape debt, took in boarders (some of them shady), and sent their young daughter to work to help support the family.  They often went hungry.

The book also delves into the social impact of the Homesteader’s Act, which allowed (white) people to claim land at the tragic expense of Native Americans.  The Ingalls family was a part of this and Charles Ingalls, in fact, was a squatter.

Despite this, the family was close and loving and found contentment in their humble existence.  Laura idolized her parents – especially her father.  The scene depicting the young married Laura saying goodbye to her family as she and Almanzo prepare to leave South Dakota for Missouri is heartwrenching.

Laura and Almanzo’s marriage endured for over sixty years, through the accumulation of debt that put them on the edge of ruin, through the death of their second child and only son, through severe illness, failed crops, house fires, and multiple moves.  Through all of it, they retained a genuine affection and loyalty to one another.

As much as this book is a biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, it’s also a biography of her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane – a volatile, unstable, and frankly, unlikeable woman.  She reminded me of my own mother – a toxic personality, jealous, self-centered, and manipulative.  She and Laura seem to have had a very unhealthy, co-dependent relationship, and their working relationship with regard to the writing, editing, and publishing of the Little House books is covered in detail.

As it turns out, Laura Ingalls Wilder was very human and very flawed.  She was a woman of contradictions, openly criticizing federal social safety programs and portraying her family as models of self-sufficiency and independence while failing to acknowledge the federal help both Charles Ingalls and she and Almanzo received by way of the Homestead Act and federal loan programs.  She had a hot temper and could have a sharp tongue, and her role as a mother seems to be the one role that she never filled confidently, despite her own loving upbringing.

When all was said and done, I still cried when Laura’s life reached its end.  I don’t really know why she retains this hold on me – whether it’s some pull of nostalgia for my own innocence as a child, or whether on some level I still see her life as portrayed in the Little House books as an ideal – but she hasn’t fallen from her pedestal in my mind.

Prairie Fires is an excellent book, and a must-read for any Laura Ingalls Wilder fan.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

51kgOTJWNXL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Little Fires Everywhere

by Celeste Ng

Shaker Heights, the setting of Celeste Ng’s latest novel, is a neighborhood in Cleveland.  It’s one of those planned neighborhoods in which everything is ordered and uniform, from the style and colors of the houses to lawn maintenance, to the seemingly perfect, successful, high achieving families that occupy them.  The fact that garbage cans are hidden out of sight down hidden driveways and retrieved by special trucks on trash day is symbolic of the perfect appearance that belies the unsavory truths of reality.

Central in the story are the Richardson family, long-time residents of Shaker Heights, and Mia Warren, a single mother, and her teenage daughter, Pearl, newly arrived and renting one-half of a duplex in Shaker Heights from the Richardsons.  The Richardsons embody everything Shaker Heights believes it collectively stands for: progressive values and living by the rules.  Mia’s and Pearl’s arrival upends everything.

Having lived a bohemian existence up to this point, Mia, a photographer whose artistic whims have kept her and her daughter constantly on the move, is finally ready to settle down and give Pearl some permanence.  The four Richardson children quickly absorb Pearl into their family, while also being drawn to Mia – she’s like nobody they’ve ever known.  Mia takes a part-time job cooking and cleaning house for the Richardson family and becomes privy to the family’s chaos hiding just below the veneer of their perfection.

When long-time friends of the Richardsons begin the adoption process of a Chinese infant abandoned at the local fire station, Mia takes steps that sets off a custody battle that divides the seemingly idyllic town, and suddenly the veneer of perfection and progressiveness begins to crumble.  While Elena Richardson (who is always referred to in the novel as Mrs. Richardson, while Mia is always referred to by her first name, a tactic used by the author that underscores class differences as well as establishing which character is more relatable) is consumed by her righteous indignation over the injustice her friend is being subjected to because of the custody dispute, and busy going to great lengths to uncover Mia’s mysterious past, her four teenage children are involved in all kinds of unsavory high drama, to which she is oblivious.

And it all culminates in the opening scene of the book: the Richardson’s beautiful, perfect home engulfed in flames.  The title of the book refers not only to the manner in which the Richardson home was set aflame (the fire department found multiple points of origin, “little fires everywhere”), but the drama, trauma, and imperfection of reality that playing by the rules cannot prevent.

I liked this book a lot, although I found some of it to be a little far-fetched (like, for instance, the fact that when you get right down to it, Mia, this somewhat free-spirited, well-traveled single mother in her mid-thirties, is a virgin; and that when Pearl is asked to give up the friendships she has nurtured in Shaker Heights and the first experience of stability she’s ever had, she puts up very little fight).  In spite of the unlikeliness of some aspects of the story, it’s a fast-paced, engrossing rumination on motherhood, class, race, and the fact that perfection is always an illusion.

Sing, Unburied,​ Sing by Jesmyn Ward

515pYTNTrcL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Sing, Unburied, Sing

by Jesmyn Ward

Sing, Unburied, Sing revolves around a poor black family living on their backwoods farm in modern day Mississippi.  Although the story is told from multiple points of view, Jojo, a 13-year old boy, is at the center.  Jojo lives with his grandparents, whom he adores, his emotionally and often physically unavailable, drug-addicted mother, and his three-year-old sister, of whom he is fiercely protective and devoted to.  Jojo’s grandfather is a hardened man with a lifetime of grief and bitterness behind him, and yet, his devotion to his family and almost reluctant tenderness toward them is evident.  Jojo’s grandmother is bedridden in a darkened bedroom, dying of cancer.  Leonie, Jojo’s mother, is haunted by her grief over her brother who was shot by white men when he was a shining football player in high school, and she spends most of her time in a meth-induced haze.  Jojo’s white grandparents live nearby, but they have never acknowledged their black grandchildren.  Although they serve as background characters, their anger is a formidable presence in the story.

Much of the story revolves around a harrowing car trip to retrieve Jojo’s white father from prison.  Jojo doesn’t want to go, but he and his toddler sister are made to go by their mother Leonie, who has grandiose visions of making a fresh start once Michael is released from prison.  She is aware of her sins towards her children and her parents, and envisions righting old wrongs and becoming a cohesive family – but in acts of constant self-sabotage, the fresh start is doomed from the beginning.  Leonie is too far gone with meth, and even Michael, who just spent several years in prison for manufacturing and selling meth, gets high and falls right back into old behavior the moment he is released from prison. The entire trip, which spans two or three days, is steeped in high tension during which Leonie, her girlfriend who has come along on the trip, and Michael seeth in a drug-induced stupor, and Jojo and his small sister Kayla cower in the back seat.  Kayla is so often mistreated by her parents that you just want to cry.

Featuring large in the story are the ghosts of Leonie’s dead brother, Given, and a 13-year old boy who was in prison with Pop, Leonie’s father and Jojo’s beloved grandfather, many years ago.  These specters appear to Leonie and her son, and both haunt them and comfort them.  They are the unburied, singing their songs of the past.

There is no redemption in this story.  It is full of sadness, grief, and anger.  There is great relief when Jojo and Kayla reach home again in one piece, but they are already broken, and the reader is left with little hope for their future, for although they have the love and devotion of the grandfather who is raising them, there is no escape from the poverty, racism, and parental neglect and abuse that are central features of their young lives.

It’s a heavy story that stays with you.

A. Lincoln by Ronald C. White Jr.

8069878A. Lincoln

by Ronald C. White Jr.

For years I’ve wanted to read a biography of Abraham Lincoln, and I recently finally got around to it.  There are so many that have been written, it’s difficult to choose which one to read.  I ended up going with Ronald White’s biography, mainly because it was rated well, and it was the most recently written one I came across.  Having now read it, I wonder if I would have appreciated a different one more.

That is not to say this is not well-written and informative; it is.  However, what I had been hoping for was something that demystified that man, Abraham Lincoln.  And while this biography does that to an extent, it is far more an exploration and recounting of the Civil War than an analysis of Lincoln himself.  That said, it is an exhaustively researched volume, and I did come away having learned more about the Civil War than I ever knew before.

Some interesting things to note about Lincoln: according to this biography, at the outset of the Civil War – and indeed, of his political career –  he was not determined to abolish slavery.  While he was not in favor of slavery from a personal, moral perspective, his goal was only to stop the spread of slavery into territory beyond which it already existed.  He was fine with leaving slavery alone where it already existed, and at the outset of the Civil War, his focus was on keeping the Union together.  His views on slavery seem to have evolved over time (with the aid of pressure from anti-slavery factions in the North), and endeavoring to completeley abolish slavery came after a long process of rumination on Lincoln’s part.  Even when he first began to propose the abolishment of slavery, he made clear that he did not believe that Blacks were the social equals of Whites, and he proposed “emancipation and colonization,” meaning, arranging for freed slaves to be relocated to Haiti and Nigeria.

Perhaps his views on the social equality of Blacks also evolved, however, as indicated by his (final) encounter with Frederick Douglass at the White House for Lincoln’s second inaugural reception, where Lincoln warmly received Douglass, saying, “Here comes my friend Douglass …. there is no man in the country whose opinion I value more than yours.”  It is impossible, however, to know how far this would translate, practically speaking, had Lincoln not soon thereafter been assasinated.  Would he have championed Black suffrage?  Equal pay for Blacks?  Blacks holding political office?  Interracial relations and marriages?  It’s impossible to know this, but given the widely-held views of that time period, it’s unlikely that Lincoln would have been enthusiatic to that extend, no matter how progressive he was for the times.

It’s worth knowing, too, that the lines that divided the North and the South did not dilineate sentiments about racial equality to the extent I think we would like to believe.  Most Northerners at that time were deeply prejudice, and although many were against the institution of slavery, they still viewed black people as an inferior race, and wanted little or nothing to do with them.

I also found it interesting to learn of Lincoln’s supposed spiritual oddyssey.  As a young man, and even by the time he first assumes the office of the President, he seemed to be verging on agnostic.  Over the course of his presidency, however, he apparently underwent some kind of spiritual transformation and became almost pious in his views on god and providence.

In any case, White’s biography of Lincoln does offer a lot of fascinating information about Lincoln’s life, as well as the Civil War, and the generals and other important figures of the time.  A bit on the dry side, and with a little too much comparative analysis with the bible for my taste, it’s nonetheless an informative volume.  I’m not sure, however, that I feel that I understand Lincoln the man much better than I did before reading this book.  But maybe Lincoln will always remain somewhat of an enigma, and understanding the workings of his mind is an impossiblity.

Rabbit: The Autobiography of Ms. Pat by Patricia Williams

UnknownRabbit: The Autobiography of Ms. Pat

by Patricia Williams (with Jeannine Amber)

I did not read as many books in 2017 as I aimed for, but I did read more books than I wrote about here.  Life is so full and busy these days, both reading and blogging have fallen somewhat by the wayside.  I’m hoping to give both a bit more attention in 2018.

The first book I’ve finished in this new year is Rabbit: The Autobiography of Ms. Pat by Patricia Williams.  I’ll be honest and confess that I am completely unfamiliar with Patricia Williams – never heard of her before this book was chosen by my book club – although she is apparently a well-known comedian.  Truth be told, I’m not exactly up on the whole comedian circuit in any case.

In some ways, Rabbit tells a familiar story of a deprived, dysfunctional childhood full of abuse, neglect, and downright shocking circumstances and incidents (there’s a whole subgenre of these memoirs; see The Glass Castle, The Liar’s Club, All Over But the Shoutin’, Running With Scissors, and even Fun Home).  What sets Williams’s story apart, though, is that while most (all?) of the other such memoirs out there are the stories of white people, hers is the story of being black and female growing up in the ‘hood.  And being black and female is a whole other ball of wax.

One of five children of a down-and-out, alcoholic, single mother who spent the first several years of her life living in her grandfather’s “liquor house,” Patricia, dubbed “Rabbit” by one of her mother’s boyfriends, was instructed by her mother in the vocation of pickpocketing the drunks who passed out in the house daily by the time she was eight.  Always without money, love, or guidance, and often without enough to eat or gas, electricity, or hot running water, she was pregnant by age 13 (I have 13-year-old twin daughters, and being faced with the reality that 13-year-old girls in the world get pregnant and have babies elicits a visceral response in me) by a 20-year-old married man, and had two babies by age 15.   With virtually no frame of reference as to how to navigate her life other than the criminals and addicts she had always been surrounded by, she turned to dealing crack to support herself and her children – and was very successful at it.  Over the years, she was shot twice, arrested, and beaten – just to list a few things.

And yet, she tells her story with an immense wise-cracking humor.  This isn’t a book that asks its readers to feel sorry for its subject.  Ms. Williams does not seem to have a victim mentality, despite the horrific things she’s lived through.  She lays it all out in a matter-of-fact way, without portraying herself as saintly, or even sinless, and tells it all with a wit that obviously comes naturally to her.

The fact that she ends up becoming a successful comedian and getting her memoir published tells you that she turns her life around and gets out of the ‘hood, but it’s worth reading how her resilience and unfailing sense of humor get her there.  It’s also an eye-opening look into what it means to grow up black, female, and poor in America.

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Gone_with_the_Wind_coverGone With the Wind

by Margaret Mitchell

So many thoughts … where to start?

I just read this epic Civil War novel for the third time in my life.  The first time I read it, I was a mere teenager.  My mother would park herself on the sofa every year when the movie was on TV and cry her way through it (if my memory serves me), and by the time I was a teen, I had seen the movie numerous times because of this.  Being an avid reader, of course I read the book when I arrived at a certain age.  In truth, though, I don’t have any memories of how the book made me feel all those years ago – I only remember that I liked it very much.

The second time I read it was almost ten years ago when it was chosen for my book club.  Apparently I never wrote about it – I’ve searched – but I did give it five stars on Goodreads.  I had hoped that I had written about it so that I could go back and compare and contrast my feelings about it then with my feelings about it now, but alas, no such luck.  I do clearly remember loving it, appreciating all the details about the Civil War it contains, feeling a strong admiration for the character of Scarlett O’Hara (my goodness, that character – or at least her name – was the inspiration for my youngest child’s name!), feeling deeply invested in the story and the people who populated it, and wanting to go back to page one and read it all over again as soon as I finished it (I didn’t do that, though; it took almost ten years before I would reread it).

And now I am well into middle age and have read it for the third time.

Over the last few years, as I’ve become more aware of and invested in social justice issues, I’ve come across articles that mention Gone With the Wind as a monument to racism.  The first time I came across an article like this, my knee-jerk internal response was defensiveness.  How could one of my favorite novels be racist?  I’m not racist!  I understand how wrong racism is!  It’s just a fictional story about a time and a place that no longer exists.  That’s just the way things were back then.

You get the idea.  The usual white-person thought process in the face of uncomfortable truths about racism and prejudice.

So, when I picked it up (actually, I listened to the audio book; for the record, the reader did an excellent job) this last time, I knew that I would see it through a different lens than I did a decade ago.  Here are my main thoughts:

First and foremost, GWTW absolutely does romanticize slavery.  It portrays the owning of human beings as property as a mutually beneficial institution, in which slave owners took good care of their “darkies” much like pets or small children.  They fed them generously, nursed them in sickness, and generally appreciated their service like anyone today might appreciate the service of a paid, voluntary service provider.  If an occasional “lick” was meted out, it was for the negro’s own good – but violence against slaves was exceedingly rare.  And the slaves not only accepted their lot of being owned by other human beings, they were happy about it!  They did not pine for freedom.  They gladly accepted that they were put on this earth solely to serve their white folks.  Any stories coming from the Yankees about whipping slaves or sending bloodhounds after runaway slaves or any mistreatment of negroes was propaganda.  So, when the slaves were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, it was a cruelty not only to the genteel Southerners, but the slaves themselves, who never wanted freedom in the first place, and couldn’t cope with it once they had it.

Well, that’s all propaganda if I ever heard it.  I did a lot of eye rolling, jaw-dropping, and cringing through all of that.  I felt ashamed that I had ever read this book before and not seen this, not given it much thought at all.

Speaking of Yankees, they are the bad guys in this story.  Yankees are horrible, murderous, unscrupulous blights.  Even after the war, the Yankees remain The Enemy.  And I’m sure there is actually a lot of truth in this.  As I read, I kept wondering when the South began to see the North as fellow Americans again.

Also, the Ku Klux Klan features prominently in this novel, and it’s portrayed as a necessary organization in the face of Reconstruction in order to preserve the Southern way of life.  Members of the KKK are upstanding, respectable, honorable noble men – they are the good guys.

I know, right?

Two characters in the story, Ellen O’Hara (Scarlett’s mother) and Melanie Hamilton-Wilks (Scarlett’s sister-in-law, and the wife of the man Scarlett pines for) are portrayed as near saints.  “Truly Great Ladies” they are called – meaning selfless, humble, kind, compassionate, gentle, forgiving, and utterly virtuous. However, they are both utterly devoted to “The Cause”: preserving the Southern way of life with its class hierarchy (of which they are at the top), and the institution of slavery.  Gentle, self-effacing Melanie frets that she doesn’t want her child going to school with “pickaninnies.”  So, really, how virtuous and saintly can someone be who has a bone-deep belief that owning other human beings and depriving them of liberty is the way things are supposed to be?

Now let us turn to Scarlett O’Hara.  What I mostly remembered from having read the book before (and seeing the movie countless times) is that I admired her mainly for her bucking a lot of the conventions women of her time were expected to uphold.  She spoke her mind at a time when women were expected to shut up and let the men do the talking – and thinking.  She was resilient, a fighter – she single-handedly pulled her family out of poverty after the war.  She went out in public while pregnant – a shocking and appalling thing to do at that time.  She owned a business – and a man’s business at that (a mill and lumber yard) – and ran it, and was good at it, at a time when women were expected to stay home and darn socks.  This admiration still holds.  In those ways, I do still feel that she is a heroine of a kind.

However, Scarlett O’Hara is a bitch.  She is jealous and petty and spiteful and 69234d55c356d4ae6f7ffbee80a7b9faself-absorbed and conceited, and often just plain mean.  She steps on people and doesn’t care who she hurts in order to get what she wants.  By the end of the novel, which spans twelve years, she has burned nearly every bridge she ever had.  She’s not actually a very likable person.  I’m left wondering how Margaret Mitchell wanted her readers to feel about Scarlett.  Did she intentionally create a character we aren’t supposed to like – was Scarlett meant to serve as a cautionary figure?  Or was Scarlett meant to be an admirable heroine?  Are we supposed to root for her or disdain her? Perhaps both.

As far as the love story – gah.  Scarlett spends the entire twelve years of the novel believing herself in love with Ashley Wilks, who is somebody else’s husband, as well as a pitiful, helpless, inept daydreamer of a man who leads Scarlett on by occasionally making proclamations of love for her in private, and on one occasion shoving his tongue down her throat (which she welcomed).  In reality, he really just longs to fuck Scarlett, but he’s too honorable to actually cheat on his wife.  Finally, at the end of the novel, Scarlett realizes that she never really loved Ashley (and she realizes that he only wanted into her bloomers), that she actually has loved Rhett for years without realizing it.

Rhett Butler is the bad-boy that women are believed to like so much.  He doesn’t give a crap about convention, he makes piles of money by unscrupulous means, and of course he’s tall, dark, and handsome.  And he’s in love with Scarlett from the first time he sets eyes upon her sixteen-year-old self when he is in his thirties (more on the prevalent lechery in the novel below).  Eventually, Rhett becomes Scarlett’s third husband, but he marries her knowing she’s in love with Ashley, but then ends up filled with resentment towards her for being in (fake) love with Ashley.  The relationship between Rhett and Scarlett is very fucked up once they get married.  They can never, ever, ever be vulnerable with each other.  Rhett plays very hard at not letting Scarlett know he actually loves her – and then resents her for not realizing that he loves her.  They communicate mostly with barbs and sarcasm.  Violence erupts between them occasionally.  All in all, it’s a very unhealthy coupling.  Funny that it’s often touted as “The Greatest Love Story Of All Time.”  They end up destroying each other because they can never be real with each other until it’s too late.

So, back to the lechery.  It’s plentiful in this story.  Scarlett’s mother Ellen was only fifteen when she married Gerald O’Hara, who was in his forties.  Scarlett is sixteen when the novel opens, and Rhett is thirty-three and falls in love with her.  Sue Ellen, Scarlett’s younger sister, is engaged to a middle-aged man (whom Scarlett woos away from her sister and marries for his money, but I digress).  It’s pretty gross and disturbing when you get right down to it.  Also, the incest thing.  Ashley and Melanie are first cousins and married.  Ellen, Scarlett’s mother, was in love with her own cousin, Phillipe, before she married Gerald.  I guess that sort of thing was accepted and common back in the day – but so was slavery.

All this being said, I confess I still enjoyed the book.  A lot.  From a purely literary standpoint, it’s a masterpiece – the writing is stellar, the characters and scenes come alive, it’s full of historical detail, and in all its nearly 1,000 pages, the story never drags.  I feel guilty about liking it because it’s so problematic in so many ways.  I also realize that I enjoy it specifically because I can only read it through the lens of a white person; I can’t imagine appreciating anything about it as a black person.  Racism persists, and the fact that white people have written stories glorifying such a heinous, miserable institution as slavery and portraying people of color as barely human, and the fact that white people (like myself) still enjoy these stories nonetheless is evidence of that.

 

Not Always Happy by Kari Wagner-Peck

51sHRGqjqXL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Not Always Happy

by Kari Wagner-Peck

I stopped reading memoirs about raising a child with Down syndrome awhile back mainly, I think, because they all started seeming the same. Most follow a fairly predictable trajectory: a child is born with Down syndrome, there is much grief, then acceptance, and finally celebration. It’s not that there is anything wrong with this storyline (which, if I’m honest, fits my own storyline with regard to having my own child with Down syndrome), it’s just that after a time, I had read enough of them. So when I saw mention of Not Always Happy – probably on Facebook, I can’t really remember for sure – and that it was funny, my interest was piqued.

Continue reading here.

The Heart by Maylis de Kerangal

51Upscve4gL._SX339_BO1,204,203,200_The Heart

by Maylis Kerangal

I know, I know, it’s been forever since I’ve written a book review.  I haven’t stopped reading, it’s just the writing that’s been hard to carve out time for.  That said, I had to come and tell you about this book, because I can’t get it out of my head.

When I moved with my family up to the Pacific Northwest early this year, I started a new book club (because I can’t imagine life without a book club).  I chose The Heart as our book for August, having stumbled across a synopsis of it somewhere – I can’t even remember where.  I was intrigued because the title leads one to believe it’s a romance novel (of which I am not a fan), but the synopsis made clear that it’s as far from romance as you can get.  Or rather, it’s not the sort of romance most romance novels are about.  This is no saccharine love story about boy meets girl – no.  This is a love story of a different kind: a love story about the human heart – the actual muscle and tissue and blood version of the human heart – and its ability and sheer power to give and sustain life.

The novel opens in the early dawn hours on the shores of a beach somewhere in France as three boys, barely adults, tumble out of a van, don wetsuits, and head out to the sea with surfboards under their arms.  On their way home a couple of hours later, exhausted from surfing, the young man driving falls asleep at the wheel.  Two of the boys survive the ensuing collision, but nineteen-year-old Simon Limbres is pronounced brain-dead at the hospital, having been thrown through the windshield of the van head first upon impact with the pole.

Yet, his heart still beats.

The story takes place over a mere twenty-four hour period, which stretches out into eternity as Simon’s family is notified, and terrible decisions must be made.  Simon is dead, but his body still has the ability to give life to other people in desperate need of organ transplants.  And time is of the essence.

The Heart reads with the grace and fluidity of a ballet.  Gorgeous prose, taut and intense, every word purposeful and deliberate.  Every person in the story, from Simon himself, to his parents, to the doctors and nurses involved in the procedures that take place, is presented with his or her own story, background, thoughts, emotions, and observations, so that we understand the absolute human element in the extraordinary events that take place.  This is a beautiful, haunting story written with astonishing clarity and reverence for life, for death, and for grief.

This book is going to stay with me for a very long time.