Friday, November 9, 2012


Yep, I've got one. Fortunately, I'm getting over it, in large part because I haven't had to take serious care of my kids during the day (thank you daycare!). Sadly, sickness eats into my productivity, though it's a great excuse for reading!

So, I checked out three books from the library, oh, last month sometime. One was "The House of Discarded Dreams," which was suggested by a guest on Writing Excuses; one was "The Stone Gods," which just looked interesting; the last was "Map of Ireland," which Paul picked up off a shelf somewhere and sounded like it would be a good character study.

Never in my imaginings did I guess all three would feature lesbian protagonists.

The "House of Discarded Dreams" is pretty tame, and I did like it mostly. My main complaint about that book is there's no system to the magic, it's just random magic that does whatever stuff is necessary for the plot. Reading it was kind of like sitting in the back seat of a bus, simply watching scenery pass. As advertised, the book did a great job of writing "the other"--a couple of black women written by a white author, who genuinely (to me) sound like black women. It's not the kind of fantasy I'd seek out, but I enjoyed it and I'd probably pick up another of Ekaterina Sedia's books if I came across one.

"The Stone Gods" on the other hand I didn't enjoy. It's heavy handed, overly literary, really just a retread of ideas other people have done better. The first third of it reads like Aldus Huxley's "A Brave New World," except less sympathetic. The second part is told from the POV of an unbelievably eco-conscious white man stranded on Easter Island, who watches the islanders destroy the very last of their palm trees. It's like Jeanette Winterson (the author) decided to fictionalize a chapter from Jared Diamond's "Collapse," but didn't bother to investigate the mindset of people from that era. The last two sections aren't any better. To top it all off, there are a grand total of two sympathetic heterosexual male characters in the entire book; everyone else is conquest hungry, a pedophile, or in cahoots with "the man," or some combination of the three. Women are just there as decoration or for use sexually. It's as if Winterson thinks the only thing heterosexual men and women worry about is sex; nothing else drove them. The author did a lousy job of depicting believable people or relationships period, but the only even sort of positively rendered people and relationships were homosexual. It just did not appeal.

The third one I picked up because the character was supposedly spunky and lovable, and I thought, hey, I want to write spunky, lovable female characters, so I'll read this. Within just a few pages it's clear this "spunky, lovable" girl is a lesbian and, having grown up white in South Boston in the early 70's, kind of a bigot. After finishing "The Stone Gods" I wasn't sure I wanted to read another "homosexuals are saintly and heterosexuals are evil" tirade, so I almost put down the book. I'm glad I didn't. It's by far the most explicit of the three books, but it was also much more believable and much more nuanced. The main character, Ann, is lesbian and horny as hell. "Horny" is pretty much what the average teenager is like, no matter what their sexuality and that reality came through. People were people and had flaws and strengths and very believable reactions to their situations and to one another. I didn't like the decisions Ann made, but I understood why she made them, which is a sign of good writing in my book. Ann became more of an anti-hero than a hero because of the values she chose to uphold, but it was clear why she had those values, how she could justify seeing herself in a heroic light even if I don't. Her sexuality influenced her experience, yes, but it was not the characteristic that defined her, nor was it something that made her inherently good or bad, or really even changed many of her decisions. Stephanie Grant wrote a good book.

I don't think I'll be writing any homosexual characters any time soon, but if I do, I'm going to take a page from Grant's "Map of Ireland" and let many values define my characters, not just their sexuality.

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