September 19, 2011

Sentiment vs. solutions

Lisa Torcasso Downing has an interesting--and mostly favorable--review of Angel Falling Softly. I can't argue with her basic criticism, first because what a work of art ultimately means is what the consumer of the art says it means; and second because I can't really recall my frame of mind when I wrote it.

Call it the literary uncertainty principle, disentangling what people say about something you wrote from what you were thinking at the time you wrote it. It's like George Lucas learning that Star Wars was a retelling of the monomyth and then concluding, disastrously, that he'd done it on purpose.

I do know that my premise for the novel was that Rachel, having plowed through all the spiritual solutions and Kubler-Ross stages, had arrived at the "whatever works" stage, no matter how removed from reality (growing up, I witnessed a stalwart member of my Mormon ward hitting this wall and hard).

And third, because Downing makes a good point about the way the male mind approaches the world. As Chris (my publisher) comments,

I'm not saying the novel wouldn't have been enriched with developing the mother/daughter relationship a little more, but to me it's also a no-brainer that the relationship would be there, and it doesn't sound like something I want to read about.

There's a lot of truth in the Tim Allen school of male psychology: "I solve problems (preferable with power tools), therefore I am." When a man finds himself under assault by a tidal wave of emotion, screaming inside his head is the frantic plea: Is there a problem in here somewhere I can solve?

Though such preferences are equally influenced by by our subjective tastes when it comes to fictional representations of the world. Erica Friedman sums it up well:

What I want so desperately to see is stories of women who have made it past the scarring, have learned to not lose control of the situation, even when things are falling apart around her. A leader. A calm in the storm. Not the storm itself.

Alas, protagonists who are "the storm itself" have become a plague in action series and police procedurals, regardless of sex. Take the latest incarnation of Hawaii Five-O. Every male lead has "angst" and "issues." I much prefer Jack Lord's Steve McGarrett, whose only "issues" are with the bad guys.

Okay, I'm probably tilting too far the other way, but I'm totally on board with Kate that one of the most issue-free relationships on television is that between Major Samantha Carter and Colonel Jack O'Neill from Stargate SG-1, a big reason why Major Carter "falls into her own category of awesomeness."

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# posted by Blogger Kate Woodbury
9/21/2011 7:23 PM   
Although I'm sure Angel wouldn't be hurt by a few extra scenes between Rachel and her daughter, as a woman-without-children, I never noticed the absence. For me, the storyline is so much about Rachel's inner struggle that her child is--in fact--almost secondary. But then, I fall into the category of those who think Rachel (but not Miladi) made . . . if not the wrong choice, a choice that certainly carried consequences that she didn't anticipate/wasn't prepared to accept. In many ways, I see the book as tragically ironic: Rachel's "fix" ends up annihilating the bond that might have existed between her and her daughter. I didn't consider any past mother-daughter bond as broken so much as irrelevant. What Rachel lost was what could-have-been, not what was.

But then, while I'm a romantic, I'm not sure how much value I place on the whole "mothers sacrificing themselves for children" mythos. As Downing points out, not all mothers feel this way. So, despite being a Mormon-girl, I didn't approach the novel with any cultural assumptions regarding mothers-and-children. If anything, I probably assumed that Rachel felt as much if not more responsibility (this is my child; therefore, I must do something) than maternal connection (I would give up anything to protect my little girl). But then, I quite honestly find the former easier to understand than the latter (see self-definition above).