I love the Vienna Book Club. It’s such a good group of smart, thoughtful women with interesting things to say. They choose a lot of strong literature and everyone reads the books. Love it.
I also enjoyed this month’s book and learned a lot about the plague. Incidentally, Tyler Black (no joke, that’s his last name, and he was a twin, too) who sat behind me in World Geography in 10th grade contracted and nearly died from Bubonic Plague. Cool, huh?!
The language was quite good: lyrical, pictoral, and just stylized enough in the first person narrative to evoke the time period without becoming unreadable. She does a lot of paired nouns with dropped articles and plurals, sometimes alliterative like, “the smell of horse and hay” or the crackle of fire and nut. I made that last one up because I could only think of the” horse and hay” example and I’m too lazy to get out the book.
She also found a really compelling morsel of history, a town that loses 2/3rds of its inhabitants to the plague during a year of self-imposed quarantine, in which to cast her drama of faith, fear and loss.
If only she could have reined in her anti-male, anti-Christian, anti-Western dogma instead of jumping every possible shark with her M. Night Shyamalan-esque twists in the last 1/4 of the novel. She refuses to allow her characters to follow their natural trajectory and instead lobotomizes one and sends the other on an absurd voyage toward polygamist midwifery and Islam. What? She did a beautiful job of creating characters with subtlety and human flaws and even did the work of a Great Novel in raising the important questions like whether religion is something more than just superstition and if there is a God, why do horrible things happen to wonderful people–and then she made the mistake of the Okay Novel in screaming her personal answers to the big questions and putting her big fat author face in front of the camera with a painfully obvious effort to be unpredictable. And I’m all for feminist revisions, but my suspension of disbelief didn’t quite survive her gender-bending Super Woman learning Latin and doctoring and mining lead and skipping the country to become the obstetric nurse –and platonic polygamist wife, naturally–of a Muslim doctor. But what do I know? Last time I counted, she’d won more Pulitzers than I have.
Still, I’m very happy to have read it. All the birth and mothering imagery hit very close to home. All those boobies and udders and eggs and births. I certainly had to read the death of her two boys, one a nursing infant, while cuddling both my munchkins and inhaling their magical baby scent to assure myself this was not happening to me and that my boys are just fine.
One of the most poignant moments is when the narrator is holding her dying infant and her stepmother tells her she’s a fool for not guarding herself against getting too attached to her infant. Who among us has not tried to steel her heart against disappointment in the first trimester, or with blood clotting issues and multiple pregnancies, all three trimesters? How much more difficult would it be if the rate of infant mortality and childhood mortality were so high that you had to keep that “wait and see” mentality for years after your babies were safely born?
And now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go scoop up my warm bundles of gorgeousness and smooch their moist cheekies and fluffy heads.