Gayle Madwin (queerbychoice) wrote,
Gayle Madwin
queerbychoice

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Alice Sebold and Carol De Chellis Hill

Who else has read The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold? I just read it this week and it blew my mind. And that's particularly saying a lot because I'm the kind of atheist who frequently has reservations about books whose plots require characters to speak from the afterlife in a manner that can't be attributed to some living character's imagination or hallucination. This book is narrated entirely by a dead 14-year-old-girl telling her story from the afterlife, but it's told so masterfully that I was quite willing to temporarily suspend my disbelief for the sake of the literary advantages of having stories like this to read. And it wasn't until after I completely finished reading the novel that I discovered a little essay explaining that Alice Sebold was violently raped at age 18 by someone who had been in the habit of murdering his other rape victims, and that it was for this reason that she felt compelled to write the afterlife story of a fictional character who was violently raped and was murdered in the process.

The book is actually mostly about the girl's surviving family members, since by the time the story starts, she herself is already dead and doesn't have much to do except sit around in the afterlife watching her family members on Earth. But it also manages to convey the girl's own emotional process of . . . coming to terms with the fact that she's dead. She also, for obvious symbolic purposes (paralleling the fact that any rape victim's pre-rape identity is in some sense murdered, yet in the absence of physical murder, a related though slightly different version of the same person survives and continues life) has a sister one year younger than her, whom everyone has trouble not seeing as the dead girl's remaining representative on Earth, because of their closeness in age and gender. But this symbolism could easily have been overdone, and it wasn't: the sister is very believable as a real, physical sister rather than just an alter ego. A lot of other things could easily have been overdone too, and also weren't. Whenever suspense builds, it builds to the perfect combination of climax and anticlimax: climactic enough to avoid letting the reader feel let down, but anticlimactic enough to avoid being predictable, melodramatic, and, well, overdone. This novel is marvelously not overdone.

The really confusing thing was that the essay I found at the end informed me that writer Daniel Mendelsohn had written a review of this novel in which he jeered at it for being too overdone. Daniel Mendelsohn is a marvelous queer by choice writer, author of a marvelous queer by choice autobiographical . . . prose-poetic meditation-thingy (for lack of any better-established category-label for it) on the evolution of his sense of queerness and his sense of self, called The Elusive Embrace: Desire and the Riddle of Identity. I have altogether too much respect for him and his book for his totally bad judgment about Alice Sebold's book to be capable of making a very major dent in my respect for him - but I really wish authors I love would stop saying mean things about other authors I love. The last time it happened was when I read an essay by Salman Rushdie in which Rushdie proclaimed very emphatically that Umberto Eco's novels are all the worst kind of pulpy trash imaginable.

Anyway, who else has read Alice Sebold? Apparently this book was a number one bestseller for weeks, yet I somehow failed to ever hear of it until very recently. I need to find out who's well-informed about the existence of good writers like this, and make sure they don't leave me ignorant for so long in the future.

Another novel I read recently was The Eleven Million Mile High Dancer by Carol De Chellis Hill. I did not like this one so much. In terms of literary merit it was very well written and highly entertaining, but in terms of the author's political agenda, I was quite offended. Half the point of the novel seemed to be to promote the gender-essentialist vision of so-called feminism that gleefully affirms all patriarchal assertions that women are inherently less logical and more emotionally intuitive than men are, but that then pleads that emotional intuition is just as important as logic and that if you leave those illogical emotionally intuitive women out of your scientific expeditions, the expeditions will fail as soon as you come up against something that requires emotional intuition rather than logic to solve. Well, for all I know maybe we do need more emotionally intuitive scientists - but that does not excuse pretending that logic and emotional intuition correlate with what brand of sex organs a person has. The Eleven Million Mile High Dancer is an extremely sexist book.
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