Sunshine Abroad

The trials and rewards of French translation and beyond

Week 6: Through Feminism-Colored Glasses

40 Books in 40 Weeks: I'm reading one book from my to-read shelf per week through the end of the year. Afterward, I write a post here: not a review, just a reaction to something or many things in the book. It's keeping me accountable.

Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver
Harper Collins, 2000

This book made me mad by page 6.

It's a bad one to read directly after feminism is for everybody. The whole meeting in the forest, it's supposed to be mysterious and sexy and yes, a little intrustive, I'm sure. But now I read it differently. Trespasser? Predator? A female would never be called those things. Or maybe it's because the main character in that cycle (there are three separate but interwoven stories) is a cis-hetero female. Who is alone. Attractive to a man. Attracted to a man, without wanting to be. Fine. Whatever.

Except it's not fine.

[Major spoilers coming]

Deanna's entire storyline is how her life has been driven/directed/led/affected forever by men. Her divorce is what pushed her into the Forest Service job on the mountain, alone, content, part of something bigger. That was her choice, but she was forced into a position where she had to make a choice because of her ex-husband. And then she spends the entire summer with a fierce battle raging in her mind because Eddie Bondo (clearly a whole person, because he always gets a last name) doesn't listen to her when she REPEATEDLY tells him to clear off. I mean, the whole idea of "oh come on, you know you want it"? That's disrespectful at best. Perpetuates rape culture at worst. (Seriously. In the workplace, that's considered sexual harassment.)

And then, in the end, she chooses to come down off the mountain, BECAUSE HE KNOCKED HER UP. In her late 40s. She goes back to the world, back to family connections, she's terrified of the dark: "What had changed, when she used to be so fearless? But she knew what had changed. This was what it cost to commit oneself to the living. There was so much to lose." Ugh. She's making her own choice, sure. She chooses to move in with her step-mom who she adores, she chooses to keep the baby, she chooses not to tell Eddie Bondo. But again, she's forced into a position where she has to make these choices because of him.

I enjoyed reading this book. It's gorgeous. Lyrical. I feel like I understand so much more about nature and its cycles now (having never lived off of the land myself). Birds crying for a mate, the beauty of coyotes and other predators in the balance of the ecosystem, chestnut trees fighting to survive. But then there's the idea of sex and reproduction as a search for eternal life among the birds and the bees (and other animals), and . . . something just catches in my stomach.

Well. I can enjoy a book while hating its characters. That's one of the marks of a well-written book. I enjoyed being frustrated to no end by Garnett S. Walker the Third's sanctimonious letters, his equating Unitarians with witches, his cognitive dissonance over pesticides and organic certification. I enjoyed learning with Lusa how to navigate a big family that seemed so inhospitable but was really just trying to hold itself together. I fell in love with coyotes. But the more you learn, the more complications and complexities you discover. In anything.

Next up: Muddling Through in Madagascar, by Dervla Murphy