WWMD

Thanks to all the linky love (oh sheesh, did I just say that?) from real websites like Mark Shea’s, Bearing, Betty Beguiles, And Sometimes Tea, New Advent, Betty Duffy,Darwin Catholic, Korrektiv, Alexandria, and others, I got a lot more attention than I’m used to for all this pants stuff.  And, as Mark Shea’s readers pointed out, with great pants comes great responsibility.  Which is to say that with a bigger audience comes many more misunderstandings.

Some of that is my fault, because I dwell in the land of hyperbole.

Some of that is their fault, because they are stupid.

Some of that is  no one’s fault, exactly — it’s just that it’s human nature to hear what you think you’re going to hear, rather than what the writer is actually saying.

Danielle Bean once shared a quote from St. Therese of Liseiux:

Why should we defend ourselves when we are misunderstood  and misjudged? Let us leave that aside. Let us not say anything. It is so sweet to let others judge us in any way they like. O blessed silence, which gives so much peace to the soul!

And so, even though I heard all kinds of foolish and outlandish statements attributed to me, I really didn’t get all that upset.  I heard, for instance, that:

  • I never wear skirts (false – I do)
  • I think women who wear skirts are married to monsters (false – some are, some aren’t, just like us two-legs)
  • I think it’s stupid to try and look feminine (false – I try hard)
  • I think it’s impossible for any busy woman to do her work in skirts (false – I  happen to be a hypothyroid clod with fat, chafe-y thighs, but maybe you’re not)
  • and also that I think women should be able to wear whatever the hell they want (false – I believe it’s a matter of charity to dress modestly)
  • and that men should just use some self-control, and then it won’t matter what women wear (false – blame Adam).

Weirdly, none of that bothered me very much.  Usually nothing upsets me more than to be misunderstood, but there were so many smart and funny people who saw what I was saying, it was like being at a fantastic party with all your friends — and a couple of drunks.  Annoying, but not enough to spoil a great evening.

But I got really worked up when they started saying stuff about Mary.  I have always felt an uncomfortable distance from Mary.  I teach my children to call her “Mama Mary” in hopes that they would feel a closeness and affection to her that I never did.  Every once in a while, though, she breaks through to me.  This was one of those times.

A few women in various comment boxes said that we must wear skirts because Mary did — that even if Mary were on earth today, she would never wear pants.  They KNOW this.

Okay, you ladies who know what Mary would do.  If you can’t imagine Mary wearing pants, then try this:   imagine Mary wiping her nose, or yawning, or having heartburn.  Imagine her giving birth.  Or heck, imagine her having to go to the bathroom, but not being able to get up yet because she didn’t want to wake up the baby, who was nursing and allllmost asleep. .  . and then He bit her!  He always does that just as He’s falling asleep.  Oh, and now He’s poopy again, and she still has to go to the bathroom.

Weird, eh?  Not used to it, are you?  But there’s nothing immoral about these images.  If they bother you, because it’s not what you’re used to.  It’s not what you’re surrounded with.  Just like you’re surrounded with earnest, hard-working, kind, sincere women who have chosen to wear skirts, and so it seems utterly natural and obvious that Mary, too, would wear skirts.

How about this:  when Mary said “Fiat” to the angel, she wasn’t doing what everyone else was doing.  She wasn’t following the norm.  She wasn’t doing what all the other holy ladies in her circle were doing.  She was doing something that made her stand apart — she was responding directly to God’s will.  Mary was a BIG WEIRDO, don’t you see?  She was courageous and outlandish and incredibly tough.  She didn’t long for olden times.  She did something new.

I know it sounds like I’m equating the wearing of pants with the eternal Yes of the Mother of God.  Sorry about that!  That’s not what I mean.  I just mean that sometimes we can be blinded by what we’re used to — and that’s not a good thing, even when what we’re used to (say, good women always wearing skirts) is a good thing.

So would Mary wear pants?  I don’t know, and neither do you — she was a strange and unpredictable woman, like no other.  But she was a real woman.  If you think that Mary actually always wore blue, always had a look of fond melancholy on her face, and always held her arms at a 45-degree angle from her sides, then you are paying homage to a statue, and not to God’s real-life Mama.  And if there’s anything worse than a woman in pants, it’s an idolator.  That’s in the Old and the New Testament.

O real life Mama of God, intercede for us.  Help us to understand each other.  And if I ever sit down to write another post about pants, please make the roof fall in on me before I hit “publish.”

Pants Pass *sigh* COMMENTS CLOSED AGAIN

Sick of talking about pants yet?  TOO BAD!  I want to talk about pants!  Some more!

Actually, I want to talk about creeps.  Because that’s what this is about: it’s about creeps forgetting to hide how creepy they are.  So many people said so many smart things yesterday — but the best comments were the ones which rooted out the worst part of the original pantsalog.  The worst part was this:

[Wear skirts] for us, the minority of chaste men who merit the gift of enjoying your beauty in such a way as to be grateful to your creator without temptation. Make it so it is good for men to look upon you, rather than requiring us to look away (which is a tragedy).

“Merit?”  “Make it so it is good?”  I’ll translate this for you:

I don’t cheat on my wife, and that’s really hard, so I’m entitled to some compensation.  So line up, girls, and show me something special.  Neutrally modest isn’t good enough — I deserve something niiiiiiiice.

Oh, you sound just like Padre Pio; really you do!

Several other men in various comboxes expressed a similar idea of their right, as a virtuous man, to enjoy all women in a virtuous way.  They’re not satisfied with cracking down on their own wives — they feel that they’ve won the privilege of savoring and setting the standards for everyone else’s wife, too.

A few guys said that they could tell by the way I talk that I’m a disobedient wife.  How can they tell?  Because their wives wear skirts.  I usually don’t.  Therefore I must be disobeying my husband.

Never mind that my husband likes me in pants.  Which I mentioned.  So I guess they’re saying . . . that I should be obeying them?

Luckily for me, I have a husband who is just dying for someone to say something like that, so he can punch their lights out.  He recently quit smoking, and is looking for someone to punch.

But, ladies, what if your husband likes you in pants, but you happen to leave the house without him?  What if you’re doing some errands, you’re wearing pants, and some pigeon-toed guy with a scaly neck sidles up and confronts you for revealing the fact that you have legs — two of ‘em?

He scowls through his horrible beard and, once he gains control of the self-righteous quivering that shakes him from head to toe, he speaks:  “WHERE IS THY SKIRT, WOMAN?  WHY HAST THOU APPEARED AT WALMART IN THESE DETESTABLE PANTALOONS?  DOST THOU NOT RESPECT THY HUSBAND’S WISHES?”

Here’s what you do:  print out the following card, laminate it, and show it to the guy.

While he’s mentally translating it into Latin so it makes sense to him, you will be able to make a speedy getaway.  And since you’re wearing dem pants, you’ll do it without showing any skin!  Run, ladies, run!

(Pants Pass designed by my beautiful and talented sister-in-law, Rose Nigel)

Pants: A Manifesto – COMMENTS CLOSED

Consider the following food for thought, and not a hard-and-fast directive.  So in case you were under the bizarre impression that some random essay written by a laypersonhas some moral force, then rest at ease.  I repeat, this is not a directive!  But you better listen to me, or you’re going to hell.

Top ten reasons I wear pants

1.  I live in NH, where winter happens.  Pants.

2.  My husband finds most women’s pants to be more or less neutral, as far as their power to affect him in a masculine way.  But he finds that most women’s skirts  . . . affect him.   So unless it’s the most wonderful time of the cycle for me:  pants.

3.  Three of my children are ages 4, 3, and 17 months.  They basically live on the floor.  To care for them, my choices are either (a) sit on the floor to be with them, or (b) bend over a lot to deal with them.  Yesterday at library story hour, my little girls felt shy, so I sat on the floor to be with them.   I was comfortable, relaxed, and modest.  Pants.

4. Motherhood is a blue collar job.  I don’t care what style of dress or skirt you’re wearing, there is no way to be modest while dealing efficiently with the routine emergencies that normal children engender –  children who, as a normal mode of expression, flail their limbs around like some kind of oversized, malevolent eggbeater, right at your hemline.  Today, I had to lunge halfway across the room to rescue my toddler, who had launched herself from an armchair at a glass gerbil tank.  I was able to lunge without pausing to consider whether my movements were graceful and feminine; and I didn’t worry, while lunging, about flashing the men in the room.  Pants.

5.  Traditional nuns manage to work in skirts, and so do men and women in the middle east.  So what?  Their lives are hard; mine doesn’t have to be.  Pants.

6.  My husband, being heterosexual, does not actually want to spend his free time browsing around Dress Barn with me.  Unfortunately, being a drooling idiot (that’s traddie talk for “woman I honor and respect”), I am utterly, faintingly, femininely unable to pick out modest and appropriate clothing for myself.  What ever shall I do!  There’s clearly only one option left for poor silly old me, and that’s to keep on safe ground.  Pants.

7.  When I show my husband a piece of clothing that I just bought, he admires it — but only because he loves me and knows I have no female friends to show it to.  In reality, I might as well be holding up a coupon for fig newtons, or a vacuum cleaner filter:  he just can’t see it.  When I put it on, then he can see it.  At this point in our marriage, I know what he’s going to like, so that’s what I buy.  I dress to please him, not other men who might pass me on the sidewalk.  Pants.

8.  Why do I get the distinct impression that some guys, demonstrable experts in marriage though they may be, are being a teeny bit disingenuous when they couch their views on modesty in terms of respect for women?  Why do I get the impression that if most women wore skirts, this type of fellow would suddenly be campaigning for more pants?  Why, in short, do my spidey senses tell me that this is not about modesty at all, but about control?  “Wear what I say, and I promise I’ll start respecting you.”  Pants!

9.  If you are so concerned about how I think about myself, then why don’t you ask me what I actually think, instead of telling me what you know I will think if I only listen to you?  Not that you asked, but I’ll tell you how I think about myself:  I think that my life got a lot better when I started making reasonable decisions for myself, instead of always wondering if I’m going to disappoint some hypothetical man.  I care profoundly what my husband thinks about me, and naturally that affects how I feel about myself.  Pants.

10.  You give the game away when you start talking about femininity and end up complaining about fat butts.  That makes you less of a moral leader and more of an asshole.  Pants.

Women, if you want to wear skirts, and it means something to your husband, then go ahead and wear skirts.  Skirts are not a sign of oppression and misery!  I wish I could pull off the look, and to those of you who do wear skirts:  I think you look nice.

But it’s not a moral issue.  At all.

In the early years of my marriage, I tried so hard.  I thought I had to make up for everything wrong I had done, and I thought I had to be a good example for everyone else who was still doing everything wrong.  I scrubbed my floors on hands and knees, I made crepes from scratch, and I wore skirts every day.  In other words, I made everything a lot harder than it had to be — and wasted lots of valuable physical and emotional energy in pursuing these ideals, while letting other, more useful virtues slide.  Virtues like kindness, flexibility, and common sense.

I had three kids in diapers, and I didn’t have a car, so I walked everywhere.  Wearing skirts did nothing for me but make me awkward, self-righteous, and cold.  I guess some men find that appealing, but I’ve never heard my own husband pining for those days (the skirts were my idea, not his).  Many women are able to wear a skirt and function well.  I could not, and people who pressured me to try harder were doing me harm.

I think I’ve gotten beyond this phase, but the issue of skirts was a red herring that did a lot of genuine damage to my marriage, my self-respect, and my attitude toward other women.  That’s why messages like this anti-pants one make me so furious.  Yeah, lots of women dress immodestly — but  lots of other women are treated like retarded pets by their Good Catholic Husbands, and I’m sick to death of it.

I’m sick to death of messages like the one I linked to gaining any kind of legitimacy among otherwise intelligent men and women. Some women like to wear pants, and some don’t.  It’s not a moral issue.  If it’s a moral issue in your marriage, than your marriage has serious problems that a change in wardrobe will not heal.

Skirts won’t change the world.  I’ll tell you what will change the world:  men loving their wives — their actual wives, not some bizarre, imaginary amalgam of the Blessed Virgin and Grace Kelly.

So, ladies, if your priest friend forwards the anti-pants email to you, please remember:  one of the great strengths of the Catholic church is that it invites all sorts of men into its holy priesthood.  One of these men is infallible — but the one who sent you this email is not.  And the man who wrote the original message is not even a priest.

Pants, pants, pants!

Pants.

UPDATE:  Okay, ladies and gents, we just passed 300 comments.  Thank you for making me laugh so hard today and yesterday.  I’m closing comments now because I think everything has been said that can be said — although I really love the idea of Padre Pio duking it out in the confessional with Gianna Molla.   I realize that closing comments make me “mean and nasty,” but what can I say?  Pants will do that to a gal.

Betty Butterfield

I don’t think Betty Butterfield is an acquired taste — I think you either find her funny right away, or just turn away in disgust and bafflement, and that’s that.  Since Betty doesn’t explain herself, I won’t, either, but here are a few of my favorite clips.  (These are not for kids!!)

Betty does a whole series on visiting churches, and I think the Catholics come out looking the best.  Here she is on her visit to St. Assisi Francentine:

Visiting a Unitarian Church:

I guess I just feel on the inside the way Betty looks, talks, and thinks, and getting older just means learning to hide my Inner Betty better.  Oh, lord . . .

A little blaze

In discussing history with my older kids, I always try to hammer home the following point: when someone tells you that this or that issue is perfectly simple, then that person is either stupid or lying.

Here’s a satisfying case in point:  a recent Salon article (h/t to Kevin James) reminds us that, despite what renowned scholar Dan “I know how to type” Brown tells us, it wasn’t the mean old misogynistic Church who led those infamous European witch hunts.  More reliable sources show that women were accused of, tortured and killed for witchcraft because of  “squabbles among neighbors, resentments within families, disagreeable local characters, the machinations of small-time politicians and the creepy psychosexual fixations of magistrates and clerics.”

So there’s a good lesson there:  when something really big and awful goes on for 300 years, you can’t sum up its cause or significance in a single sentence (unless that sentence is “It’s a fallen world”).  Nothing is that simple.

For younger kids, though, I am in favor of teaching the simple, mythologized version of history first, and then refining it later (as long as you don’t get your myths from a dumbbell like Dan Brown).  Kids should understand the basic truth of what happened, and then discover the details when their minds become more subtle.

Thus, we teach the little ones that Columbus was a hero, Lincoln strode into battle to free the slaves, and God made the world in seven days.  All of this is true.  The details are more subtle, but the basic myth tells you something important that the details can’t convey.

Modern history books for children will have none of this fairytale foolishness.  They want to paint a truer, fuller picture of history by debunking myths — but they do this by oversimplifying in the other direction, and they end up telling an equally false story.  By insisting on the deary, mitigating details, they teach children that no one ever fights to the death for justice, and that no one is really courageous, that nothing is noble.  What a terrible lesson — what a lie!

So now school children kids believe that Thomas Jefferson was, above all, a famous racist; that Columbus’ main goal was to find some peaceful natives to slaughter; and that the liberated Israelites merely trudged after Moses through a swampy area during low tide.

I don’t lie to my kids.   Soon enough, children learn that there are details, there are complications.  But I know they haven’t lived long enough to understand that sin and weakness go along with courage and nobility — that they can exist in the same man.  This subtle understanding is something they will need to have eventually.  But trying to teach it prematurely doesn’t give you educated students, it gives you ignorant cynics.

When you’re building a fire, you have to start with a little blaze. Sure, the fire is more useful and productive when the flames have died down.  You can get some even and steady heat then, and glowing coals are easier to control and maintain than the leaping, unpredictable tongues of flame when kindling catches fire.

But you can’t just skip to the steady heat stage.  That’s what these myths about history are–they’re a little blaze to get things going.  You have to start with the blaze.

(cross-posted at The Anchoress)

Planet Aid, runaway tushy, cheese dip, etc.

How sad — the long weekend is over.  We had a lovely time devouring sausages andhot cheese dip, drinking beer and visiting with family, including our new godson, who is plenty cute, let me tell you.  But I really didn’t mind handing him back to my sister when he wouldn’t quit squawking.

Come see the stupid thing I wrote.  It’s cross-posted at The Anchoress and Inside Catholic’s Inside Blog, so why don’t you pretend to be two people and leave comments in both places?  One comment can be mean and one can be nice!  For the mean one, I suggest that you use all lower-case letters so people will take you seriously.

Then, after you have read them both and tried the cheese dip, take a look at what will soon be unleashed on the world, when yet another of my plenty-cute nephews grows up.  He is 7 years old, and wrote this story:

The Runaway Tushy

A kind of true story

by Juan Diego

 

Once upon a time there was a lady named Mama T and she wanted her children to be clean.  One day, she was changing the baby’s diaper when suddenly the baby’s tushy bounced off the bed, out of the bedroom, into the entryway and out the door.  Another tushy grew and bounced off.  A third tushy grew and stayed.

Meanwhile, the two tushies were hunting with pistols they found in the woods.  When the two tushies met, they almost shot each other, but they learned to know each other.  They built a house and hunted their food and lived a jolly life, and so, if you ever go north, you find the two tushies strumming their banjos or guitars.

The End

 

Where the hell is the mail?

Oh.  Sorry, never mind.

My husband’s new job is working out quite well, thanks.  He even actually has the day off today!  (Of course he’s not being paid for it, which means he worked his behind off last week to make up for the lost hours.)

Anyway, we’re not accustomed to this sort of thing, so I got all mixed up about posting, not posting, posting something appropriate, wondering what would be appropriately proletarian for Labor Day, wondering if I just used the word “proletarian” right, and so on.  I wrote something for today, but then it was kind of stupid.  So I’ll just post it tomorrow.  It’ll be a new feature:  “Stupid Tuesdays.”

In the mean time, in honor of this confusing holiday, I have reached new extremes of laziness and posted something on The Anchoress which is a cross-posted repost of something I posted here last week.  If I keep up this way, eventually I won’t be writing anything at all, but just posting an endless loop of links.

[Here you will just have to imagine a photograph of a snake eating itself, which WordPress will not let me post, for some reason, probably in honor of Labor Day.  Communists.  I call it a poor excuse for picking a man’s pockets every 6th of September!  Well, it was kind of a disgusting picture anyway.]

Furry sibling rivalry

(image source)

My kids fight sometimes.  Of course they do.  But I have long thought that well-meaning parents actually cause much of the sibling rivalry that worries them so.  Most parenting magazines, sooner or later, run an article for parents expecting baby #2, explaining how to guide the usurped older child through the horror and the devastation of bringing a new baby into the home.

Now, I don’t mean to be a pollyanna about what really happens.  Sometimes it’s not pretty.  Overall,  it’s about 98% good for older kids to have another sibling join the family.  But that other 2% of the time can be a little bloody.  Many’s the time I’ve had to intervene when the toddler starts out patting the baby gently, and somehow, without really meaning to, ends up rhythmically whacking the baby as hard as he can.  Nice baby, nice baby, nice baby, Nice!!! Baby!!!  Nice!!!  Baby!!!

So there are any number of books and articles about how to prepare the older kids for the newest arrival.  You  should explain in detail what to expect (newborn brothers can’t learn to play football right away), you remind them of how they’re allowed to eat ice cream and poor silly baby can’t, you make a fuss over them, you let them have private time with mom and dad, etc.

This is all fine, but I do think it goes overboard a little bit.  Angelina Ballerina, for instance, is a good example of a kid who is just being a jerk about it, and needs to be taken down a peg or two.   She trashes her room, as I recall, and firebombs Mrs. Hodgepodge’s potting shed.  Or something.  To make it up to her, they name her sister of the year and buy her a private island.  Or something.  I hate that mouse.

Anyway, the foregone conclusion in these ostensibly helpful books is that, by having a baby, you are wrecking your original kid’s world, and your main job now is to make atonement, and help them put back together the tatters of their former, only-childish happiness.

Naturally, kids pick up on this attitude.  If you are very afraid they will react badly, then they usually will. I have found it much more helpful to be very matter-of-fact about the new baby.  Of course you keep a close eye on the older kid’s reactions, and are kind, patient and understanding.  But don’t get carried away.

What is much more disturbing, however, is a new trend I’ve noticed in children’s books:  the “how to help your pet deal with the new baby” genre. I’ve seen two or three in the last few weeks, and I don’t get it.

Okay, I understand that you love your pup, and you don’t want him to be unhappy.  He’s been an Only Dog for many years, and this will be an adjustment.  Also, you want to avoid any revenge pooping, and you don’t want him to eat the new baby, either.  So it makes practical sense for there to be some guidance on how to prepare your pet for the new baby.

But … why are there children’s books about it?  Who are they for?  I do not understand.  I suppose these books are not necessarily instructive manuals, and it might be interesting for a child to read a story from a dog’s point of view.  And story books reflect whatever happens to be going on in the culture at large.  It’s become more common for couples to have a pet in the family for many years, and then, after long deliberation, they take the big leap and go ahead and buy a baby.  So, people write about what they know, and this is why there are books about it.

Echh, I don’t know, it still gives me the creeps.   I have the terrible suspicion that these picture books are for parents, who harbor some kind of resentment toward their own child, and want reassurance that everything will be okay, but don’t want to admit to anyone that they’re scared of their own newborn.

Or, or, are the adults reading these books to their dogs?  Am I making too much of this?  Just what is going on here?  Anyone?

(Cross-posted yesterday, due to me being not used to getting up this early, at The Anchoress)

Pray to Edith Stein. It couldn’t hoit!

I don’t know what my problem is, but I have a problem with novenas.  I guess I’m overly cautious about superstition — maybe I’ve seen too many of those classified ads:  “Force the Sacred Heart of Jesus to grant your top wishes!”  I may be an idiot, but even I know better than to drag the Holy Spirit into a pyramid scheme.

But seriously, I do understand the theology behind a novena.  You’re just kind of proving to God that you really, really mean it, like the woman in Luke 18 who wouldn’t leave the judge alone, so he finally said, “[B]ecause this widow is troublesome to me, I will avenge her, lest continually coming she weary me.”  My kids know this method, too, and that is how I found myself at the cash register at Walmart, shelling out genuine cash dollars for three hideous Lisa Frank lunch boxes that they really, really, really, really wanted a lot.

Recently, someone heard that my husband was out of work, and she suggested a novena to Edith Stein.  I don’t know what the connection could be between Edith Stein and employment, and I couldn’t actually find a very good novena online.  The one that we ended up with turned out to be kind of a sacrifice in itself:  it’s so awkwardly and pretentiously written, I can’t decide if it was translated by a computer from another language, or just written by a sadist.

But my husband had been out of work for eight months, and we happened to get this tip about the novena on the day before Edith Stein’s feast day.  Not wanting to annoy God, who was clearly trying to get our attention, we started the novena.

He got a job on day 2.  We added a couple of other guys on, and they both got interviews — and they didn’t even get the full nine days!

So–what can I say?  As Edith Stein’s old Jewish grandmother used to say,* “It couldn’t hoit!” Here’s the novena we’re saying.  Maybe someone can suggest a better one?

*probably

I didn’t start with a photo of Edith Stein, because I couldn’t find the only nice one I’ve ever seen.  Normally, she looks crabby and irritated–not at all someone you’d ask for help–but I once saw a photo of her playing with a baby niece or someone, and she looked relaxed and happy.

Here’s an explanation of the picture at the top, according to the CASE website:

This beautiful painting of Our Lady protecting Europe illustrates the Christian roots of Europe, and shows Our Lady surrounded by six patron saints of Europe: SS Cyril and Methodius , St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), St Benedict, St Bridget of Sweden, and St Catherine of Siena. Robert Schumann, one of the founding fathers of the European Union, looks on. St Benedict offers the monastery of Canterbury to the Blessed Virgin, and St Cyril writes of the conversion of the Slavs.

The painting is by John Armstrong, who is involved in a forthcoming celebration of religious art in Liverpool:  see Vision of Hope.

(cross-posted at The Anchoress)

Have you ever seen such cruelty?

I happened to pick up Isabelle Allende’s Island Beneath the Sea, and now I’m sorry.  Okay, so the cover said it was “[t]he sweeping story of an unforgettable woman–a slave and a concubine determined to claim her own destiny against impossible odds.”  So I was warned.

In my defense, I didn’t expect it to be great literature, and I assumed I’d have to skip some steamy parts (right-o).  But Allende’s earlier novel, The House of the Spirits, was actually a good book — not perfect, but interesting, carefully made, funny, and original.

Island was none of these.  The author apparently felt that what the world needs now is yet another novel about a strong and valiant woman who is cruelly crushed by western culture and masculinity, yet rises from the ashes and manages to learn to support herself and have children and orgasms — but historical!

I’ve never written fiction, but I know an early draft when I see one.  Even if you ignore the loud creaking noise made by the elderly clichés  described above, you will get lost in the disorder of this sloppy work.

Major plot points are exposed so clumsily that you can just hear the author thinking, “Crap, I meant to put that in sixty pages ago!  Well, a deadline’s a deadline — I’ll just cram it in . . . let’s see, here.”

Some characters are elaborately and meticulously introduced, only to evaporate without explanation in the second half of the book; while others leap fully-formed halfway through the plot, leaving the reader to wonder, “Wait, who is this guy?  Howdid he get to be so important?”  Subplots are hinted at, never to appear again, and satisfyingly huge denouements are promised, but all you get is a fizzle.

There are long, confusing passages of dry historical detail (the book takes place during the Haitian revolution, which should have been interesting) which are followed abruptly by hastily sketched-in descriptions of the cruelty of a slave’s life, the cruelty of a young student’s life, the cruelty of men toward women, etc.  I kept thinking about this scene from Blazing Saddles:

In Island Beneath the Sea, whole chapters go that way.

The prose (it can’t all be the translator’s fault) is also clunky beyond belief.  Wade through this if you can:

He was amazed by his ardor, renewed every night, and even at times at midday, when he arrived unexpectedly, boots covered with mud, and surprised her embroidering among the pillows of her bed, expelled the dogs with one sweep of his hands, and fell upon her with the jubilation of again feeling eighteen.  (271)

I knew a guy who surprised my embroidering once.  It wasn’t pretty.

So, to sum up:  Women damaged by rape and oppression, healed overnight by a tender lover who’s not so grabby?  Check.

Women controlling their fate through choosing when and where to be slutty?  Check.

Swooning approval of loathsome behavior as long as it’s done consensually in the name of lurve?  Check.

Catholic priest who’s a good guy mainly because he says that voodoo is basically the same as Catholicism, so you go right ahead and bite the head off that chicken?  Check.

Writing whole chapters in italics to show that certain characters are deep souls who speak interiorly? Check.

Dreadfully predictable switcheroo with an inexcusable number of various mixed-race babies?  Check, check, and check.

Railing against the senselessness of racism and sexism while shamelessly exploiting both in lieu of character development?  Check.  (For a quick reference guide:  dark skin=good; female=good.  Light skin=bad, male=bad.   Black female is double plus good; white male double plus ungood.)

Throw in some tutti fruity quasi-lyrical nonsense about surrendering to the power of the drums and the dance, and, according to Allende, you’ve got yourself a novel.  For a more insightful and entertaining exploration of race, just go ahead and watch Blazing Saddles.  It’s twoo, it’s twoo!

(Cross-posted at The Anchoress)