Two stars for the majority of the book. Four stars for the middle section. And a lot of confusion as to why an author would make such a choice in combTwo stars for the majority of the book. Four stars for the middle section. And a lot of confusion as to why an author would make such a choice in combining three disparate writing styles into a single novel.
Red Water examines, through fiction, the life and death of John D. Lee, the scapegoat who was executed for the infamous Mountain Meadow(s) Massacre in Utah, one of the darkest stains on the history of the Mormon Church. This examination is accomplished through the perspectives of three of his many wives.
The first part of the book is disproportionately large -- fully half the novel is devoted to the perspective of Emma, and English immigrant who becomes Lee's eighteenth wife. Or seventh, depending on how you count it. Emma is willful and smart, independent and witty. She struggles to find her place among a polygamist family, at first eagerly marrying Lee because of his considerable charisma, then floundering a bit as she tries to come to terms with the full implications of "living the Principle," as the early Mormons called the practice of polygamy. She would make a delightful and fascinating point-of-view character were it not for the incredibly dry, all-tell, nondescriptive writing in her voice. Emma is not writing a journal, yet her narration has the feel of a journal, with long stretches of nothing happening other than Emma listing off dates and the minutiae of things that happened. Well-written historical fiction has a lot of information about the details of everyday life in a past time and place, but well-written historical fiction is also entertaining and engrossing. Emma's narration was seldom engaging. When it was, it was due to the events happening and not Emma's narrative voice, which could have enhanced the action of the story and made it far more memorable.
The final portion of the book, told from the point of view of Rachel in the style of a journal spanning the year following Lee's execution, was so boring I almost gave up the book unfinished. Instead, after ascertaining that I could expect no improvement in the style and that I would indeed have to slog through a long litany of weather reports and detail-less lists of typical arid farming chores without any attempt to bring me into the setting or into the character's heart, I flipped through the last part of the book quickly, skimming for content. Even the scene where Rachel cuts off her friend's gangrenous foot left me not caring, it was described so dully. Yes, pioneer journals were often written in such a style, but this is fiction. More imagination and more regard for the reader's desire for entertainment are required.
Contrast these two difficult parts (one, again, fully half of this long novel) with the middle portion, told from the point of view of Ann, Lee's youngest wife, a cross-dressing, possibly bisexual, horse-wrangling, smart-mouthed, strong-willed girl who wants no children and who entered into a polygamist marriage as the first in a long string of adventures she intends to have. (In truth she did it for another reason, one that marks her as a shrewd and caring person, even at a very young age, and further develops her character.) Ann's narrative voice is in the third person and the writing craft displayed in this part of the book is rapturously gorgeous. Freeman spared nothing here in making the harsh, strange landscape of Utah spring to life. Other reviewers have called Ann's chapters dull. I, however, can never get enough of watching a good writer illustrate the stark, disturbingly vibrant land and cultures of Deseret, the place where I, more or less, am from, and the place where my ancestors carved out lives for themselves. Utah may be the butt of jokes in contemporary American society, but spend some time in its wilderness areas and you will have a different impression of it. It is a place that can weigh you down with equal parts beauty and despair; it is an endless place of harshness and bright color. It's like nowhere else in the world, and experiencing it through Ann's perspective was refreshing and very enjoyable. Why Freeman couldn't inject a little more of that into the other two parts of the novel is beyond me.
All in all, it's a decent book. The events at Mountain Meadow were not well explained in this novel, so readers who are not familiar with the history of the event may be confused as to what the hell everybody keeps referencing. The massacre is only lightly touched on, which is appropriate for a novel that seeks to understand how such a tragedy can continue to influence a region (and a family) many years after the fact, but might leave unfamiliar readers wondering what the big deal was. ...more
The fact that I was raised in an LDS family probably has something to do with my liking for this book, although I am not a religious person anymore. HThe fact that I was raised in an LDS family probably has something to do with my liking for this book, although I am not a religious person anymore. However, Saints is more than just "Mormon fiction" or even "religious fiction." It's really good historical fiction, and if you're a fan of the genre you owe it to yourself to read this book.
It was written early in Card's career, before he began (in my opinion) phoning it in. Saints comes from the same inspired, energetic, ultra-creative Orson Scott Card who gave us Wyrms, Hart's Hope, and the Alvin Maker series, not to mention Ender's Game and his exceptional early-career short fiction.
Like his other works from the same era, Saints is astonishingly vivid, in terms of both prose and atmosphere. It paints a gritty, dark scene of Industrial England, with all its societal injustices; and set atop this canvas is the tragic portrait of a family of good people slowly being torn apart. The subtle darkness and deep emotion are pure classic Card, as is the delicacy of the writing. Before the phone-it-in phase, Card was the best of the best at character development, particularly through dialog; and the interactions between the Kirkham family as they strive for their own identities and desires make for a priceless study in character.
The latter portion of the book takes place in America, once some of the Kirkhams have left England to join up with the "Saints" -- the other members of the fledgling Mormon Church. As a no-longer-Mormon, I found it just a tad amusing that a novel written by a staunch Mormon took such liberties in portraying the characters of important Church founders, such as Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. They were not always portrayed in the most favorable light -- which is only a testament to how good Card's writing was during this phase of his career. It would have been easy for this author to make these characters virtually infallible, but Card was better back then at creating real characters. The fact that he chose to portray Smith, Young, and others as men with real, often serious personality flaws speaks to the quality of the reading experience and this novel's deserved place among the best historical novels.
What keeps this one from being a full-on five stars? Two things.
First, in the final fifth or sixth of the book it begins to feel a bit too much like a sermon for this nonbeliever's taste. The majority of the book is excellent, engaging, exceptionally-written historical fiction. The final small chunk goes a bit too religious; but by then, I was too invested in the characters to stop reading.
Second, as good as Card is at creating believable characters (in this work and others), Dinah has a personality change that just doesn't jive with the way her character is established early on. Dinah is portrayed from the get-go as a critical thinker, skeptical and in need of seeing some serious evidence before she'll believe anything anybody tells her. In fact, her rocky relationship with her father seems to have been put into the novel specifically to set her up as the most skeptical character in the book. But once she hears the Mormon message, she is instantly ready to believe it without further evidence.
Undoubtedly Card intended the reader to grasp the inherent believability of the Mormon missionaries' message specifically BECAUSE Dinah is such a critical thinker. We're to think, "If Dinah can believe it so easily, then any of these characters can believe it." Alas for Card, the trick doesn't come off so well. He does such a fine job of establishing Dinah's skepticism early on that her instant acceptance of the message and her total willingness to make enormous personal sacrifices to travel to America and become a Saint come off as being totally out of character.
(As an aside, there is some focus in the latter part of the novel on the urgency the men felt in spreading the "doctrine" of polygamy amongst their congregation. Many readers will find this highly unpalatable, but as a fan of historical fiction, and as a person with a fairly in-depth knowledge of the history of the Mormon church, I found this to be one of the most interesting parts of the book. The "doctrine" was a major sticking point in the church's early development, broke it into factions, and ultimately affected the history not only of the church but of our nation -- read up on the State of Deseret and Brigham Young's very interesting/disturbing life -- and his conflicts with President Buchanan -- for a real eye-opener! I thought giving polygamy such weight in this novel was a smart move...rather than making the book "more Mormon," it made the book more relevant to American history.)
Well, no author is perfect, nor is any book. Saints' flaws are minor in comparison to its strengths, and Dinah is quickly back to her clear-headed self, and the story resumes in a satisfying way with only the slight residual discomfort of having gone over a kind of character speed bump. I still rank Saints among my favorite historical novels, and certainly among my favorite books by Orson Scott Card....more
Boy...I am surprised at how many people here gave this book a low rating and claimed it was "social commentary on women" or that the author obviouslyBoy...I am surprised at how many people here gave this book a low rating and claimed it was "social commentary on women" or that the author obviously has a low opinion of women or portrays women negatively. Really? Did we read the same book? This book is full of strong and admirable female characters...and even some not-so-admirable female characters who still cannot be said to be dumb, small-brained, only interested in sex, or any other misrepresentation slung about here in these reviews.
Maia is a fantasy novel by virtue of the fact that it's set in an imaginary place, but that's where the fantasy elements end. Otherwise, it's more likely to appeal to fans of historical fiction, with its focus on political intrigue, plots within plots, and the fates of rulers -- and their concubines. (Maybe that's why I found it so palatable. Rather than seeing it as some kind of condescension toward women, it strikes me as fitting right in with the rest of the historical fiction I love to read.)
The book is long, and Adams occasionally becomes long-winded, going into meandering digressions about various characters' histories. But the characters are so interesting and Adams' writing is so typically picturesque that it never bothered me enough to remove this book from my shelf. (In fact, I had three hardcover copies of this out-of-print gem, and I treasured them, but neglected to rescue them from my ex-husband's house when I moved out. :( )
The big strength of this book is its various characters, all of whom are well-painted and memorable. Contrary to what other reviewers thought, I found Maia to be not dumb or simple but compelling in her innocence and sweetness. She is sometimes naive, but she is earnest and kind, and when faced with a terrible situation (such as, for example, being sold into sexual slavery) rather than withering up and dying she adapts to her new world with the most positive attitude she can muster. As the novel progresses she grows a little older and a little wiser, and finally comes into her own as a heroic, brave young woman, willing to put her life on the line to save innocent lives. She's a main character worth rooting for, even if she's not perfect.
Occula is another female character who exudes confidence and power from the first moment she appears on the page. She is intelligent, cunning, possessed of great inner strength and patience that would make a monk envious. Occula is one of the most memorable characters in all of fiction, in my opinion, and for reviewers to write her obvious importance out entirely by saying that this book portrays a poor view of women is just ridiculous. This book wouldn't be what it is without Occula. She is integral to the plot and to the development of so many other characters and their subplots. I have a hard time imagining a sexist author would write such a character into his book. Or at least, a sexist author would "punish" such a character in some way for the mere fact of her greatness -- but on the contrary, Occula arrives in Bekla under her own terms, serves where she means to serve, and, in the end, gets exactly what she wants in exactly the way she wants it, and ends up fabulously wealthy and happy as a clam. This doesn't seem like the creation of a sexist writer.
Maia is a long, sensory, in-depth journey through Adams' fictional world, and the reader is guided by a host of fascinating characters. Don't pass this one up, especially if you love Adams' other works or if you are a fan of character-dense historical fiction....more
This might be the only book about writing anybody needs.
It's not a book that tells you how to write. But I've never found those books to be useful anyThis might be the only book about writing anybody needs.
It's not a book that tells you how to write. But I've never found those books to be useful anyway. This is a book about what it is like to be a writer. Not "be a writer" as in "being able to tell strangers that you're a writer and then enjoying the instinctive looks of awe on their faces," nor "be a writer" as in "manage a career writing books." It is a book about what it's like to obsess over a single sentence for days or weeks, what it's like to feel the frailty of art and the responsibility for creating it, what it's like to know that what you do ultimately matters very little, yet you feel compelled to do it anyway.
It is told, as per Dillard usual, in a series of stunningly, quietly beautiful sketches, small anecdotes that when taken as a whole impart both wise advice and understanding to the fellow obsesser over a single sentence; yet never is the point of the narrative stated plainly, and that makes it all the more accessible and pretty and sincere.
This is a book that speaks directly to those who live "with one foot in fatal salt water and one foot on a billion grains of sand."
Beautiful and personal and absolutely recommended....more