Karla's Reviews > Ghost Fox

Ghost Fox by James Archibald Houston
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** spoiler alert ** As you can tell from my updates, I started getting increasingly bitchy about this book from the 20% point (give or take a few). I simply wasn't getting the raves for it. It was falling short.

Way waaaaaaaaaay short.

But with so much left to go, there was a chance it would get better. And that 2012 Reading Challenge is important, people! I love the time period and the theme of abduction and clash of cultures and Stockholm Syndrome assimilation.

And I also know that covers lie, so despite my bodice ripping tastes, I was fully aware that this book - despite the cover - was not a romance and Avon merely slapped that awesome cover on there to deceptively push some product like the liars they are.

Despite all that, this story - while it had good descriptions of nature (though the geography was a leetle beet vague in spots) and the ins and outs of Abnaki culture - was a total fail in the human aspect.

Where to start with this? Well, the plot. Girl gets captured by Abnaki, escapes, is re-captured, lives with them, bumps uglies with a few guys (white and Indian), goes back to white civilization, then goes back to her warrior-man. There. Simple and, one would assume, hard to fuck up.

And yet.....

I have rarely read a book supposed to be very emotional that was so emotionally barren.

The characters? Ciphers. Flat. Disjointed. Transitory. Fragmented. OMGIdon’tfuckingcare.

Interior dialogue? OK, I hate it when authors shove characters' thoughts into my face every single page, especially when it's the same boring shit thoughts over and over. Navel-gazing spooge is not my cuppa. But this one? Rarely did I get a glimpse. And when I did, it either was contradictory or made no sense. And thus this was me most of the time:


The biggest offender (and the only one I'll detail because this review will be long enough as it is) was the main protagonist, Sarah Wells. When we first see her, she is a very discontented 17-year old who likes shagging the indentured servant Peleg McNair in the hayloft and holds her mother in base contempt because the woman is a willing and meek drudge to her husband, slaving away at farm work and taking verbal abuse on an hourly basis. She envies her sister Kate, who now works as a tavern whore. At least Kate doesn’t have to pick berries and carry firewood from dawn to dusk. Of course, she’ll probably be dead of the pox before she’s 30, but hey, the work seems easy enough.

Then Sarah and Peleg are abducted by a roving band of Abnakis and hauled west to Lake George, then north to Mississquoi Bay, on a tight leash. However, despite being slapped in the face and kicked in the back multiple times, she tries to win over her captors by singing songs about birds and making eyes at some subchief called Chango who, by taking care of her, makes her think that she is his. Or something. (Don’t worry. Chango isn’t important and is as flat as everyone else.) When Peleg manages to escape, Sarah’s left alone, but we soon discover that she’s a very resourceful and adaptable girl. Within days she is rubbing nether regions with a young Indian on the cusp of warriorhood. When he gives her a necklace to wear around her waist (with the all important detail of beads dangling between her thighs), we are in the midst of an all-consuming love that will grasp the reader’s heart and never let go.

Ehhhhhh....not so much.

The Indian lover of hers, Taliwan, has little personality. His big scene in the entire book is getting barfingly drunk during an immense rum kegger in the Abnaki village, a scene that Never. Fucking. Ends. And there are several references to him running his hair over her bare chest as they bump uglies. That’s about the alpha and omega of his accomplishments. I also forgot his name on a regular basis. Memorable he ain’t.

Anyway, Sarah’s stay at the village is rough from the start (stoned by tots and old farts) and she escapes with a Dutch woman called Hawk who has two ways of speaking: “shriek” and “scream.” (No, really, read it and see for yourself.) But for all her determination to get away, Sarah’s pretty damn glad when she gets recaptured because she realizes she was getting tired of fending for herself in the wild, even though she was already at the Connecticut River around current day Barnet, Vermont (I guess - that hazy geography again) and it would only be an easy peasy, idiot-proof jaunt to get home free.

Thus we come to Sarah’s motivation for wanting to stay with the Abnakis. There are less chores to do than on her family farm. No, really. That’s it. Oh, and the language is like wind whispering in the pines. Quite the insight, no? She gets to sit in the sun in the afternoons with other squaws and do a moderate load of work. Her southern New Hampshire farmhouse had 6 fireplaces to stoke (Six? Really?? In 1755???), dishes and clothes to wash, and crops to cultivate for humans and livestock alike. Frivolous white man busy work, is her conclusion. At the Abnaki village, one wears the same dress every day, bathes whenever, and has a bit more free time. It seemed so infantile and lazy kid chores-dodgy that I didn’t know what to think.

But if she’d been consistent in this thinking, it wouldn’t have been so bad. But when the village gets raided, Sarah gets whisked off by the British and Mohawks, and she thinks her loverboy Taliban is dead, things get confusing with poor Sarah’s thoughts. Yanked off to Fort Anne by a British officer who is dead set on heading south to civilization, he tells her that the Scottish major in charge won’t let them have a horse unless Sarah hops into bed with him. This she does, and is quite enthusiastic about it over and over. So is she just wanting to get him sick of her and send them on their way? Maybe, except the only time we get in her head during this time is the following:
How could she explain her relief at discovering that returning south was as simple and friendly as this. Imagine the pleasures of hot lusting in a wide feather bed compared to all the impossible terrors she had suffered in the past three years.

A feather bed fuck is much better than all the hardships in that Abnaki village, which in turn was so much better than...a soft bed at a farmhouse at the end of a long day? Just what the hell is in this chick’s head? What motivates her? It changes all the time, because when she finally arrives back home....
She snuffed out the candle flame, crawled down onto the floor, and curled herself catlike beneath the bed, welcoming the familiar hardness.

Yoohoo, soft feather bed? Remember?

And she tells Peleg that during her captivity she had often dreamed of clearing land for a farm and living a lovely life with him forevah and evah. She didn’t think that once. She hated farm work. To the extent that freezing her ass off in a menstruation hut and getting randomly beaten by a cranky old woman was more attractive than carrying firewood to that nasty old farmhouse. What am I supposed to think of this woman? If the author isn’t going to tell me much of what goes on in her head, then I have to take her actions and what little interior dialogue there is and draw my own conclusion, and my conclusion was this:

She’s a flighty, fickle, lazy, horny liar.

The ending of the book was such a letdown. After 350 pages of me feeling nothing, a ton of blatant emotional manipulation was unloaded on me. Talleyrand shows up from the dead in the company of his cousin and Sarah runs off with them to rejoin their sprog, who was put in the care of a young girl after the Mohawk attack. The totally illiterate Sarah is somehow able to scrawl a poignant message on a doughboard to the mother she’s held in contempt for years. She and Tonawanda discover their son has died and bury him, and they vow to make more babies and set sail in a canoe to some place where no white man will bug them. Ta-da. Severing of family ties! Dead babies! A quest to find Tahoe’s buddy a bride so he won’t die a virgin! (No, really.) Am I supposed to be sad and weepy and emotional at all this? Too much WAY too late. I'd long since ceased to care. In fact, I never started because the characters were never three-dimensional in the first place.

I know I’m going on and on here, but this book really annoyed the fuck outta me. The inconsistencies and meandering nothings drove me up the wall. Sarah has a recurring vision of a knife soaked in blood (during a nightmare, a feverish dream, and inexplicably over her father’s head upon her reunion), but that goes nowhere. Peleg runs off to presumably do murder, but that little plot thread is left hanging. And why it was even started - apart than to get Peleg out of the picture again - I have no idea. What was the deal with the brass cannon in the old Abnaki chief’s bed? That was bizarre. And why did Sarah and Tambourine bury their infant son in a shallow grave when death in the wilds was previously dealt with by simply piling leaves over the corpse? Why why why? I shouldn’t have asked myself that question so much, but I ended up having to write half of the book in my head in order to fill in the gaps and lapses in logic. Not fun.

One can write a book where the characters' actions and background speak for themselves that provoke critical thinking, like This Other Eden, or one can write a book that reads like it’s shit writing with more holes than swiss cheese, like this one.

2 stars, but only for the description of early frontier nature and aspects of village life and culture. The story and characters? 5 star potential, but 0 star execution. This book's brain-breaking schizophrenia actually intensified a migraine. For that, I'll never forgive it.

Another book I was optimistic about turns to sad, bitter disappointment.

***
Original review:
What a fucking disappointment that was.

Review & rating later, after my sis finishes. This has been a bonding experience for both of us, I hope. Suffering in equal measure brings sibs together.
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Reading Progress

01/06/2012 page 38
10.0% "I don't think Sarah's going to have it much worse in captivity than if she'd stayed at home. That was a domestic family massacre waiting to happen." 2 comments
01/07/2012 page 72
20.0% "My spine is having sympathy pains like crazy for all the times Sarah's been kicked or punched in the back. Haven't these savages heard of disk herniation? :P"
01/07/2012 page 83
22.0% "I have a sense that the author is more concerned with outside details than inside details. For a main protagonist, Sarah still seems like a two-dimensional cipher." 5 comments
01/07/2012 page 113
31.0% "I never thought I'd say this, but I'd kill for some inner dialogue right about now. It might help explain why Sarah's having wet dreams about Taliwan, even though he hasn't done anything specifically good. Or maybe just because he hasn't sucker-punched her in the kidneys is reason enough for her to want to spread 'em? Help me out, Author." 4 comments
01/08/2012 page 130
35.0% "OK, I'm really confused about the language barrier here. Sarah learned some words from the family Indian slave woman (from a totally different tribe) but that's enough for her to be able to understand the Abnakis. She can understand a long description of local swamp country and wildlife on pg. 122, but then on pg. 130 her Indian lover has to speak pidgin Abnaki for her to understand he'll miss her. Gah." 4 comments
01/08/2012 page 136
37.0% "She slipped the hatchet beneath her deerskin shawl & into the waistband of her tattered skirt. The blade felt cold and sharp against her belly. The long, smooth oak handle dangled down between her legs. Feeling it made her catch her breath.

Since the author is of a hardline "let actions speak for themselves" school of writing, I have therefore concluded that Sarah is horny all the time.

" 4 comments
01/08/2012 page 186
50.0% "So after undergoing weeks (?) of foot travel and sporadic food, bad weather, etc., including near-murder from a weirdly unhinged co-escapee, when Sarah realizes she's back in captivity her first words are, "Yo, got some food?" No crushing realization at the utter futility of it all? Just minor disappointment, if that? Blah. This book sucks!"
01/08/2012 page 198
54.0% "Oh, so she's glad to be back in captivity because then she won't have to take care of herself? Well then....I know I'd rather be randomly beaten by elders and children and cast into a freezing menstruation hut every month than go the last 60 miles to freedom. I mean, who wouldn't?" 3 comments
01/08/2012 page 222
60.0% "I wish I could be arsed to care about the recurring vision Sarah has of a dagger and hand covered in blood. It's only making me think how much better Macbeth is than this." 9 comments
01/08/2012 page 241
65.0% "That scene with Blacksquaw, Bear Man, and the cannon in their bed. WTF, I don't even..." 13 comments
01/08/2012 page 277
75.0% "Now is a golden opportunity for this story to end...

"And while the whole village was laid out after that huge rum kegger, the Mohawks came in and killed everybody. The End."

"
01/08/2012 page 316
86.0% "OK, WTF is the deal with this chick? Sarah's psychological progression:

abuse + lots of chores + sexytimes in hayloft with indentured servant < abuse + some chores + sexytimes with warrior < sexytimes in featherbed with Scotsman at Ticonderoga

" 5 comments
01/08/2012 page 326
88.0% ""I often wondered how it would have been if I'd got across the lake with you. I used to dream that we would have cleared a small farm together..."

Don't believe her, Peleg. She didn't think that once.

" 2 comments
01/08/2012 page 369
100.0% "IT'S. OVER.

" 8 comments

Comments (showing 1-50 of 54) (54 new)


message 1: by Sharon (new) - added it

Sharon Oh! This one looks good. I want to blow up the cover picture too and get a better look to see if it looks as good as I think it does. (I'm a sucker for cover art)


Karla Yeah, the cover art grabbed me too! Total cover slut, present!


message 3: by Sharon (new) - added it

Sharon LOL


Kerrie dang, I checked this one out of the library and was planning on reading it after I finish this western...


Karla Sorry, sis, I'm in the mood to read it now. :D

Don't fret, we've got Defiant Ecstasy lined up in a month. ^___^


Kerrie OK, then I won't read your status updates or review, cuz I wanna be surprised by this one. :D


Karla Aw, but I won't be feeling the "like" love from you. I...I need it. :(

I won't post anything spoilery. How about just pictures of historical happenings with absolutely no context? :P


Kerrie Just read really sloooooooooow for a couple days so I can catch up. :D


Karla That'll be no problem since I didn't read at all last night.


Kerrie Yay, cuz I can start it today. :D


Kerrie Family massacre - I'll say! I'm sure a lot of families were like that back then, but no 24/7 media blaring headlines about missing wives or daughters.


Karla I can imagine that any settlement a day or two outside of Boston was remote enough to make family dynamics a little....tense on occasion. Put the wrong kind of guy in as patriarch and watch the dysfunction fly....


Karla Oh don't you worry. I'll always have interest and reading vigor for Gray Eagle. :P

What movie you talking about?


Karla I plan to read The Hunger Games...sometime. If I watch the Tattoo movie it's for Daniel Craig and nothing else. :D


message 15: by Jemidar (new)

Jemidar Me too!!




Karla *drools*

:D


message 17: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Eeee! The 'things' shelf! :D


Karla ♥ Cheshire Catt ♠ wrote: "Ut-oh it all went down hill huh? :\"

And then some!


message 19: by Stephen (new)

Stephen I think any review that uses images or quotes from MST3K should be entitled to more than one "like" vote. I am going to petition Goodreads.


Karla Stephen wrote: "I think any review that uses images or quotes from MST3K should be entitled to more than one "like" vote. I am going to petition Goodreads."

Thank you, Stephen. :D


message 21: by Sarah (new)

Sarah I also forgot his name on a regular basis. Memorable he ain’t.

Have I mentioned that I love Tuberman's name is different every time you mention it? :D

and she thinks her loverboy Taliban is dead, things get confusing with poor Sarah’s thoughts.

But that one in particular made me LOL into my grape juce. :D

And I'm totally stealing that Mike Nelson gif for my next uber-disappointing review.


message 22: by Karla (last edited Jan 10, 2012 04:11AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Karla Sarah wrote: "Have I mentioned that I love Tuberman's name is different every time you mention it? :D"

That was Sis's idea. She suggested Taliban and Talleyrand and I ran with it. :D But I wasn't able to actually remember his real name until I started calling him Taliban. THEN I could remember.

Mike's face really sums up "disappointment" well, don't it? Poor boy... *gives him another juice box* I stole a bunch of MST gifs yesterday because I was going to use them in the review DAMMIT. :P

ETA: Eeek! I found the couch skit. :D I couldn't remember what made Mike look so scared. HOBGOBLINS!!!! :D


Kerrie You forgot to use "Tallywhacker" :D


message 24: by Tammy (new) - added it

Tammy Walton Grant Kerrie wrote: "You forgot to use "Tallywhacker" :D"

LMAO!


message 25: by Tammy (new) - added it

Tammy Walton Grant Great review, as usual! And, as usual, I feel slightly guilty for pimping a book to you that you ended up hating. :(

I actually found a copy of this book (I read a Reader's Digest Condensed when I was a kid) with it's beautiful cover but after reading your review I might just leave it there. Some things are better remembered than revisited.


Karla Kerrie wrote: "You forgot to use "Tallywhacker" :D"

Crap, I knew I'd forgotten one! Darn. :(


Karla Don't feel guilty, Tammy. I went in knowing that it wouldn't be romancey and more - probably - distant guy stuff. But I didn't think Houston did even a mediocre job at connecting the psychological dots with his characters.

There are better Indian captive books out there (I'm hoping).


message 28: by Tammy (new) - added it

Tammy Walton Grant Let me know if you find one. :)


Kerrie I'm going to be attempting The Woman Who Fell from the Sky in the not-so-distant future. The ratings look like the same balance as for Ghost Fox, but hopefully since it's written by a woman it'll have just a wee bit more "feeling."


Karla I think Barbara Riefe is a man-woman writing team, maybe even man & wife. I think I read that somewhere.


Kerrie Whoops - never judge a book by its cover, I guess! Barbara is actually Alan. So..... may have the same problems. I'll give it a shot tho!


message 32: by Sarah (new)

Sarah I just ordered a Riefe on PBS last night. Cosmic coincidence ahoy!


Karla I just found a webpage with lots of George Ziel covers. This one was included. Always happy to put a name to covers I love even if the book sucked.

Link


Linda Wilson I've read and re-read this book a number of times since I originally purchased it in '86. The original cover did look like a "bodice-ripper" story, but it is NOT. This is simply my favorite book. I don't agree that the characters are shallow and undeveloped--I could literally see them in my mind, and definitely got a feel for who they were. The ending always leaves me shell-shocked, yet appreciative of how the people of this time period endured incredible difficulties. I'm always wiping away tears (granted, it's always a number of years between reads, so I always forget some of the details). I lent it out to people over the years, and now have my third copy, as it never made its way back to me. People always passed it on. Absolutely riveting story, and historically factual and accurate.


message 35: by Karla (last edited Jul 19, 2013 03:56PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Karla Linda wrote: "I've read and re-read this book a number of times since I originally purchased it in '86. The original cover did look like a "bodice-ripper" story, but it is NOT. This is simply my favorite book. I don't agree that the characters are shallow and undeveloped--I could literally see them in my mind, and definitely got a feel for who they were. The ending always leaves me shell-shocked, yet appreciative of how the people of this time period endured incredible difficulties. I'm always wiping away tears (granted, it's always a number of years between reads, so I always forget some of the details). I lent it out to people over the years, and now have my third copy, as it never made its way back to me. People always passed it on. Absolutely riveting story, and historically factual and accurate."

Everyone has an absolutely favorite book that leaves someone else stone cold, apathetic or incredibly annoyed.

Glad you liked it though.


Karla BTW, Linda, your review space for this book is empty. Maybe you could fill it with your enthusiasm for it and persuade others to pick it up, rather than argue with someone who has a firm opinion already?

Just a thought.


Kerrie I always come back to this review every now and then to get a good laugh. Your annoyed outrage is epic. :D


message 38: by Karla (last edited Sep 25, 2014 01:52AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Karla I'll never not hate this book. :P

I also see Linda never posted a review.

And now that I've re-read my review again, Sarah's slacker attitude would fit in well with SPAs who still live at home. ;D


Kerrie Mwahaha.


message 40: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Oooooh, you wascaly wabbit! >:D

I'm so behind on reviews. Shame on me.


Karla It seems to be a general malaise in our little GR corner. It's like we all pooped out on them at the same time. Our amazing reviewing mojo couldn't last forever. :P


message 42: by Sarah (new)

Sarah I really did want to review the Banis book. I was even going to link my non-review for the first book to the second one, since I didn't plan on spoilers for either. *sigh*


message 43: by Karla (last edited Sep 25, 2014 10:11AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Karla Yeah, I just can't be bothered much. :( It's more tossing one off with a bare minimum of thought and coherence. I'd rather be reading or soaking in the tub with a drinkie-poo (and reading) than formulating things for books I've just read. I guess my reading has become more of a "consume and move on" than wanting to sit around and think about (or even discuss) them. I don't update nearly as much as I used to, and one day I'll reach BAVR's apathetic level. >:D

The only thing that won't change is that I'll know a bodice ripper when I see one and I won't require a blogger's laundry list to let me know if I'm reading one or not.


Kerrie Yeah I never know that BAVR is reading a historical Harlequin and then BOOM! there it is, on my feeds.


Karla She's so sneaky. I like adding it to my currently reading shelf because the date started is automatically logged and I like to know just how pokey I am sometimes. :P


message 46: by Sarah (new)

Sarah The only thing that won't change is that I'll know a bodice ripper when I see one and I won't require a blogger's laundry list to let me know if I'm reading one or not.

Amen to that. >:P

I occasionally get txts from BAVR about HQN reading. Y'all are missing out with your no-cell lifestyle. Bwahaha.


Karla Hey, the Pony Express still works perfectly well around these here parts. :P


message 48: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Said the Ethan Allen fangirl. :D


Karla If it was good enough for Ethan sweetums...

And I know you won't be a factchecking twat about that historical inaccuracy. ;D


message 50: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Hey, life was rough in the fifteenth century! ;)


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