Karla's Reviews > Ghost Fox
by James Archibald Houston
bookshelves: america-colonial, indians-and-halfbreeds, abduction, cover-sparklies, son-i-am-disappoint, things-are-doing-things, peeves-illogic-lemme-sho-u-it, adventure, buddy-readz-r-social, retarded-jellyfish-could-wr8-better, eras-18th-century, historical-fiction, interracial-love, overrated, slavery-and-indenture, the-ending-blows, wtf-was-this, uber-optimistic, vermont-settings, cover-artists-george-ziel
Way waaaaaaaaaay short.
But with so much left to go, there was a chance it would get better.
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.
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.
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.
||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|
||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"|
||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|
||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|
||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|
"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
||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!"|
||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|
||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|
||65.0%||"That scene with Blacksquaw, Bear Man, and the cannon in their bed. WTF, I don't even..." 13 comments|
"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.""
"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
""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
" 8 comments