skygiants: young Kiha from Legend of the First King's Four Gods in the library with a lit candle (flame of knowledge)
[personal profile] skygiants
Are you guys tired of Gothics yet? Because I have TWO MORE! And then I am caught up (on Gothics) (not on books in general) (despite my best efforts, that is unlikely to ever happen.)

Anyway these are a new-to-me beast, Andre Norton gothics! I had no idea that she had written anything of the sort until Open Road Media put out all those free ebooks a month or so back, at which point I of course grabbed as many as I could find; I have saved some for later, but while in the Galapagos I read Iron Butterflies and Snow Shadow.

Iron Butterflies is actually more of a Ruritanian romance than a Gothic; Our Heroine Amelia Harrach is a LONG-LOST HEIR to a kingdom somewhere in mumblety-Germany whose grandfather was recalled back to be prince of his mumblety-German kingdom after impulsively marrying her grandmother while a captive Hessian officer in the Revolutionary War. Grandma dies, but it turns out His Granddad Majesty is still alive (though not for much longer) and feeling guilty about his abandoned American family, so he sends a Noble Officer and a Sinister Grafin to collect her and bring her back to Ruritania.

Amelia has no actual interest in any kind of long-lost Ruritanian inheritance -- she is only here because it was GRANDMA'S DYING WISH to be acknowledged as a legitimate wife, and Amelia respected her grandma! -- and, somewhat hilariously, spends the entire book vehemently disapproving of everything and everyone she finds in mumblety-Germany. They give her fancy court dresses, and Amelia's like "I DISAPPROVE OF LOW NECKLINES." They show her the Crown Jewels, and Amelia's like "GAUDY TRASH." The Sinister Grafin presents a dashing-but-evil love interest who in most Gothics would act as a red herring for pages; Amelia's immediate response is, "WELL, HE SEEMS LIKE A TOOL." Eventually she gets drugged and dumped in a crumbling castle where the walls keep wailing "fear death!" at her; her reaction? "Not fear, but a kind of irritation." Amelia has no patience for these decadent aristocrats and all their haunted goings-on!

As you may have guessed, I kind of loved Amelia. Moreover, the one thing she does stress out about in the haunted castle is worrying whether her maid is OK, which I found endearing.

Meanwhile, Noble Officer who is her designated love interest is also really judgy and has about as much of a sense of humor as Amelia does, which is to say none, making them of the few Gothic couples that I can see really having a future together! Also, she gets to rescue him from a dungeon, which always helps to cement a relationship.

The heroine of Snow Shadow is ALSO really judgy, but in a way I found ... less endearing .......

This book is actually set in the 1960s, but Our Heroine Erica Jansen missed the entire counterculture movement due to being tied to the side of a very strict aunt, and boy howdy does it show. Typical Erica statements:

"Maybe I was an anachronism in my generation, but then I had never felt any kinship with people of my own age."
"It happens I dislike the taste of most drinks and do not take them."
"I mentally set my teeth against being withered by the supreme self-confidence of a woman who used all the power of her sex."

Lot of fun YOU are at parties, Erica Who Does Not Understand The Youth These Days! (I mean, disliking the taste of alcohol is perfectly reasonable, but it's the pompous way she says it that's just -- well, it gives you a sense of her character for sure!)

The confidently withering woman, by the way, is Leslie Lowndes and she might be evil but she was nonetheless my favorite character in the book, mostly because of how single-mindedly she goes about getting breakfast when everyone's stuck in the house awaiting inquiries by the police. Leslie has priorites!

Anyway, Erica Who Does Not Understand The Youth These Days takes a room in an old boarding-house named Northanger Abbey by its Austen-obsessed former owner, who generated a lot of family drama among his daughters and then died. The family drama proceeds to play out when Aunt Somebody's Corpse is surprise!swapped for Wicked Cousin Somebody Else's, and it turns out there's a gang involved, and an inheritance, and a fake long-lost Austen manuscript which sadly does not get much pagespace at all, and eventually a kidnapping. Erica spends most of her time a.) wondering how she got stuck in the middle of all this and b.) fretting over detective-on-the-case Mark Rohmer, who of course happens to be the One Relationship She Ever Had, which ended in a Big Misunderstanding when she saw him having lunch with a woman IDed as "Mrs. Rohmer", and immediately fled without ever resuming contact. Typical Erica!

Detective Mark Rohmer is also Native, for the record. This has no bearing on the plot at all but does allow Erica to occasionally drops a gross statements about how Exotically Fascinating she finds it that he's Indian! but so unexpectedly cultured! but surely UNDER HIS OUTER SHELL he must be GOVERNED BY THE MORES OF ANOTHER PEOPLE -- ugh, basically. You get the gist. I cannot think of any reason at all that Detective Mark would be interested in Erica, but, I mean, I'm biased, because I don't like her. Probably there's something! Overall I think I must consider this book a sad waste of a good Austen-mania plot.

Date: 2017-02-04 01:17 am (UTC)
sovay: (Morell: quizzical)
From: [personal profile] sovay
"It happens I dislike the taste of most drinks and do not take them."

This was my experience of alcoholic drinks until it turned out that I really like them when they are being made by people who are not college students and therefore can (a) afford quality booze (b) mix it with things other than high-fructose corn-syrup soft drinks.

[edit] This has no bearing on the plot at all but does allow Erica to occasionally drops a gross statements about how Exotically Fascinating she finds it that he's Indian! but so unexpectedly cultured! but surely UNDER HIS OUTER SHELL he must be GOVERNED BY THE MORES OF ANOTHER PEOPLE -- ugh, basically.

The movie version completely fucked it back up, but I treasure Anya Seton's Foxfire (1951) for being a Western mystery-romance between a white woman and a Native* man who have to overcome the serious problems in their marriage that have nothing to do with his culture. He doesn't talk to her about his problems. He doesn't want to hear about her problems. He is stoic and macho and expects her to cope with everything as self-sufficiently as he's learned to do in his solitary and difficult life and they visit the reservation he grew up on and almost literally everyone on the reservation goes "WHAT THE HELL MAN JUST TALK TO YOUR WIFE HERE HEROINE COME DO COMMUNAL ACTITIVIES WITH US WE'RE REALLY SORRY YOUR HUSBAND IS BEING A BUTT."

* His father was white; his mother is Apache, also mixed-race herself although she essentially ignores it and passes for full-blood as far as the agency is concerned. I also respect her for thoroughly dodging the tragic mulatto stereotype which her son seems determined to inflict on himself until persuaded by everyone that that is silly. The book has problems, it was written about a Depression-era setting in 1951, it was written about Native characters in 1951, but it has so many fewer problems on the race front than it could have or, frankly, I was expecting.
Edited Date: 2017-02-04 01:31 am (UTC)

Date: 2017-02-04 04:30 am (UTC)
sovay: (Haruspex: Autumn War)
From: [personal profile] sovay
and it took me until my mid-twenties to realize that, actually, what I liked much better than good wine was ... cheap beer ...... (I mean, not cheap cheap beer, but I'm perfectly happy with an incredibly average Blue Moon.)

Aw. Hops tastes like soap to me, but I wish you joy of your average beer!

Foxfire sounds really interesting!

I liked it a lot! I picked it up last winter, thoroughly enjoyed it, intended to write about it, completely failed. Amanda Lawrence is twenty years old in the winter of 1932 when she meets Jonathan "Dart" Dartland on the steamer they're both taking from Cherbourg to New York; she's a well-bred ex-Vassar student returning from what would have been a school vacation if she had the money to finish her degree (the crash of '29 having taken out her family's fortunes, if not their social expectations for her), he's a mining engineer seven years old than herself on his way from one job in the Transvaal to another in Arizona, by New Year's of 1933 they are married on little more than the strength of their astonishing sexual chemistry and move immediately to Lodestone, the hardscrabble company town where he's to be foreman at the Shamrock Mine. To the reader's total unsurprise, it goes terribly. Amanda has no friends in Lodestone, no place beyond being Dart's wife, no experience of living in clapboard shack levels of poverty in a community where she has no obvious allies, and while she's willing to try her best to adapt, Dart appears to give her no praise or encouragement for it. It's not indifference or insensitivity on his part, but it is a particular kind of self-centeredness: he's so used to fending for himself that it doesn't occur to him that other people don't have the same resources or practice—like his societally sheltered, physically petite, actually rather shy wife—and he doesn't recognize that the same behavior which he believes is demonstrating an absolute trust in her self-reliance and capacity to handle whatever crises or inconveniences are thrown her way is in point of fact indistinguishable from totally fucking hanging her out to dry. This is not an insoluble relationship problem. But it is the kind that requires some dedicated talking to resolve and between Amanda having no idea how to initiate the conversation and Dart actually being terrified of any situation in which he's emotionally vulnerable (stoic macho patriarchy bullshit ahoy!), their relationship continues to spin out until there are mistaken beliefs on both sides and people saying things they either don't mean or don't understand mean different things to the person hearing them and everybody haring off on a damn-fool hunt for legendary Anasazi gold in the Mazatzal Mountains which Dart and Amanda and the reader knows is likely to get them all killed, but by then there are too many complicating factors like money and pride and jealousy and cutting off one's nose to spite one's face tangled into the central argument for either of them to back down. That Seton pulls a plausible happy ending out of all of this explains to me absolutely why she has the reputation she does as a historical novelist. Also I read Dragonwyck (1944) shortly afterward and that book is gonzo.

What I like about Foxfire, in addition to the obvious points like style, characterization, and the ability to contain believably both legendary Anasazi gold and realistic marital problems, is that it's very careful to represent Dart's stoic macho bullshit behavior as a problem he's having because of his particular issues intersecting with good old American patriarchy, not because Apache men are all naturally stoic and macho and this is a Tragic Cultural Divide, even when other (white) characters try to frame it this way to Amanda. Seton is amazingly good about not exoticizing Dart or his mother. Any time a (white) character tries, the narrative shoots them down. Dart being mixed-race is not irrelevant to the novel, but it is relevant mostly in terms of the decisions he makes because of his image of himself and as a factor in the very kindly meant, but actually very racist attempts at support on the part of Amanda's family. The scenes on the reservation are a serious attempt by Seton to write about Native characters without falling off either side of the stereotype fence; for 1950 (I was wrong about the publication date), being white, and never having lived in the Southwest, I think she does a decent job. I also enjoy that the narrative takes a character who is usually a favorite archetype of mine and deliberately implodes him. Hugh Slater is the doctor in Lodestone, sandy-haired, sawed-off, sarcastic, and after he's been a jerk to Amanda for almost his entire brief introductory scene she laughs at him: "I've read you in a hundred stories; the surly woman-hater, the embittered doctor, drowning his troubles in bad temper and drink. Underneath there beats a heart of gold." Later he drops by with a grudging gift for her, lampshading his own change of heart: "Peace offering . . . Embittered doctor demonstrates heart of gold." The thing is that . . . he doesn't have one, really. He's actually just kind of a jerk. He's sympathetically drawn in that he's an intelligent, complex, and unhappy character who even recognizes some of his own self-destructive behavior, but Seton cuts him no slack for his obsession with his actress ex-wife, his abusive treatment of his current girlfriend, his misogyny which affects all his interactions with Dart and Amanda, even when he's trying to be nice. The reader primed by the same literary familiarity as Amanda keeps waiting for him to redeem himself. The reader is going to be waiting a long time.

The 1955 film version, as far as I can tell, reorients Dart and Amanda's problems into an actual cultural issue with respecting women on his part and therefore despite co-starring Dan Duryea as Hugh (a role in which he would have been excellent, attractive and corrosive) is not a movie I ever plan to watch.

(To be fair to Andre Norten, Erica and Mark's problems also have nothing to do with his culture; they have to do with Erica jumping to conclusions and also being a ninety-year-old woman in the body of a twenty-something, and not in the fun way.)

Is that ever addressed by the plot, or does she just go on being judgmental about youth culture all the way through the happily ever after? I mean, I didn't have a lot to say to the youth culture that I was generationally part of, but I like to imagine I wasn't a jackass about it.

Date: 2017-02-04 01:54 am (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
Anya Seton! Anya "Katherine" Seton? This book sounds interesting.

Date: 2017-02-04 04:31 am (UTC)
sovay: (Haruspex: Autumn War)
From: [personal profile] sovay
Anya Seton! Anya "Katherine" Seton? This book sounds interesting.

The same Anya Seton! See very lengthy comment above.

Date: 2017-02-04 01:52 am (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
Are you guys tired of Gothics yet?

NEVAR

I got Iron Butterflies in that big sale too! It had the most intriguing opening.

Date: 2017-02-04 02:05 am (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
Ahahaha, me too. I wound up with a lot of Norton and Effinger.

Date: 2017-02-04 01:55 am (UTC)
coffeeandink: (Default)
From: [personal profile] coffeeandink
Are you guys tired of Gothics yet?

NEVER! Although as it happens, the only Norton Gothic I have actually read is The White Jade Fox, which ... I remember as being less Orientalist than you might expect, but I do not remember it reliably or well.

Date: 2017-02-04 03:53 am (UTC)
rachelmanija: (Buffy: I kind of love you)
From: [personal profile] rachelmanija
WHAT SORT OF SCANDALOUS INVOLVEMENT, I WONDER?

Date: 2017-02-04 04:48 am (UTC)
sovay: (Haruspex: Autumn War)
From: [personal profile] sovay
Although as it happens, the only Norton Gothic I have actually read is The White Jade Fox, which ... I remember as being less Orientalist than you might expect, but I do not remember it reliably or well.

I remember it fondly from college, but also have not re-read it since then. Also I am a sucker for fox spirits, so that would have been the criterion by which I judged its narrative success. I believe [personal profile] rushthatspeaks read it during their year of books and thought it worked. [edit] Yes.
Edited Date: 2017-02-04 04:50 am (UTC)

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