Book Review


Someone mentioned this book in their blog and since I’m ever in search of something new to read, I thought I’d give it a shot.  I was especially intrigued to learn that the main character and her family is LDS.  I wondered if the author was LDS and if not, where she got off trying to write about us.

It’s a catch-22.  I want to see more LDS characters but I don’t want them written by people who don’t have the “right.”  *shakes head at self*

My verdict on the LDS-ness of the characters: she tried and she didn’t do too badly.  Honestly, if I ever write a story with a character who is deeply part of a religion that I don’t know, I’ll get someone who was from that religion to read the pertinent portions first.  It’s not so much that she got it wrong as it’s kinda tilted.  In discussing Ronnie’s (the character) relationship with her non-LDS friends, she mentions things she can’t talk about with them, not just the things she literally couldn’t talk about like the rituals.

Rituals.  Oy.  There are so many reasons that’s off: we would say “temple ordinances” instead of rituals and the impression that I get from the narration, at the time the character says this she’s too young to have participated in more than baptisms for the dead.  (On the other hand, the story is told in a retrospect that’s hard to gauge; it’s both part of the charm and a bit of an annoyance that it’s not always clear whether the character is speaking of herself at that moment in time or from the vantage point of the implied years.)  It’s not a big deal but it is something that makes me twitch.

Check me on this: a child born to parents who were sealed in the temple does not need to be sealed to the family as they are already born in the covenant.  That’s another slip but overall inconsequential.

She says that we believe we become gods or goddesses when we die; the main character, in dressing her little sister’s body for burial, dresses her in her “Cindrella” dress because she imagines that the little goddess will want to twirl around in the puffy skirt.  Again, not entirely wrong but just that much off.

The author’s difficulty “talking the talk” notwithstanding however, I enjoyed this book much more than I thought I would.  Reviews said it was very sad and I usually prefer upbeat books; however, this was one of those rare books that takes you through the valley of agony and darkness and leads you out again feeling changed.  I can’t say “better” or “brighter” because I don’t know yet.  I just feel… different.  Touched in a good way that (ovbiously) I can’t describe.

She even made sure Ronnie got married in the temple.  That’s one LDS touch that I’m very glad she put in.

I heard a lot about this book in the last year.  It seemed it was on many peoples' lips and keyboards.  I was reminded of it recently and since the Valiant Femmes and I have been getting close to the story of Jacob's children I thought I'd give it a try.  It would certainly make for interesting reading in the wake of Orson Scott Card's "Rachel and Leah."

I was a little nervous about reading "The Red Tent."  My previous experiences with biblical retellings other than Card's had been distressing and disappointing.  Even if the author doesn't accept the scripture stories as truth, why can't they write as if the characters did?  Feminist retellings were the worst, always portraying everything as designed specifically to crush the heroine.  Reading the back, I discovered that "Red Tent's" author had also written several books on Judaism, including a conversion guide for friends and family.  I hoped that a writer who was also a believer would do more a faithful job. (I mean that both ways.)

It was interesting to see where this book and Card's take did intersect– they both used the idea that Leah married Jacob first because Rachel was scared stiff of the wedding night and refused.  That's the only similiarity.

I had always thought that the Torah and the Old Testament were pretty much the same.  Either she was using a very, very different text or I was wrong.  It's not just that names are different– forgive me for my naivete but I had rather assumed that a practicing Jewish writer wouldn't do something strange, like portray Leah, Rachel, Zilpah and Bilhah as Asherah worshipers.  For a book about one of the Patriarchs, there are a surprising number of gods invoked.  Worse still, to my mind, the god who should be most involved is barely present.  Jacob does wrestle with something that is assumed to be "El" to the point of dislocating his thigh but other key happenings, like the name change, are twisted.  In this tale, Jacob gives himself the name Isra'El to try to hide from the anger of the people of the country side when Simon and Levi slaughter the men of Shechem– a slaughter in which he was if not guilty at least complicit.

I like to think the best of people, or at least not assume the worst.  Why do so many biblical novelizations follow the assumption that the people of the scriptures were horribly flawed?  More puzzling still, why does this one, written by an apparently practicing Jew, follow the same pattern?  There are a total of four men in the entire book who are actually likable and honorable.  None of them are Jewish.

On the other hand, no one at all seems Jewish.  Not even Jacob.  On the whole it was a strange and disappointing book.