Today's book's similarities to yesterday's book can be summed up rather quickly in four words: Can Be Termed Romance. That's about it. Yet the peripherals of these books are in startling alignment. But I'm not going to spell it out for you. Other than to say I also don't like this cover (albeit for very different reasons):
Unlike Monday's book, this one I have actually read. Moriah sent me an ARC and I promised to read and review it. Although I also told her it might be awhile as I don't generally speed through 700page books. Unless, you know, they're in huge type and being simultaneously read by millions of small children who will ruin it for me if I don't finish it within a week of when they do. But no one has accused this LDS "romance" writer of being the next J.K. Rowling, so I figured I was safe.
So I've been reading the book for a few months now and finished it a little over a week ago. I'm going to start by giving you an overview of the book, but before starting with that start, let me quickly warn you that I am not going to be too worried about being spoiler free. My spoilers will generally be vague in nature, but will let you know What Sort of Thing to expect. You might want to start with the free 200page sample, then return. Just sayin'.
That said, basic structure:
The Proviso, for all the other things you could call it, is three romances. Three cousins take turns falling in love and getting married and, um, too soon for that big of a spoiler. Other things happen too. Right now I'll just say sex, because we can't talk about this book without talking about its sex anyway.
Cousin Giselle falls in love (sex and marriage inclusive) with Bryce. Who is covered in scars.
Cousin Sebastian falls in love (sex and marriage inclusive) with Eilis. Who stops wearing Chanel.
Cousin Knox falls in love (sex and marriage inclusive) with Justice. Who has red hair.
Also there are bullets.
As the author of an it-could-be-called-a-romance-but-that-seems-to-miss-the-point book myself, I'm sympathetic to Moriah's reluctant attempts to pigeonhole her book:
- I don’t know how to classify The Proviso. I never did. Drama? Yeah, plenty of that. Family saga? Check. Epic? Uh, most definitely, as it takes place over the course of 5 years. But epic what? I can’t think of a book I could compare it to. Healthy doses of religion and spirituality mixed in with money and explicit sex? What? What’s anybody supposed to do with that? It’s not LDS romance/literature/fiction (defined as anything that could be sold at Deseret Book/Seagull), although I could call it Mormon fiction if a criteria of “Mormon” is that a Mormon wrote it. I call it a romance because I see myself as a romance writer.
(Note: Had I hit the first sex scene when I wrote this, I would have rethought my manner of presentation. Especially after this conversation.)
So this book has sex. But the cover should have cued you into that.
Now for a series of disconnected facts about the book that I will comment on as whimsy strikes me.
So the Randian thing. It made me want to scream at times. I'm always leery of anyone--even fictional anyones--who aligns themselves too thoroughly with any one philosophy. But Rand is so much a part of who Giselle and Bryce are that it can't be ignored. They won't let you.
I think Moriah knew how overblown they got, because she balanced the book out with a character who hates Rand and dismisses her as so much hollow frumpf. Phew.
Something that struck me as I got, oh, let's say a third of the way into the book, is that most of my irritations with the book came from misunderstanding the characters. From an artistic standpoint, Giselle and Knox (to name only two) are not mere human characters acting out human actions on a human stage. They are Greek Gods. They are the great heroes of yore, transplanted to modern Kansas City. The actions played on this stage are higher and broader and deeper and more more more than anything I myself might ever do. This book doesn't merely borrow plot points from Hamlet. It goes back even further to bring us to a world of Kings Who Are Gods. Once I realized this and then read the book through this perspective, the book worked much better.
The risk, of course, in writing that last paragraph is that you will now dismiss the book as being somehow literarily unworthy. Which would be stupid and make no sense. What, we're going to throw out Edith Hamilton on the same grounds? Be serious. Just because we don't see gods much shouldn't make as book about them less interesting. Think about that logic for a moment....
I want to talk about an ethical question for readers which I don't think I had ever considered before reading this book. As a Christian, I am required to forgive all men. Yet I have made a deliberate choice not to forgive Knox. And it was only with difficulty that I was able to forgive Justice for forgiving Knox.
I have decided that, as these are fictional characters, I am under no moral obligation to forgive. These are not living, breathing souls; no matter how well fiction is crafted, it is still an act of creation less than Creation.
After the end of the book proper, Moriah included a set-back-before-the-book-even-started short story, "John 3:16" (available online), the inclusion of which is rather fascinating as it did a couple of things for me, as a reader. Added value, obviously--everybody loves a free bonus. But it also reminds me of how much I hated Knox. And it undercuts all the hard work Moriah had spent in the seemingly impossible task of making me (almost) forgive the bastard, which thing I had sworn never to do. But she spent many many many pages redeeming him and giving him a deus ex machina and then, after the final page, "John 3:16" made me hate him all over again. Fascinating artistic choice, Moriah. You have to tell me why you included it. I have to know.
In this book, eyes widen, heads are thrown back in laughter (or in scream), characters gasp for one reason and catch their breath for another, hands move to the face, etc etc etc. The characters seem to have a limited (and shared) repertoire of physical expressions of emotion and thought.
I've been wondering about this. Maybe it's hard to have enough little things to keep these kinetic indicators fresh over 700pages? I don't know.
I've been wondering what I would do with them had I been the book's editor. And I'm not sure. I think, within the realm of "romance", these shortcuts are common. And I don't think they bug other readers like they bug me.
Which reminds me of another stylistic difference between Moriah and myself. In my opinion she spends waaay too long to describing characters and their appearances and their clothes. This is not something I do. As a reader, I'm not likely to remember the way the author describes a character anyway. (Unless they pound it into me repeatedly.) And so I have decided that minimal details are necessary; let the reader create the character in her own image. I will provide vital details but the rest mattereth not and may be entrusted to the reader's imagination.
I am reminded of an interview with Daniel Handler that I can't find now. His publisher had wanted Violet to have some sort of physical description. ANY sort of physical description! He disagreed. He, like I, would rather leave a character a blank slate for the reader to paint herself upon.
The compromise he arrived at was, whenever Violet was ready to invent, she would pull out a ribbon and tie up her hair.
Perfect. Simple. Beautiful.
We will agree to disagree on this point.
As a reader, I'm not one to read 1000page tomes. I read more for breadth than depth and short books allow me to read more books by more authors.
That said, occasionally reading a biggun such as The Proviso is good for me. The manner of storytelling is necessarily different as are the opportunities available to writer and reader alike.
It would be interesting to see how various brands of feminism would take on this book. Take for instance (major spoiler alert here) the uses of pregnancy:
Three main women, Giselle, Eilis, Justice.
- Giselle desperately desires to be pregnant but her husband refuses.
Eilis becomes pregnant when she is deemed to be the first woman worthy of condomfree sex by her love.
Justice, if she has a baby, will fulfill a legal requirement for her husband and bring him great wealth.
Well into what I had thought was a 150page denouement (another major spoiler alert), I was surprised by the book's climax. I mentioned this to Moriah and she said "They let their guard down. So did you." And all I can say to that is Bravo. Well written.
I suppose the only other thing I really have to talk about now is the MORMON thing. A healthy percentage of the characters in this book are Mormon to one degree or another. But of the major characters, not one looks anything like someone in a Jack Weyland novel. Besides the copious sex (only some marital) and dripping language (and I don't mean with godliness) and the shooting people in the face, there are no casseroles or home teachers or Pinewood Derbies. This is not a typical look at Mormonism. This is a look at Mormons ranging from the almost lapsed to the never-coming-back. All the good, active Mormons are relatives we only see in passing, on special occasions--holidays and the like.
Yet the book's Mormonism is plain on the face. The issue is summed up well by the first page under the cover:
I'm gonna go out on a limb here and guess this is enough to offend a lot of good Mormons without reading past that first page. And, going further out on this steady and secure limb, I'm going to guess that actually reading the book wouldn't change their minds.
Now, my work has never been labeled erotic, but I, like Moriah, agree that we should not say Mormon artists May or May Not do any such whatsoever. We should watch ourselves and be sure that we judge not. We can certainly judge what we will or will not ingest into our souls, but judging a work's creator is a different problem altogether.
But I'm getting offtopic.
Let me wrap up the Proviso-Mormon thing with comments on the Mormon-hierarchy issue which weighs so heavily on so many of the characters.
First: I have a hard time believing it. I come across it so often in Mormon fiction (of all stripes) that I guess it must exist, but the idea that people structure their selfworth around obtaining "higher" and "higher" callings seems implausible to me. Perhaps a few, but can it really be so rampant? Those of you Mormons who are still reading, please comment on this. Do people really lust after and seek after callings? And not in a casual daydreamy way, but in an ambitious-caesar kind of way. Please. Enlighten me. Because if people do, they're idiots. And they have no understanding of our doctrine.
Anyway. Despite my owning a paper copy, The Proviso is primarily being marketed by its publisher as an ebook. Just wanted to mention that. And having mentioned that, here are my last few thoughts before I call this good and walk away:
- 1. Visit http://theproviso.com/. Speaking of added value, here you get some. The first 200pages as a free download and the sites filled with little datums and factoids and excerpts and thises and thats. If you're interested but merely want to know more, go there.
2. Ummmmm. I thought I had more to say. But it's gone. But that's all right. I've said enough.
3. But I will say that for my issues with the book, overall I quite enjoyed it. I'm excited to read a couple of the other books in the Dunham series (no need to read in order), notably the post-apocalyptic one and the bishop-and-the-whore one. If she can make me find restructuring interesting, I'm sure she'll succeed there.