August 15th, 2004

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Nadya - book review

For the past year and a half I've been participating in a bookgroup with Outworlders. Even though a few of our group reads have been duds or thing I've outright hated (Vampire Vow, Mistress of Dragons, etc.), for the most part the group has been great at helping me "taste" different authors, styles and genres. I was introduced to Lynn Flewelling, Jacqueline Carey, and Ursula K. Le Guin through this group, for example.

The last couple of months, however, things had not been syncing quite right. In June the book pick was Terry Pratchett's Monstrous Regiment and as anyone who reads this LJ knows, I had a very low opinion of it, i.e. it was unfunny and pointless. Then last month although I had purchased the book-of-the-month (Elanor Arneson's Ring of Swords), our meeting was during my vacation so I missed it. And then for this month, as of a week ago I hadn't got hold of the book we're doing and was thinking I'd have to skip it. Well, turns out Bil had already finished it so he was able to loan it to me. I'm glad he did because it certainly was a winner!

Our group alternates genres, going fantasy-science fiction-horror so no one genre gets favored. Nadya was, I believe, chosen as a horror pick, but as with a couple of other "horror" picks we've read before (e.g. Sarah Waters' Affinity), it turns out Nadya isn't a horror story at all. So, yes, the lead character IS a werewolf, but the book is certainly not about werewolves. There are touches of the supernatural in the story, those elements are more fantasy than anything; horror doesn't really come into it.

But besides all that, Nadya isn't a fantasy novel either, but rather a historical novel focusing on a woman named Nadya who, in the first half of the 19th century, emigrates from Missouri to Oregon, making the great trek across the plains and deserts and mountains, along with a couple companions. Nadya, it so happens, is the daughter of two European immigrant werewolves and throughout the story, she Changes under the influence of the moon. Being a werewolf does factor in to the story plot-wise and in terms of Nadya's character and decisions she makes, but the main bulk of the story is about a group of people (all women) making a terrible journey through the wilderness. It's about leaving civilization behind, about facing the immensity of nature, and about coming to grips with what you are... because there's no avoiding it.

One the interesting things that happens in the book -- and the reason our group chose it, since we read SF/F/Horror with queer themes -- is a relationship that developers between Nadya and the other adult woman she's traveling with, Elizabeth. The relationship is handled in a very mature fashion and the author Pat Murphy does a fantastic job of avoiding the pitfall of describing their relationship using anachronisms. The word lesbian or gay or bisexual is never used and in fact, neither woman seems particularly freaked out by the fact they've gotten involved with one another. They don't have a word for their attraction, they just are. Anyway, that part of the story was handled very well, with a non-sappy resolution that satisfied me immensely. (Look, I avoided spoilers -- do I get a prize?)

Another element of the story, which really comes in towards the last 1/3 of the book, is the main characters interactions with Native Americans. To me this seemed very, VERY well done. The author characterizes all the different tribes differently, creates individual characters, and encorporates the various spiritual & cultural belifs of those tribes. She also does a great job showing their situation during the time peroid of the 1830s-40s when they were all still thinking they could perhaps hold the white man off but were about to find they couldn't. "Civilization" -- with its hatred of wilderness, wolves and "Injuns" -- is coming down on them like a guillotine blade. (Nadya is facing a similar problem, since being a werewolf and living anyplace "civilized" are not compatible.) During the end bit of the book, while reading certain incidents or dialog I kept putting the book down to say, "I really hate white people!" It's the kind of book that really makes you realize what disgusting, stupid asses did to the people of this continent. The book's ending shows some triumph over those evil forces but still, you have just *got* to feel upset about all the "good" Manifest Destiny achieved.

Oh, and one more thing I liked about the book is the author's willingness to have major characters be killed, seriously wounded, disappear, etc. This is the kind of story where bad things *have* to happen and Murphy is unflinching and unsentimental about it. That to me showed that she's a writer who can separate herself from her writing enough to see what *needs* to happen rather than what she might *want* to happen. There are happy ends she could have created or ways people might have survived, reconciled, etc., but at every corner Murphy follows through with what realistically needs to happen.

Nadya is definitely a book I would recommend, whether you're into wolves, lesbians (he he), frontier fiction, American history or whatever. Very good stuff!
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Weird Vacation Dream

Slept late today, I think dragged down by wild, wild dreams.

I can only remember bits and pieces....

...At this big manor or estate converted into a kind of resort. Kids having fun by running across all the swimming pools. A special plastic cover/coating had been put across the top of all the pool so they could "walk on water." I found this one kid who had thrown a cinderblock onto the cover and went to take it off so the cover wouldn't spring a leak. He wouldn't let me take it so I had this guy nearby put on a blue coat and pretend to be a security guard

...Somehow my church from back home was there and (returning to a previous dream) I discovered the secret chapel. The chapel was underground and lit only with candles. There were some oak pews with red cushions on them and an organist. Random members of the choir and congregation were in there. The whole thing was a secret kind of like the "inner cabal" in Suspiria. Not that it was necessarily sinister, but it didn't seem very Methodist!

...My sister Betty and I were walking around and after being outside a while, decided to go inside, into some random building on the estate. We walked through a door and found ourselves in the secret chapel. We sat down quickly in the front row. I was really uncomfortable, like I get at Catholic services, because you were supposed to "know" what to do. Betty told me to grab a hymn book and I did, but I had a lot of trouble flipping to the right page. Finally I did and the song was really weird. The main part of the song was sung by a soloist, and it was in German. The *chorus* of the song, however, was in French and sounded sort of like Carmina Burana. I kept complaining how I couldn't pronounce French correctly but Betty assured me I was doing fine. Whatever!
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Interview by yakalskovich

So yakalskovich has brought the interview meme back and I asked he to interview me. Here goes!

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If you want me to interview you -- post a comment that simply says, "Interview me." I'll respond with questions for you to take back to your own journal and answer as a post. Of course, they'll be different for each person since this is an interview and not a general survey. At the bottom of your post, after answering the Interviewer's questions, you ask if anyone wants to be interviewed.
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In praise of small pleasures

Just when I was berating myself for berating myself about "wasting" my Sunday afternoon instead of working, I gave up the fight.

Instead of working, I gave myself a nice foot soak & rough pedicure (while reading a book about orgies), dosed my feet with yummy avocado body butter, and put on my pair of bright blue Rocky & Bullwinkle socks. With Rocky on my right foot and Bullwinkle on my left I am ready to, probably, WORK, or at least pick up around the house for a bit. My purple Boris and Natasha socks are safely trapped in my dresser. Holy smokes!

I did not work. I did not work. I did not work. Dreamweaver did not run today. I guess that is allowed. Mat Man probably expected me to work all weekend but God, I need a break.
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