Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Heading West By Doris Betts

I'm not quite sure what I think about this one.  Well written, insightful and vivid, it was a good novel---but I don't know if I liked it or not.  Does that make sense?  It's like, Wuthering Heights is a good--no, GREAT novel---but damn, if I can't stand the thing.  I had a lot of issues with this novel, but the annoying thing is I think Doris Betts wants me, us, the reader to have issues with it.  The whole Robin Hood vibe at the beginning, the bad boy--when I first started reading, I thought, 'ok wait,is this going to be a stockholm syndrome thing?'  Is Dwight supposed to be sexy or something?  Then, I had to get over my own romance novel reading and realize, ok this is not a cheap $1.99 convience store book--though at times it reads almost as quickly as those books.  (What? Yes, I know how fast they read.)  I'm all for a horribly predictable, fast reading, crappy romance.  The last one of those types of books that I read--which was about 5 years ago---had the whole "pirate" thing and was about a woman being "kidnapped" by a sexy pirate and ooh la la.

But, alas, Dwight is not a sexy pirate.  And the judge is definately not a young, hard-bodied deck hand.  In the crappy romance novel about pirates, that I read (A Pirate's Love if anyone is interested...) the abuctee ends up in the 'final abduction' of marriage.--just to get a little feminist up in here.  Anyway, let's get away from pirates, shall we?

I guess my main issue was with Nancy. I understand she wanted to escape from family and duty.  I get the sadness that the "spinster sister" is often forced to deal with, the frustration of being the one who "doesn't have a life so she purely lives for others."  The one that is FORCED into being a Martha and never gets a chance to be Mary.   I get that.

But holy moly, chick, you use a kidnapping as your "escape"?   I kept wondering why she bargained with her kinapper.  Yay, the west!  NO! No yay!! You are kidnapped--he has a weapon--he might kill you, torture you, etc.  I don't know.  It was just hard for me to read about Nancy at times, seemingly going along with the kidnapping as if it might "mean" something more to her.

Once they do get out west it totally seems like a blur.  That whole episode with J. Waldo--I was mad.  I was mad at the damn kid, I was mad at the damn dude, the damn horses, and, most of all, dammit I was mad at Nancy.  I guess I've never been kidnapped (too bad, I guess?!?) I have no idea the psychological torture that one might be going through.  I guess you don't really realize how demeted Nancy has become until Chan "rescues" her. (Very Angela Carter's "Bloody Chamber"-esque if you ask me.) Then it's clear that Nancy is freaked-- (can we say: finally?)  I think Nancy's journey through the Grand Canyon was maybe one of my favorite parts of the book, if only for it's harsh, hard descriptions.  Emotion, besides paranoia, is absent.  It's as if the Canyon itself, it's depth and vacancy, fills the book to where it's only survival, it becomes only about Nancy's quest to make it to the other side--to escape.  In fact, after it was all over, I was exhausted myself.

Also, why doesn't she want to tell anyone that Dwight fell off the cliff?  Why is that a mystery?  Does she think people will think she's a killer?  Self-defense, kiddo!

But then Hunt Thatcher shows up, and while I'm happy that Nancy is able to find a companion and her "happy ending,"  I'm just not sure what his purpose is.  Is it a reward that she (and we) gets for going through such horror.  I mean, anyone who goes through a kidnapping or any type of trauma totally deserves a happy ending.  But is that realistic?

I wonder if after it's all over, if when Hunt comes to visit Nancy for Thanksgiving, if the happy ending will really happen.

 I dont know, maybe I'm too hard on it.  I read a lot of Victorian fiction and and I get mad if someone doesn't end up married or everyone dies in the end--why should this be different??

Maybe I should just shut up and read Vanity Fair (the next one to tackle).  Or maybe that's just my problem, I do read a lot (too many) Vic lit and not a lot of contemporary 20th century stuff, so maybe my view is scewed.

Maybe becuase to me the Blue Ridge Parkway IS west (having grown up in NC) Maybe I need to expand my horizons.  I just hope I don't have to get kidnapped for it to happen.

Like I said, I dont know about this one?  I'd love some thoughts and commentary.  Am I stupid?  Do I not know what I'm talking about?  Would I have been happier if Dwight had been a sexy pirate to begin with?  Would I have liked it more if it had had some depressing ending where Nancy dies, or goes back to the mundane 'take care of Mama and Becks' world and leaves her chance of love lost in the west?

I dunno.  So I'm going to just read Thackeray.

1 comment:

  1. "It's like, Wuthering Heights is a good--no, GREAT novel---but damn, if I can't stand the thing." Killed me. A truer word was never spoken.

    And I think you're right on the money about "Heading West." It is complicated, and not just in the ways it means to be, I don't think. I haven't read it recently, but I spent the whole book irritated with Nancy too.

    Looking forward to your thoughts on Vanity Fair. And thanks for this juicy post.