So, Narcissus in Chains. This is the book, the one where fans of the series jumped ship en masse. Often I've heard them lament about how Obsidian Butterfly was the last good Anita tale. The problem with that is, as Dottie's breakdown shows, OB was a terrible book also. I think nostalgia figures heavily in to the opinions of former fans.
In fact, I picked up and read Guilty Pleasures not long after it came out. I thought it was serviceable. One of the reasons I didn't continue with the series was its attitude towards religion. A member of the bad guy squad had a gris gris and this was meant to imply that he was relying on a primitive or even evil belief system, whereas Anita with her glowing cross was portrayed as righteous.
I'm a polytheist and so of course I find the notion that an indigenous or traditional religion is lesser than Christianity startlingly offensive, but I'd like to think I'd feel offended even if I didn't have a horse in that particular race. LKH does not have a good track record with portraying vodou, either, continuously confusing vodou with some sort of ill-defined Devil worship. So I put the book down, never to return.
However, considering I enjoy writing about bondage, polyamory and the like, and because the anti-fans are so vocal, I picked up Narcissus in Chains. Surprisingly, I didn't hate it. But it definitely did not realize it's potential. Without further ado, let's delve in to why I feel it failed to do so.
Chapter one features our heroine having just returned from a fancy dinner out for her friend Ronnie's thirtieth birthday. This chapter is perfectly serviceable, though LKH has a bad habit whereby Anita tends to think the same thing over and over again with only slight variations on the theme. So the opener is:
"June had come in like it's hot, sweaty self, but a freak cold front had moved in during the night and the car radio had been full of the record low temperatures." That's already an odd sentence, considering it makes it sound as though the radio--as in the actual device--is somehow trapping cold within itself in a literal sense as opposed to a broadcaster updating Anita and Ronnie on the weather. Next we have this: "My best friend, Ronnie Sims (I'd like to know who thinks of their best friend as Firstname Lastname, but we'll give that one a pass, even though I should hope long term readers remember who Anita's best friend is) and I were sitting in my Jeep with the windows down, letting the unseasonably cool air drift in on us." This may be quite nitpicky of me, but we already know the weather is unseasonable. She's told us once before. And then again: "...maybe it was the sweet smell of springlike air coming through the windows..."
Just in case anyone is still confused, the weather is unseasonable, you guys.
Now, I'm being a little snarky because that's the underpinnings of the exercise, but I do sympathize a bit. The manuscript I am currently working on (funnily enough loosely inspired by this book) is the only tale I've ever attempted in a first person perspective. It's very tempting to repeat yourself and work through your ideas on the page, resulting in this kind of repetition. However, I think an author with a team of professional editors at her disposal should probably take advantage of them and cut the fat.
On that note, her love of "like some" conceit. This is another temping hole to fall in to. "...like the caress of some half-remembered lover" followed by "like some modern painting." She also refers to Ronnie's hair as "yellow" which makes me wonder if she's actually died it an unnatural shade, because otherwise why wouldn't you say blond?
Anyway, she and Ronnie are primarily arguing over whether Anita should be dating J.C. I think those of us who are paying attention are shouting NO, NO YOU ABSOLUTELY SHOULDN'T. I am not sure if this character has ever done an admirable thing in his entire life.
Hamrful idea #1: Okay warning, I am about to get on a soapbox here. STALKING IS NOT, HAS NEVER BEEN, AND WILL NEVER BE ROMANTIC. We have a serious problem with this in U.S. culture and I would venture to say around the world. A person who doesn't respect boundaries is at best horribly misguided and at worst terribly dangerous. We MUST learn to take people's actions before we consider their words. If someone say, kidnaps your cat and gives it away, or tampers with your food, drink, or medications, if someone continues to leave gifts and notes even after being told no, if someone blackmails you in to anything, that is not okay, and it does not matter what words they use in an attempt to justify it. Words are cheap and free. And what did J.C. do at the jump? Blackmailed Anita in to a relationship. That is so gross to me, I just can't. To paraphrase Maria Bamford, J.C. is a factory that only produces giant red flags.
*huff huff* So, just to recap, stalking and blackmail = not sexy. That's not to say that can't be in the book. Books aren't meant to make you feel safe, or at least not every book is meant to make you feel safe. But this is clearly a topic that goes beyond LKH's ability to perceive nuance and her ability to deal in ethics.
Not once does J.C. truly get taken to task for his actions. It's explained away as love, or because he's an incubus and needs emotions/sex to feed on.
Unfortunately when it comes to stalking, these are the exact excuses used to absolve the stalker from responsibility. You see, it's Anita's fault. If she weren't so lovely, J.C. could resist her and retain control over his dangerous sexuality. And besides, he's just showing her that he can't live without her! I am amazed at how this manages to be offensive to both women AND men, claiming in one fell swoop that women should understand stalking behavior as being motivated by pure and good emotions, and that we should all realize that male sexuality is a dumb, poorly controlled beast that at any moment is sure to slip its lead. Ugh.
Then we're treated to some stuff meant to show that Anita is capable of murder, as opposed to Ronnie, who isn't. Fine, I'll buy in to this. I think a trope of the genre is the main character trying to figure where their boundaries lie. In fact I think urban fantasy and to a lesser degree paranormal romance almost requires that the main character live in a liminal space.
I actually also sympathize with both Anita and Ronnie in this scene. Ronnie realizes how fucked up it is that J.C. and Anita are together at all, and Anita feels judged for an alternative lifestyle choice. However, Ronnie is ultimately in the right because she realizes that stalking is not love, and she's doing the admirable thing by trying to protect her friend. She's also taking Anita to task for eschewing her duties as an executioner. I like Ronnie. I'm sure later she'll undergo some kind of character assassination so I'll try not to get too attached.
Part B to follow!