There’s been a flood of feminist titles being published in the past couple of years throughout 2018 & 2019, many of which have been fueled by so much anger accumulated over so many years that it has bubbled over and had to find an outlet, be written out and find an audience. A couple titles listed below are quite new (e.g. Burn It Down edited by Lilly Dancyger, Seven Necessary Sins for Girls and Women by Mona Eltahawy), and I wouldn’t be surprised if the floodgates remain open with more and more titles being published over the next year or two at least, but all these books about women’s anger, the reasons behind the anger, what we can do to make things better for this generation and the next – I can’t help but wonder what will come of reading these titles. There’s a part of me that remains cautious while reading through them. I’ve made my way through portions of some of them, and come away feeling incensed and frustrated, but not really feeling quite incendiary or powerful because of being fueled by anger, necessarily. Perhaps that comes at the end.
You know sometimes you pick up a book with a beautiful cover just because it’s beautiful and you start reading without having read anything regarding the novel, neither synopsis nor review, then you become completely and utterly absorbed in the text? This was one of those. It’s almost as though in reading Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras (also available on Overdrive) the reader too gets sucked into the story, in its thrall as to the fruit of the drunken tree. Looking now, I see that it got a lot of rave reviews last year when it came out – it either all passed me by or I’ve forgotten about it – and now I understand why.
To sum up the story, it’s a coming-of-age story featuring two female voices through which perspectives we piece together as much of the story as is possible to do, an incomplete and fragmented picture as it can only be. This incompleteness is aided in part by one of the narrators being a child of 7, Chula, when she first starts the story in Bogotá, making what sense she can of the political situation in Colombia during the last years of Pablo Escobar through news reports. She becomes absorbed by the new household worker Petrona, 13 when she first begins working for Chula’s Mamá, wanting to learn everything she can about Petrona and conjuring different myths with her older sister Cassandra to explain Petrona’s silence (e.g. “We started to think that maybe Petrona was a poet or maybe someone under a spell. I didn’t tell Cassandra that in a certain light Petrona looked to me like a statue, that when she was still and quiet the folds of her apron seemed to me to harden into the stone draperies of church saints… I came up with saint names for Petrona” (Rojas Contreras, Fruit of the Drunken Tree, c.3)). And it’s through a similar layer of myth-making and larger-than-life projections that we encounter those outside of this women’s household consisting of Chula, Cassandra, Mamá, and Petrona: Papá; the guerillas, military, paramilitary, etc.; Pablo Escobar.
As I was speeding through our collection of Maclear’s picture books – out of sheer enthusiasm rather than a desire to be done with all of them – hoping there would be no end in sight, I realized (as I noted previously) that I needn’t have limited my search to picture books at all: Maclear writes for adults too!* Better yet, we have them in our collection!
To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, considering picture books are a whole ‘nother beast as compared to adult novels, but I think Maclear has convinced me to continue reading her other novels.
Despite the constant jumping between past and present in Stray Love, Maclear does a wonderful job making it all come together as a coherent story: the reader is not left for a moment disconnected or at a loss as to where exactly in time we are in the story, whether it be with Marcel’s telling of his history with Oliver or the present day with Iris. While Marcel & Oliver are not, in my opinion, discernibly British, and I’m a bit confused as to why they were made to be British because it doesn’t play that large a part in the plot in the sense that they could well have been North American without much detriment to the novel as a whole, the entire novel works. For the time being, I’ve put The Letter Opener on hold and eagerly await its arrival.