Silver Lake: Don’t Get Married at 13

Sixteen, on the other hand, is apparently just fine. (#spoilers.)

Laura hears the sobering tale of a girl who does get married at thirteen while out getting laundry with her “wild cousin” Lena, Aunt Docia’s daughter. Neither are thrilled. Laura soberly notes that “she can’t play any more,” while Lena is more direct: “She’s a silly! Now she can’t have any more good times,” and WORD.

Lena is awesome. Lena rides horses bareback and drives her own buggy and “wasn’t brought up in the woods to be scared by an owl” and I would read the hell out of a series about her. Especially because Ma Does Not Approve of Lena.

I don’t know what it is about Silver Lake, but it keeps introducing side characters who clearly have a lot going on, and are frankly more interesting than the Ingalls family. I don’t dislike the Ingallses, except for the racism, but Hotel Girl On Her Own and Bad Girl Lena are a lot more exciting than Grace being spoiled but pretty and Carrie being sickly and Mary being…

…ugh, Mary.

Here’s the thing. I’m (currently, time and chance being what they are) not disabled, so I don’t know if the “Mary has to have everything nice and never bear any hardship Because She’s Blind” deal is actually ableism (I know that Mary’s transformation–or sort-of-transformation–into Saintly Blind Girl is) or what, but it is annoying. Like, Laura and Carrie want to walk for a bit but then MAAAAARY would have to BE IN THE WAGON ALOOOOOONE OH NO.

I mean, the girl is blind, not made of cellulose. I’m pretty sure she can handle an hour on her own–take a nap or something, it’s not like Laura and Carrie are going to be sterling conversationalists for a twelve-hour prairie journey. Or Ma and Grace could sit inside, Ma being so keen on Christian selflessness.

Similarly, in a scene I forgot to mention last time, there’s a bit where Mary is being a giant scoldy priss about Carrie “fidgeting” and “mussing her dress” (good Lord the kid is like ten, lay the fuck off) and Laura gets cranky about it and then feels bad about being cranky because You Must Never Think Bad Things About Saint Mary The Blind.

Which is one of those moments in the books where I wonder whether Adult Laura is presenting the situation totally straight and legit thinks Young Laura was wrong for thinking such things, or knowingly portraying the situation as kind of tiresome and not entirely right, or what. Because: UGH NO. You can TOTALLY think bad things about Mary, because Mary is being an officious little asshole to her sister who ALSO HAD SCARLET FEVER and isn’t in great shape either and Mary is like fifteen so she can calm the entire hell down with this Junior Mom act, and SHUT UP MARY.

Also, if your sister’s describing everything for you, maybe learn to cope with a damn metaphor or two? The whole “you must always describe everything as it is or you are Sinning” deal is…can we just go hang out with Lena the Bad Girl?

Sigh.

Human conflict in general, and more serious conflict than dealing with Tiresome Mary, is much more of a factor in this book. Aunt Docia’s husband has been dicked over by the railroad company–which, it’d be nice if Adult Laura could remember that corporations are kind of awful, and in the Alternate Universe Where None of This is Actual Life she does, so there–and the family gets followed by a menacing guy while they’re on their way to their final destination.

If Plum Creek was Nature Can and Will Proactively Fuck You Up, Silver Lake is And Your Fellow Humans Also Are Fucking Awful. 

Not all of them–there’s Big Jerry, the local Friendly Rogue, who rescues the Ingalls. For some reason, it’s very important to the narrative that we know that he’s “French and Indian,” which is theoretically probably an attempt to be enlightened in a “see they’re not all bad” way, but UGH.

See also Pa and Laura’s conversation about how empty the prairie is now that the white man killed all the buffalo–the Eldritch Wilderness thing makes another appearance here, in the form of silence and emptiness–followed by Pa singing cheerfully about how “Uncle Sam is rich enough to give us all a farm,” like PLEASE MAKE EVEN ONE CONNECTION CHARLES.

Spoiler: He does not.



By the Shores of Silver Lake Part 1

CW: Pet Death

With the advent of both Nellie Oleson *and* a plague of locusts last time, I ended up breaking my Little House notes into two parts, and I think I’m going to continue that. For one thing, the books get longer here. For another, there are more distinct and ongoing plot threads in each, rather than Stuff Happens, Other Stuff Happens, Food is Great.

Boy howdy does Stuff Happen in this one. And before it.

Holy Happy Ending Override, Batman! I guess that happens when you’re writing a long-running series, and more so when it’s based on your actual life, but still, the gap between Plum Creek and Silver Lake really emphasizes it. Everything’s looking up, no more grasshoppers, OH HELLO SCARLET FEVER ALSO THE LAND SUCKS NOW FOR SOME REASON.

(It is not known whether that reason is white people or not, but…probably?) 

It actually seems like there are two…quadrologies?…here: Woods through Plum Creek, where there are definitely problems and occasionally the horror that is Nature, but simpler, and then Silver Lake through Golden Years (whoa, see what you did there), where adulthood hits like a brick to the back of the head.

And there’s no better way to express that than having the dog die! Apparently Laura put that in as a deliberate transition–probably not the first instance of Death by Newberry Medal, but a fairly early one nonetheless. At least he dies of old age rather than some horrible prairie mishap.

Still, though: “There were so many times that she might have petted him without being asked, and hadn’t,” JESUS FUCKING CHRIST WILDER.

To sum up: everything sucks, and then Aunt Docia arrives (these people had relatives at some point, remember, or at least Charles did) to offer a job doing administrative stuff at a railroad, and Charles is all, hey, we can also grab yet more land! So they accept and then Jack dies.

“Now she was alone; she must take care of herself. When you must do that, then you do it and you are grown up.” Ooof.

In addition to that bit of 19th-century coming-of-age, this book involves probably the least food porn in the series. (The Long Winter doesn’t count: there’s no food half the time, but when there is it’s so damn lavishly described that it’s almost worth South Dakota Fimbulwinter.) It…makes up for that?…with the most detail about engineering and, specifically, TRAINS.

(Pre-1950s libertarians seem to generally be very fond of trains, which is weird considering the amount of shitting on public transportation they do these days.)

Wilder has a talent for describing mundane modern stuff in ways that make you realize just how non-mundane it was at first. White sugar and lemonade were those things in earlier books. Trains are, big-time, in this one: they’re really fast! Often they crash and people get killed! It’s quite a contrast from my life, where I–and I am in favor of public transit–mostly think of trains as a workaday system of being constantly late and full of noisy people.

On the other hand, the Wilders’ train has red velvet seats, and this was before cell phones were invented, and both of those things probably helped the general experience.

They arrive in a town, to find that OH NO people are filking a hymn to be about HAM AND EGGS oh my god the SCANDAL.

I’m not kidding. The term “shocking words” is used with no irony whatsoever. I try…okay, I don’t so much try to take historical concerns seriously as I acknowledge that historical people (especially white Christian people) were concerned with some incredibly ridiculous bullshit, and most of the time that doesn’t surprise me any more. And then there’s this sort of thing.

Fortunately, there’s a sympathetic dishwashing girl in the hotel who lets them use the parlor–and honestly I want to know more about *her* story–and they all spend an incredibly boring-sounding afternoon while Grace naps, and then Pa comes so they don’t have to hear any more distressingly mildly irreverent songs.

Oh, yeah: Grace exists now, because historical novels about girls absolutely have to have four of them, and reality itself will enforce this. Mary and Laura are Ladylike and Tomboy, respectively, of course, while Carrie and Grace conveniently take on the Sickly and Bratty roles. Grace is never as bad as Amy March, though, for which we can only be thankful.

I Have Opinions. Here They Are.

Well, it’s been A Time. A time in which TERFs argued with Terry Pratchett’s daughter about whether he’d have been in favor of trans rights, and with Neil Gaiman about whether…Neil Gaiman was in favor of trans rights, because a talking detached face speaking for the Moon once told a trans woman she wasn’t a woman. (Which, that particular arc is–as Gaiman admits–very Of Its Time, but maybe detached faces are not generally great moral authorities?) A time in which the RWA gave an award to an “inspirational” romance in which the “hero” was a war criminal.

No, another one.

Seriously, I was explaining this to a friend and mentioned that they’d done it before with ex-Nazis, and went to look it up, and was reminded that no, not ex-Nazis, *current* heads of concentration camps and the prisoners thereof. 

Bethany House: Wholesome Family Values!

Plus there was some other, fanfic-adjacent Discourse that I missed about to what extent character flaws reflect the writer. Cue the usual jokes about Stephen King actually being an extradimensional clown.

So of course I need to give my opinion.

And my opinion comes down to:
1) It’s not the faults themselves, but how the author treats them. 
2) This applies to metatext, too.

To explain the first, I’m going to start with the time I was reading the first book in a fairly popular romance series. There’s a bit of setup in which the hero is brooding because of something military that happened, and then he sees the heroine at a bar. He tries to chat her up. She’s clearly not interested. He thinks it’d be funny if he kept trying, so he does…

…and that’s when I decided that even if I lived a thousand years, life would be too short to keep reading that book.

Because unless the blurb is a fakeout and the next scene is the heroine stabbing the guy because the story is about her life as a much-needed vigilante warrior, that is a) a horrible “hero” and b) clearly an author who thinks public harassment is, if a flaw, a funny/endearing flaw, like Darcy refusing to dance. 

And, dear reader: fuck that entire noise.

See, the character flaws that indicate authorial stances are never the big stuff. Despite their fanboys, Durden and Caufield and Bickles and the Joker are intended to be fucked-up assholes, not fonts of modern wisdom, and anyone who doesn’t read the text through incel-colored glasses can see that pretty clearly. Various Emo Skywalker Boys may get more chances for redemption and narrative focus than any white cis dude with parental issues has ever deserved, but the shit they do is portrayed as being pretty damn horrendous. Lucas has his flaws, but I am under no impression that he thinks killing kids or blowing up planets is okay.

The tells are always little. They’re the “funny” flaws, or the “endearing” faults, or the quirks that the characters never face consequences for–or if they do, those consequences are a difficult conversation, at most. The transphobia in Ready Player One. Fucking everything everyone does in Twilight and 50 Shades. Xander. Riley. The sitcoms where guys wig out about almost kissing other guys. Those are the indications.

How does War Crime Inspie fit in? Well, I mentioned redemption above, and I’ve ranted about it a fair bit here and on Twitter, but: Blue Force Ghosts aside, redemption for the Skywalkers meant death. Redemption for other ex-villains has meant walking the land, trying to make things right, giving up titles. Usually, they aren’t the main characters. Almost always, redemption means more than “finding Jesus and Caucasian tits.”

Also? Said ex-villains have notably not committed atrocities against actual groups of people who still face oppression today, which is another big difference.

A lot of discussion in romance lately is about who gets a happy ending–that the recent expansion of the genre gives HEAs (Happily Ever Afters, and I have Some Thoughts on those, but they’re not pertinent here) to people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQA+ people, etc.  Great!  There is an associated discussion about who doesn’t get them: your serial killers, your rapists, etc, sure, but there’s been considerable controversy over whether, say, people who cheat should get HEAs. 

I think it would be difficult to publish a romance novel through Bethany House featuring someone who’d been unfaithful, even if blah blah Jesus blah blah redemption. I very much doubt it would win the inspirational category. 

The tell here is that Bethany House, Karen Witemeyer, and a proportion of RWA judges think that war crimes against Native American people are…y’know, on par with cheating at cards and  drinking, maybe some backstory premarital sex, definitely better than getting a little strange now and again. 

And that says something.

Okay, so: on to metatext!

Back in The Day, The Day being 2018, someone extremely gross wrote basically a romanticized version of the Larry Nassar story (gross) and published it under “taboo romance” on Amazon. People, accordingly, were all “…the fuck? NO,” to which the author very maturely threw a shitfit about censorship and Puritanism and how we were denying the multifaceted nature of love, and also had all of her fans attack people on Goodreads.

All of this is gross.

And yet, at the same time–because Twitter is not just people being awful but thirty-seven distinct yet oddly related people being awful–there are apparently a bunch of people saying that if you write romantic fanfic about bad characters or fanfic about types of relationship that would be horrible in real life, you are a Bad Person and a Corruptive Influence and blah blah blah, and this…is also gross, and bullshit.

Because…sometimes people enjoy characters who they wouldn’t like at all in real life, or relationships that would be horrible push people’s buttons. The reasons don’t matter–you don’t need an excuse for liking what you like. All of us, I’m guessing, have a trope–sexual or not–that we love in fiction but would be fucking awful in reality. I have read both Hatchet and My Side of the Mountain multiple times, and the only way you would get me to spend a single night without indoor plumbing is to threaten my loved ones. Even then I’d have to think about how much I really loved them.

Characters do not necessarily reflect the author. Plots do not necessarily reflect the author. 

The distinction, the thing that makes fanfic fine while Jesus Redeems War Criminals and Coach/Underage Gymnast Twu Wuv are vile, is self-awareness.

Your average fanfic writer* knows that just because they like imagining a better version of a villain, or a still-bad-but-sexy one, doesn’t make that canon. Just because a particular type of relationship gets their motor running doesn’t mean that relationship is in the same time zone as healthy or, sometimes, consensual. Thus we get labels like “darkfic” or “underage” or “noncon,” labels that signal the author’s self-awareness as well as informing potential readers.** 

(Fanfic also has the thing where you’re working with established pairings and characters. If you want to read about Rupert Giles having het sex, your choices are limited re: women his age–Jenny dies, Olivia’s in two episodes, and Joyce sucks out loud, SORRY NOT SORRY. If you see a dynamic between two characters, eh, that’s a thing. It’s different than sitting down to create a whole new work and deciding that you’ll make one of the main characters fifteen and one thirty.)

A lot of the discussion around Creepy Gymnast Romance was, basically, label your kink, lady. Yes, leaving it unlabeled–or vaguely labeled, q.v. “taboo romance”–means you can post it on Amazon and sell more, but…cutting vodka with antifreeze means you sell more vodka. It’s still a bad move.

Would that have helped with Bethany House’s…masterpieces? Ugh, I don’t think so. “Anyone can be redeemed if they just love Jesus,” may indeed be the fundie version of Omegaverse knotting physics, but it’s a lot harder to sell when you’re talking about atrocities carried out against actual people. Maybe, *maybe* if a Native American or a Jewish author had written the books in question…but they didn’t, and there’s a reason for that. 

I dunno. In summary: Your Kink Is Okay, Except, If Your Kink is Nazis, That’s Deeply Unfortunate and I Don’t Know What You Should Do, Except NOT PUBLISH IT AS INSPIRATIONAL ROMANCE.

* Like, not the fans convinced that Villain Dude was actually for serious a woobie and it was a Total Betrayal when he didn’t get to settle down and have Space Babies with the main character, and definitely not the ones who harass people about this. Don’t get me wrong: some fans are shitheels.  
**Given certain tendencies among cis het men of a certain age, I am coming to think that we need a “douchebag narrator” label, but that’s beside the point. 

More Aleister, More Crowley: This Time There Are Aliens

Having decided to spend last night getting lost on the way back to my own house from the train station, I am in the perfect headspace for More Drunk Occult History! Mildly Hungover and Sleepless Occult History, in this case, but you can’t be picky at these prices.

  • By now we’re up to 1914, when Crowley has just had a breakup with extra cursing. Maybe it took, because he’s basically broke, so naturally he goes to the Alps. Wiki says “During this time, the First World War broke out,” in case you were raised on Mars. Crowley goes over to the US–on the Lusitania, weirdly enough.
  • He lands in New York and stays there, writing freelance columns for Vanity Fair and doing bespoke astrology *and* messing around with sex magic, and getting paid for two out of the three. First of all, not gonna lie, #lifegoals, and second…okay I read a lot of Wodehouse short stories, a subset of which involve Bertie Wooster’s friends trying various weird ways of making it in New York, and it seems like there’s crossover potential. Or maybe my brain has melted. It’s very hot here, again.
  • Then he becomes a spy, which has a long and semi-lustrious history of entanglement with the occult, pretending to be pro-German because he’s suddenly Irish. Some people claim that he was behind telling Germany to blow up the Lusitania for Spy Reasons, which seems like a fairly ruthless dick move and also the sort of thing he’d do.
  • Crowley’s Sex and Drugs on the West Coast Tour commences. Unsurprisingly, this includes Santa Cruz, LA, San Francisco, and Seattle; somewhat more surprisingly, it also involves Detroit and Vancouver. He goes back to New York, knocks someone up, goes to someone else’s cabin in New Hampshire, does a shitload of drugs, and decides that his new shiny magical name is “Master Therion.”
  • If I ever feel really organized, I will go through these blog posts and note how many different names Crowley gave himself.
  • So then “Master Therion” bounces around cities, sleeping on friends’ couches and being mixed up with “Scarlet Women” and unsuccessful magazines, boldly forging a path that every cis man who ever listened to Nirvana would follow eighty-some years later. 
  • During this time, he contacts a being called “Lam” or “the Lama” who…may have been an alien? Or maybe a self-portrait wherein Crowley was exaggerating the dimensions of his head to show how Very Very Smart he was and was also kind of a shit-tastic portrait artist? Like, I have no great abilities there, but the pictures I’ve seen are all Fourth Page of a DeviantArt search.  Or he may just have been fucking with people? Or all of the above?
  • Also the ritual that resulted in talking to “Lam,” may or may not have opened a portal to other dimensions and that’s why we have alien sightings today? 
  • Seriously: occult blogs are a trip, alien blogs are a trip, if you start getting into the combination it is…probably best enjoyed with some recreational chemicals.
  • So okay. At this point–which is not even to Later Life in the Wiki–I invite you to guess what Our Putative Hero did next.
  • Those who picked “went on another physical and probably chemical trip” (this one on an island in New York somewhere) “accessed some sort of mystical identity” (in this case about four past lives, including a pope) “then went back to the city and found *another* woman to whom he totally had a Very Deep Magickkkkkkal Connection You Guys” (oh my God if the Quilting Society of Women Who Fucked Aleister Crowley wasn’t a thing in the 1930s it should have been) (I mean also men, obvs, but the parade of Thelemic Soulmate Chicks is…a whole thing) “and started YET ANOTHER FUCKING ZINE,” please send me shipping and handling for your prize.
  • I mean I honestly can’t even be mad at Crowley for this stuff. Generally an asshat though he may have been, and forgive him for the “magick” wankery though I never will…dude, if I could make an entire living bouncing from retreat to self-indulgent editorial and fucking my way through a major city in the process? I am there, y’all. 

In Which Our Dubious Heroine Returns to Her Garrett

Yep, I’m back in MA, in a third-floor apartment that thank God has air conditioning. MA isn’t as bad as the West Coast, but it’s not great, especially in an ex-attic for which the previous builders didn’t exactly prioritize cross-ventilation.

Train travel is largely the same as it was, except a) with masks, and b) with none of the good food places open at 30th Street Station. If I’d wanted Wendy’s or McDonald’s, I’d have been set. As it was, I had the last pretzel on the pretzel cart, which as a result of being the last pretzel could have been a decent melee weapon. Such were the trials of my journey–well, that and being delayed for an hour and a half because we had freight ahead of us, but that’s basically just how it goes between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

My apartment was still standing and miraculously whole, except for the kitchen sink. Mysterious sinkly underpinnings had rotted out there, causing a leak that dismayed my downstairs neighbor–sorry, Downstairs Girl! Um, nice to meet you?–but the landlord very quickly put new ones in.

Landlords, I will note, are among those from whom you don’t really want to hear “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

So now I’m hanging out here, enjoying the AC and eating about three thousand times the recommended daily amount of Fla-Vor-Ices. Next week I’ll see how well the liquor cabinet has made it through, and likely write more about Crowley.

Try not to melt out there!