Saturday, February 20, 2010

Redux #16 - "The Heretic's Daughter" by Kathleen Kent

I realized after the first Cannonball Read that I had read more books by men than women--even when I counted all the (not quite as literary) books by Stephenie Meyer, Charlaine Harris, and the good number of romance novels I picked up on a whim. And it made me realize that I may be a bit sexist when it comes to reading and writers. I automatically accept that writers such as Philip Roth and Cormac McCarthy are "classic, American" writers without even thinking that there might be a female equivalent. I unconsciously gave their works more significance because they were written by men. Unintentionally, and I'm not sure why, I was automatically ranking books written by women, or about "women's issues" as less important, or less universal, than those written by men. And then it hit me, why did I consider all of Philip Roth's old-man characters struggling with impotence more universal than Jane Austen's female characters struggling to make a life in their society. This was rather disturbing, to say the least, as I always thought of myself as a pretty aware feminist. I also recently read somewhere (I have no cite, but I think it was a reliable source, and I think I'm remembering this correctly) that there are almost no late-night comedy writers. Conan, Leno, Letterman, and Kimmel all have no female writers. Some progress could be made there.

So, I've been rambling for awhile now, but my point is that I was inspired to focus on women writers for this Cannonball Redux. That certainly doesn't mean I'll be ignoring male authors, but my goal is that more than half of the books I read this year will be written by women. A pretty modest goal, but along with my new attitude, an improvement over last year. And this leads me to The Heretic's Daughter (2008) by Kathleen Kent. A number of Cannonballers have reviewed this one, and it sounded pretty interesting. I never learned much about the Salem Witch Trials, but my impression was that it was a time of great injustice that we could still draw lessons from. And, even better (for my purposes), it was written by a woman.

Sarah Carrier is a child witness to the Salem Witch Trials as they take her mother and tear her family apart, all on the account of some hysterical girls screaming witchcraft. Kathleen Kent has done a fair bit of research on the real-life characters of Martha Carrier (Sarah's mother) and her family, and it was very interesting to see a part of history unfold in the pages of her book. I got an understanding of living conditions, housing, family, church, as well as the trials that occurred back in 1692. Sarah Carrier was a believable narrator, not only from her position as an adult recounting these experience from her youth, but also as a woman who grew up in that time. The witch trials are already a pretty intriguing story, but I was impressed by how Kent described the horrendous course of events in true detail without making it melodramatic.

This wasn't one of my favorite books, however, because it did have some problems. It took me quite awhile to connect with any of the characters. I kept getting the sense that the book was filled with fascinating people, but she never told us enough about them. More than once I yearned to be reading a non-fiction account of the Salem Witch Trials instead. I also got a little frustrated with her abundant use of similes and metaphors, some of which were more confusing than clarifying. And Sarah's dreams and the obvious foreshadowing often rubbed me the wrong way; I felt that Kent was sometimes trying too hard to be a "writer," but she wasn't talented enough to make the foreshadowing or use of dreams either subtle or meaningful. But these are all small quibbles in the scheme of things. On the whole, I very much enjoyed reading this book; I became more connected to the characters as the novel continued, and I learned a lot about the time period.

1 comment:

Jen K said...

I recently read Geraldine Brooks's Year of Wonders, and it was really good. It takes place in England in 1664 (or some time during that decade), so if you liked that time period in this one, it would sort of be in the same realm, and also deals with a small community. And it would help with your female author count. It's written in first person, so that the character ends up being very developed and it starts at the end so you immediately want to know what happened as you begin reading.