Tag Archives: feminism

The Stepford Wives

Author: Ira Levin

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Joanna’s life seems to be going just as it should. She’s got a supportive husband, has two healthy children who argue only as much as any others their age, her photography is beginning to be recognized and profitable, and the whole family has just moved to the quiet suburb of Stepford. Only, Stepford isn’t exactly what she was expecting. In fact, in the whole area, Joanna has only found two other women who are remotely normal . . . all the rest seem to be perfect housewives, actors in commercials almost, focused only on their housework and pleasing their husbands. It’s all terribly backward for the times, and something about it just doesn’t sit right with Joanna.

Fair warning that 1) I’ll probably spoil something about this story somewhere in the review, and 2) I’ll likely ignore a lot of things that are typically commented on or have different opinions from those that are popular. This book is iconic enough–and well enough known–that I’m not really trying to avoid either of the above. The Stepford Wives is a psychological thriller set in 1970’s suburban Connecticut. It’s also a solid example of what I would term “suburban horror”–the whole idea that in the suburbs no one will give you too much grief about [insert horrible thing you do here] so long as your house is tidy and your lawn neat and green. So yeah, basically throughout the whole town, all the women are being murdered and replaced by robots because the menfolk in this backwards place prefer that over real, modern women with opinions and personality and interests outside the home. Blah, blah, social commentary, you get the picture. It’s a great insight, this far out from when the story was written, into the mindsets and social atmosphere that were prevalent at that point. From a strictly storytelling perspective, this story is fascinatingly written. Much like Rosemary’s Baby, Levin limits us to what Joanna knows but also sticks strictly to the facts. This happened, that happened, in minute detail at times–we’re given occurrences, hints, the passage of time, and Joanna’s gradual horrifying realization, but we never actually delve into her psyche and emotions. It’s all objective and almost clinical at times, the clear, spare way in which things are written. But I really like the way it’s done; in some ways, it increases the horror of what’s happening as you begin to realize along with Joanna just what’s going down in this place. Also, the pacing of the story is deliberate, spelled out in minute daily events, in a way that makes the progression seem inevitable. I enjoyed The Stepford Wives quite a lot and would recommend it to those interested in psychological thrillers/horror. Just don’t expect a fast-paced, emotion-drenched story coming in to it.

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Squire

Author: Tamora Pierce

Protector of the Small, vol. 3

My rating: 4 of 5

Kel has surpassed numerous challenges–including lots of people not accepting a girl in the role of knight-in-training–and has finally become a squire. Or at least, she will be if any knight will take The Girl on as his squire. To her surprise and delight, Lord Raoul sees her potential and breaks his usual habits, taking her on to train. His unconventionality, gruffness, and practicality promise to make her four years as his squire both interesting and challenging. . . . Who knows, they may even be fun at times. Not that there won’t be plenty of challenges for her to face before achieving her knighthood–an ornery baby griffin, any number of stuffy individuals who challenge her capability, a huge royal progress across the country complete with parties and social expectations, boys. But of course, Kel will face them all with the clear-headed determination that has stood her in good stead so far.

I adore Tamora Pierce’s books, and Squire is an excellent example of her writing. The characters are fabulous. Kel continues to grow as a person in this book, and I love the way her character builds with every small choice she faces. I have to applaud Pierce for writing someone so vastly different from most of her other Tortallan heroines as well; Kel’s really distinct from, say, Alanna or Daine. Which actually makes it really interesting to get to see them in the same story, interacting with each other. There are plenty of other excellent character here as well, the most developed and fun to read probably being Raoul (whom I already like from Alanna’s story, but we get a different perspective on him here, which is fun). And the animal characters are just soooo good! The writing style, as always, is very comfortable and easy to read, although I am again impressed by how unconventional Pierce’s writing seems at times in the way it homes in on small jewels of events then pans out for broad, sweeping passages of time. It’s different, but it works–brilliantly, even. I do feel the need to highlight that, while the earlier books in this quartet could easily be considered children’s fiction (First Test, in particular), Squire sits solidly in the YA genre, with Kel facing some pretty big, adult stuff like death and sex–not so much kids’ stuff. So fair warning that, while still quite clean and fairly discreet, this is probably not the ideal book to give to your ten-year-old. Still, for a YA and older audience, Squire is an incredible story, especially for those who love a good fantasy.

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First Test

Author: Tamora Pierce

Protector of the Small Quartet, vol. 1

My rating: 5 of 5

A decade after the kingdom of Tortall decided to accept girls to train as knights instead of just boys, ten-year-old Kel becomes the first girl to actually apply. Inspired by tales of the Lioness’s valor and already skilled through her training in the Yamani court, Kel is determined to succeed and become a knight of Tortall. But she is shocked when Lord Wyldon, the training master, puts an extra requirement on her that the boys don’t have to fulfill: her first year is a probationary period, and only if she satisfies him at the end of it will she be allowed to stay on as a knight-in-training. Hurt and frustration are barely the beginning of what Kel feels, but her time with the Yamanis has also trained her to hide her emotions and press on through unrealistic expectations, deep-seated prejudice, bullying, and social rejection until she proves herself.

First Test is such a great reminder of just why I love Tamora Pierce’s books so much. It’s this fabulous mix of fantasy and slice-of-life, encompassing bits of school story (the majority of the tale), culture and history, exciting battles, amusing relationships with various animals, and growing friendships among many other things. Plus it’s an excellent look into changing perspectives on what women are capable of and that whole dynamic. Kel is a powerhouse, incredible character–the perfect individual for this particular story. Her story is so similar to and yet so different from Alanna’s in the Song of the Lioness Quartet that it’s quite interesting to compare the two. And knowing that Kel has Alanna’s secret backing is fabulous. But seriously, I love Kel’s stubbornness and determination, the way she works so hard to get where she wants to be. And the way that she’s quiet and feminine–which is partly stubbornness in the face of opposition itself–but is also ready to get into fistfights when necessary also contributes to a richness of character. Plus her friendships with all the various animals and her  intentionality in standing up for those who are weaker and afraid. She’s just a very well-realized and fascinating character, and I love that about her. I also really love her opinionated and chatty mentor Neal as well–also a richly developed and complex character who is quite likeable. It’s been entirely too long since I’ve read these books, and I’m greatly anticipating re-reading the rest of this quartet. I would highly recommend both First Test and the rest of the quartet to . . . well, basically anybody who likes a solid fantasy. As far as appropriate age recommendations, this quartet (like the Song of the Lioness books) is difficult to place, but I would say that First Test at least is appropriate for middle-grade and up (possibly even older elementary). Just be warned that the later books in the quartet grow up as Kel grows up, so there may be some more mature content there.

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