Redeeming Love Review: God’s Truth

Redeeming Love Review: God’s Truth

<strong>Trigger warn­ings for dis­cus­sion of child­hood sex­u­al abuse and sex trafficking.</strong> <h2>Introduction: why I need to review this book.</h2> From the ages of 17–21, I worked at a Chris­t­ian book­store that even­tu­al­ly was bought out by Life­way. (That’s right. This athe­ist was once employed by LIFEWAY.) At the time, I was con­sid­ered the res­i­dent CCM expert and Chris­t­ian fic­tion guru, and I helped intro­duce a lot of peo­ple to a lot of Chris­t­ian pop cul­ture in the mid-2000’s. Ask me to tell you sto­ries some­time. I have a few. [cap­tion id=“attachment_1948” align=“alignright” width=“200”]<img class=“wp-image-1948 size-medi­um” src=“https://www.fat-girl-living.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/redeeming-love-200x300.jpg” alt=“This was the cov­er the book had when I first came across it.” width=“200” height=“300” /> This was the cov­er the book had when I first came across it.[/caption] A friend intro­duced me to Francine Rivers’ writ­ing one sum­mer through her <em>Mark of the Lion</em> series (which, if there’s enough inter­est, I can re-read and review here as well). The book­store where I worked had a pol­i­cy at that point where employ­ees could “check out” books to read, then bring them back for sale when we were fin­ished. So when I saw the mys­te­ri­ous-look­ing cov­er and the famil­iar author, I jumped at the chance to read it. I’d loved the <em>Mark of the Lion</em> series and her pop­u­lar book, <em>Atonement Child,</em> so I just knew that I would love this book, too. I was prob­a­bly 18 at the time. <strong><em>Redeeming Love</em> changed and defined my life for the bet­ter part of 8 years.</strong> I read it once or twice annu­al­ly, from the time I first picked it up at 18 until <a href=“https://www.fat-girl-living.com/strange-and-unprepared/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>my pub­lic deconversion</a> at age 25. It instan­ta­neous­ly became my favourite book, sec­ond only to LM Montgomery’s <em>The Blue Castle</em> (which yet remains my favourite book of all time). In my mind, I was the main char­ac­ter, and the sto­ry was an alle­go­ry I used to describe my life. I can’t tell you how many times, like Angel’s moth­er, <a href=“http://diannaeanderson.net/blog/2013/3/guest-post-the-ever-changing-faces-of-god” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>I silent­ly cried</a>, “Mea cul­pa, mea cul­pa, I did this to myself.” Or how many times, like Angel, I’d scrape my skin raw in an attempt to feel clean, only to sink to my knees when I real­ized there was no hope for my cleans­ing. It was in such a fit that I wrote prob­a­bly the best — and worst — <a href=“https://www.facebook.com/notes/dani-kelley/revelations/2266740382” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>poem</a> I’ve ever writ­ten. What I’m try­ing to say is that sto­ries are <em>important. </em><a href=“https://www.fat-girl-living.com/the-stories-we-tell/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>I’ve writ­ten about that before</a>. As I said then, the sto­ries we tell each oth­er, the sto­ries we tell our­selves, the sto­ries we accept as truth <em>define</em> us. And oh, did this sto­ry define me — for far, far too long. <strong>Stories don’t exist in a vacuum.</strong> <em>Redeeming Love</em> wasn’t writ­ten with­out the influ­ence of an entire world­view. I didn’t accept it as an alle­go­ry for my life with­out out­side influ­ences, out­side sto­ries, telling me how to think of myself and the world around me. The sto­ry was writ­ten as an obvi­ous retelling of the bib­li­cal book of Hosea. Clear­ly Francine Rivers and I had a sim­i­lar under­stand­ing of how to inter­pret that book — and it’s an under­stand­ing that neg­a­tive­ly affect­ed my life for many years. So why am I review­ing this book? In part because <a href=“https://defeatingthedragons.wordpress.com/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>Samantha Field</a>‘s read­ers want­ed her to review it<a href=“https://defeatingthedragons.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/introduction-to-the-review-series-how-to-win-over-depression/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>*</a>, but she chose to review Tim LaHaye’s <em>How to Win Over Depres­sion </em>as it was a book she already owned and strong­ly felt the need to decon­struct. (Check out her writ­ing and be sure to <a href=“https://defeatingthedragons.wordpress.com/2015/06/17/become-a-patron/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>become a Patron</a> — she does real­ly impor­tant work!) But by and large, I’m doing this in-depth mul­ti-part <em>Redeeming Love</em> review because of the years it defined my life. I need to exor­cise a few demons this book helped feed, and I’d like to do it pub­licly for the ben­e­fit of oth­ers like me. So…let’s get start­ed. <h2>A few things to keep in mind.</h2> I’ll be review­ing the book in sec­tions rather than by chap­ter. It’s bro­ken apart into rather obvi­ous sec­tions, so I think it’ll flow a bit bet­ter to do it that way. Also, I think going chap­ter by chap­ter would just pro­long any PTSD reac­tions I may have to its con­tents. This way I can read a large sec­tion of the book, then write about it, short­en­ing my expo­sure. As much as I need to review the book, I also need to take care of myself. The first sec­tion I’m review­ing here is the pro­logue, and I think it sets up the book (and there­fore helps me set up my review) rather nice­ly. Obvi­ous­ly, I’ll be com­ing at this sta­ple of con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­t­ian fic­tion from a far dif­fer­ent stand­point than I did when I was myself a con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­t­ian. Being a lib­er­al athe­ist, I obvi­ous­ly dif­fer from Rivers’ beliefs very strong­ly and fun­da­men­tal­ly. How­ev­er, I’ll do my best to keep my crit­i­cism of Chris­tian­i­ty itself to a min­i­mum, focus­ing instead on the mes­sages com­mu­ni­cat­ed by the book itself. I’m also going to be upfront with my over­all review from the get-go: this book, while well-inten­tioned, tells dan­ger­ous sto­ries about the nature of love and can be down­right tox­ic for sur­vivors of sex­u­al assault who come to it for hope and heal­ing. <h2>Trigger warnings.</h2> I’m com­ing to this book and these reviews as a sur­vivor of both child­hood and adult sex­u­al abuse, top­ics this book explores in uncom­fort­able depth. For this entire series, there are major trig­ger warn­ings for frank dis­cus­sion of child­hood sex­u­al abuse, rape, sex traf­fick­ing, and incest. I’ll do my best to be sen­si­tive, but I will also be as forth­right as need­ed when address­ing how Rivers’ depicts this vio­lence and her char­ac­ters’ reac­tions to it. I’ll put spe­cif­ic trig­ger warn­ings at the begin­ning of every post, so that oth­er sur­vivors can decide for them­selves whether the review is some­thing they want to han­dle on a par­tic­u­lar day and so they’re aware of what they’re get­ting into. <h2>Overview: the Prologue.</h2> Rivers opens the book with a sim­ple sen­tence: “To those who hurt and hunger.” It’s obvi­ous through this intro­duc­tion, the telling of the entire sto­ry, and the author’s notes at the end of the book that Rivers des­per­ate­ly wants to pro­vide hope to hurt­ing women. In a strange way, she did give me hope for those years that I held this book in the high­est of regards. But I think even in the pro­logue, it’s clear that her goal falls flat. The sto­ry begins in 1835 New Eng­land with our pro­tag­o­nist, Sarah, meet­ing her father for the first time. We’re nev­er giv­en her last name. She is about sev­en years old, liv­ing with her moth­er, Mae, and their ser­vant, Cleo, in a small but com­fort­able cot­tage sur­round­ed by beau­ti­ful flower gar­dens. Her father, Alex Stafford, is a tall, hand­some, rich man. His vis­its are spo­radic and short-lived. Usu­al­ly, Sarah and Cleo leave for a while when he’s stopped by, but this time Mae has decid­ed to intro­duce them. Sarah is beside her­self with excite­ment, but Stafford is cold and angry. He sends Sarah out­side to play, but she sits out­side by the win­dow to be as close to her fam­i­ly as she can be. It turns out that Stafford has a wife and “legit­i­mate” chil­dren, but takes care of Mae qui­et­ly, pro­vid­ing her house and ser­vant and enough mon­ey to live com­fort­ably. He nev­er want­ed a child with Mae, and in fact had pro­vid­ed a way for her to abort, which she reject­ed sound­ly as it was “a mor­tal sin” for her to kill her “unborn child.” He resents being forced to meet his daugh­ter, and says that the time spent with her has tak­en away from the time he came to spend with Mae. It’s implied that Mae was once a sex work­er, but stopped work­ing after meet­ing Stafford. He is angry, vio­lent, intol­er­ant of reli­gious belief, and only inter­est­ed in Mae for sex. Sarah hears all of this, of course, and inter­nal­izes that she shouldn’t have been born. Her moth­er sinks into a dark depres­sion after Stafford phys­i­cal­ly abus­es her and leaves. Sarah believes that she is in the way of her mother’s hap­pi­ness, even going so far as to ask her if Stafford would come back to stay if she were to get sick and die, leav­ing Mae free of her. Mae is appro­pri­ate­ly hor­ri­fied, but instead of reas­sur­ing her daugh­ter, she makes her promise to nev­er speak of such things again. After months of the silent treat­ment, Stafford sends word that he’s going to vis­it again. This time, Mae sends Sarah and Cleo to the ocean for the week­end. Cleo resents hav­ing to take care of Mae’s “by-blow,” and makes sure that Sarah knows it. The place they go to stay is fre­quent­ed by Cleo’s for­mer lover, who ter­ror­izes Sarah and forces her to sit in a cold dark hall­way out­side their room at the inn while he and Cleo have sex. Cleo is hope­ful that he’ll final­ly admit that he loves her in return, but he leaves after their encounter and doesn’t return. When Cleo’s lover doesn’t return the fol­low­ing night, she gets drunk and decides to give Sarah “God’s truth” about men: <blockquote>“I’m going to tell you God’s truth, lit­tle girl. You lis­ten good. … All men want to do is use you. When you give them your heart, they tear it to shreds. … None of ’em care. Take your fine papa. Does he care about your moth­er? No. … “Your mama told me to take good care of you. … Well, I am going to take care of you. I’m going to tell you God’s truth. You lis­ten and you learn. … “Your fine papa doesn’t care about any­one, least of all you. And all he cares about your moth­er is what she’s will­ing to give him. And she gives him every­thing. He shows up when he pleas­es, uses her, then rides off to his fine house in town with his aris­to­crat­ic wife and well-bred chil­dren. And your moth­er? She lives for the next time she’ll see him. … “She’s such a sweet stu­pid fool. She waits for him and falls on her face to kiss his feet when he comes back. You know why he went away for so long? Because of you. He can’t stand the sight of his own spawn. Your mama cries and begs, and what good’s it ever done her? Soon­er or lat­er, he’s going to get tired of her and toss her into the trash. And you with her. That’s the one thing you can count on. … “Nobody cares about any­body in this world. … We all just use each oth­er in one way or anoth­er. To feel good. To feel bad. To feel noth­ing at all. The lucky ones are real good at it. Like Mer­rick. Like your rich papa. The rest of us just take what we can get.”</blockquote> As proph­e­sied by Cleo, Stafford with­draws entire­ly from Mae, leav­ing her des­ti­tute. She takes Sarah and goes to her par­ents’ house to beg for­give­ness and ask to stay. She’s turned away with noth­ing but a small amount of mon­ey her moth­er is able to sneak to her. She and Sarah end up liv­ing on the docks in a shack, where she goes back to sex work. A man Sarah knows as Uncle Rab comes to live with them and help keep them afloat, but Mae con­tracts a dis­ease she can’t fight and dies. Sarah is 8 years old. Uncle Rab is a drunk and a thief, but he promised Mae he would take care of Sarah. He asks around and dis­cov­ers that a man “rich as Midas and way up in gov­ern­ment” wants to adopt a pret­ty lit­tle girl. He has Sarah cleaned up and dressed nice­ly, then takes her to the man’s man­sion to drop her off. They’re met by a well-endowed woman named Sal­ly, who qui­et­ly but urgent­ly advis­es them to turn around and leave. Uncle Rab insists that it’s fine, that every­thing will be fine, and they’re led to a rich­ly fur­nished bed­room to wait. He goes through the room and steals what he can fit in his pock­ets until he’s con­front­ed by Duke, the man of the house. Duke inspects Sarah, who is fright­ened by him, then pays Uncle Rab. Uncle Rab bursts into a grate­ful dia­tribe, and makes the mis­take of men­tion­ing the name of the man who referred him to Duke, and is stran­gled to death in front of Sarah. Duke wash­es Sarah’s face, telling her that as long as she does exact­ly what he tells her, she’ll be fine. He asks her name, but she’s too ter­ri­fied to answer. He begins touch­ing her and replies, “It doesn’t mat­ter. I think I’m going to call you Angel.” He tells her he has things to teach her as he begins undress­ing him­self. The pro­logue con­cludes with “by morn­ing, Sarah knew that Cleo had told her God’s truth about every­thing.” <h2>Analysis: tropes abound.</h2> [cap­tion id=“attachment_1949” align=“alignright” width=“310”]<img class=“size-medium wp-image-1949” src=“https://www.fat-girl-living.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/tropes-310x207.jpg” alt=“Actual note I wrote in the book because OH MY GOD FRANCINE.” width=“310” height=“207” /> Actu­al note I wrote in the book because OH MY GOD FRANCINE.[/caption] There are a lot of tropes that I noticed read­ing through the pro­logue. Some of them are vague nods to teach­ings with­in puri­ty cul­ture, but they’re tropes nonethe­less and I’m kind of sur­prised that I nev­er noticed them before. <ul> <li>Sarah’s father, Stafford, is implied to be a-reli­gious at best, open­ly mock­ing her mother’s ded­i­ca­tion to God. He embod­ies The Angry Athe­ist, who by virtue of his lack of belief is prone to vio­lence against women and inca­pable of gen­uine empa­thy or per­son­al rela­tion­ships that don’t serve him per­son­al­ly. He also ful­fills the Chris­t­ian puri­ty cul­ture stereo­type of a man who’s only inter­est­ed in a woman for sex and noth­ing else.</li> <li>The oblig­a­tory “abor­tion is mur­der” belief is espoused (which is unsur­pris­ing, con­sid­er­ing Rivers’ book<em> Atone­ment Child</em> is ded­i­cat­ed to the top­ic). This, of course, doesn’t negate the dam­age it does to a child to hear they’re unwant­ed by a par­ent. Though I would like anti-choice pro­po­nents to explain why they think forc­ing a per­son to give birth against their will is good for child or parent.</li> <li>The entire sto­ry of Sarah’s moth­er, Mae, is a ginor­mous nod to the Chris­t­ian teach­ing that if you “fall into sex­u­al sin,” you’ll lose your fam­i­ly and your health and will die alone and unloved. In fact, this trope seems even worse to me, as Mae gen­uine­ly tries to do what is best for her daugh­ter, tries to rec­on­cile with her par­ents, and remains ded­i­cat­ed to God until her last breath. It seems to fly in the face of the mes­sage of the rest of the book: it seems to say that not even God can save you if you make these mis­takes. And yet…</li> <li>Rivers makes it clear that Mae is Catholic, which in the minds of most Evan­gel­i­cals will allow them to dis­miss her ded­i­ca­tion to God because she wasn’t <em>really</em> a Chris­t­ian, mak­ing it eas­i­er to accept her death as con­se­quences for her poor decisions.</li> <li>Alcohol is repeat­ed­ly used to demon­strate a person’s untrust­wor­thi­ness, irre­spon­si­bil­i­ty, or god­less despondency.</li> <li>The sex­ist assump­tion that women do noth­ing but pine after men is demon­strat­ed in Mae’s reac­tion to Stafford’s indif­fer­ence and Cleo’s reac­tion to the man she loves dis­card­ing her after their night of sex.</li> <li>The depic­tion of sex work as some­thing women only do when they’re des­per­ate and nev­er as a legit­i­mate choice that they make is present here as well, and devel­oped fur­ther through­out the book. This doesn’t negate the seri­ous­ness of sex traf­fick­ing, nor the injus­tice that many women are forced into sex work in order to sup­port them­selves, but it does paint a nar­row pic­ture of the trade.</li> </ul> I do appre­ci­ate that Duke is depict­ed as a pow­er­ful pub­lic fig­ure that can abuse chil­dren so open­ly with­out the pub­lic know­ing. I think that’s a real­ly impor­tant thing to note: pedophiles aren’t always obvi­ous about it, because they’re often so well-liked by adults that they cre­ate an atmos­phere of plau­si­ble deni­a­bil­i­ty. <h2>God’s truth?</h2> The thing that struck me the most, how­ev­er, was in Cleo’s speech about God’s truth. I think Rivers inad­ver­tent­ly gave us a shock­ing­ly unfil­tered glance into the fun­da­men­tal­ist and evan­gel­i­cal Chris­t­ian God’s truth about the world. The mes­sage that all men want to do is use women? That’s a mes­sage that <em>purity culture</em> teach­es. Of course, it’s present in patri­archy and men’s rights move­ments as well, but it is a fun­da­men­tal por­tion of what <em>Christianity</em> teach­es about men and the world. Con­sid­er­ing the pro­lif­er­a­tion of Chris­tian­i­ty in the U.S.‘s cul­ture and gov­ern­ment, it’s a com­mon belief. But it’s direct­ly informed by the Chris­t­ian God that Rivers spends the rest of the book try­ing to depict as all-lov­ing and kind and for­giv­ing. The mes­sage that peo­ple only ever want to use one anoth­er for their own per­son­al gain is anoth­er fun­da­men­tal mes­sage of the con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­t­ian God (and I’d per­son­al­ly argue a mes­sage of the God of the Bible in gen­er­al). It’s a mes­sage that com­plete­ly denies basic demon­stra­ble human­i­ty and robs peo­ple of the dig­ni­ty of hav­ing their loves and rela­tion­ships and moti­va­tions and lives val­i­dat­ed — unless they fit in a shock­ing­ly small box. I’m remind­ed so strong­ly of the Moth­er Gothel and Rapunzel’s sto­ry arc in Tan­gled. Moth­er Gothel rais­es Rapun­zel to believe that the world is “dark and self­ish and cru­el” — as a direct effort to hide that Moth­er Gothel her­self is the dark and self­ish and cru­el one. But unlike Tan­gled, where Rapun­zel is able to say with con­fi­dence, “You were <strong>wrong</strong> about the world!” this book offers no such hope. Moth­er Gothel’s dark, self­ish, cru­el world exists and real­ly is full of ruf­fi­ans, thugs and men with pointy teeth. And the only sal­va­tion to be found is pro­vid­ed by Moth­er Gothel her­self. And that’s not an accu­rate depic­tion of real life, nor is it a world worth liv­ing in.

Posted in Fat Girl,

<strong>Trigger warn­ings for dis­cus­sion of child­hood sex­u­al abuse and sex trafficking.</strong> <h2>Introduction: why I need to review this book.</h2> From the ages of 17–21, I worked at a Chris­t­ian book­store that even­tu­al­ly was bought out by Life­way. (That’s right. This athe­ist was once employed by LIFEWAY.) At the time, I was con­sid­ered the res­i­dent CCM expert and Chris­t­ian fic­tion guru, and I helped intro­duce a lot of peo­ple to a lot of Chris­t­ian pop cul­ture in the mid-2000’s. Ask me to tell you sto­ries some­time. I have a few. [cap­tion id=“attachment_1948” align=“alignright” width=“200”]<img class=“wp-image-1948 size-medi­um” src=“https://www.fat-girl-living.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/redeeming-love-200x300.jpg” alt=“This was the cov­er the book had when I first came across it.” width=“200” height=“300” /> This was the cov­er the book had when I first came across it.[/caption] A friend intro­duced me to Francine Rivers’ writ­ing one sum­mer through her <em>Mark of the Lion</em> series (which, if there’s enough inter­est, I can re-read and review here as well). The book­store where I worked had a pol­i­cy at that point where employ­ees could “check out” books to read, then bring them back for sale when we were fin­ished. So when I saw the mys­te­ri­ous-look­ing cov­er and the famil­iar author, I jumped at the chance to read it. I’d loved the <em>Mark of the Lion</em> series and her pop­u­lar book, <em>Atonement Child,</em> so I just knew that I would love this book, too. I was prob­a­bly 18 at the time. <strong><em>Redeeming Love</em> changed and defined my life for the bet­ter part of 8 years.</strong> I read it once or twice annu­al­ly, from the time I first picked it up at 18 until <a href=“https://www.fat-girl-living.com/strange-and-unprepared/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>my pub­lic deconversion</a> at age 25. It instan­ta­neous­ly became my favourite book, sec­ond only to LM Montgomery’s <em>The Blue Castle</em> (which yet remains my favourite book of all time). In my mind, I was the main char­ac­ter, and the sto­ry was an alle­go­ry I used to describe my life. I can’t tell you how many times, like Angel’s moth­er, <a href=“http://diannaeanderson.net/blog/2013/3/guest-post-the-ever-changing-faces-of-god” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>I silent­ly cried</a>, “Mea cul­pa, mea cul­pa, I did this to myself.” Or how many times, like Angel, I’d scrape my skin raw in an attempt to feel clean, only to sink to my knees when I real­ized there was no hope for my cleans­ing. It was in such a fit that I wrote prob­a­bly the best — and worst — <a href=“https://www.facebook.com/notes/dani-kelley/revelations/2266740382” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>poem</a> I’ve ever writ­ten. What I’m try­ing to say is that sto­ries are <em>important. </em><a href=“https://www.fat-girl-living.com/the-stories-we-tell/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>I’ve writ­ten about that before</a>. As I said then, the sto­ries we tell each oth­er, the sto­ries we tell our­selves, the sto­ries we accept as truth <em>define</em> us. And oh, did this sto­ry define me — for far, far too long. <strong>Stories don’t exist in a vacuum.</strong> <em>Redeeming Love</em> wasn’t writ­ten with­out the influ­ence of an entire world­view. I didn’t accept it as an alle­go­ry for my life with­out out­side influ­ences, out­side sto­ries, telling me how to think of myself and the world around me. The sto­ry was writ­ten as an obvi­ous retelling of the bib­li­cal book of Hosea. Clear­ly Francine Rivers and I had a sim­i­lar under­stand­ing of how to inter­pret that book — and it’s an under­stand­ing that neg­a­tive­ly affect­ed my life for many years. So why am I review­ing this book? In part because <a href=“https://defeatingthedragons.wordpress.com/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>Samantha Field</a>‘s read­ers want­ed her to review it<a href=“https://defeatingthedragons.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/introduction-to-the-review-series-how-to-win-over-depression/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>*</a>, but she chose to review Tim LaHaye’s <em>How to Win Over Depres­sion </em>as it was a book she already owned and strong­ly felt the need to decon­struct. (Check out her writ­ing and be sure to <a href=“https://defeatingthedragons.wordpress.com/2015/06/17/become-a-patron/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>become a Patron</a> — she does real­ly impor­tant work!) But by and large, I’m doing this in-depth mul­ti-part <em>Redeeming Love</em> review because of the years it defined my life. I need to exor­cise a few demons this book helped feed, and I’d like to do it pub­licly for the ben­e­fit of oth­ers like me. So…let’s get start­ed. <h2>A few things to keep in mind.</h2> I’ll be review­ing the book in sec­tions rather than by chap­ter. It’s bro­ken apart into rather obvi­ous sec­tions, so I think it’ll flow a bit bet­ter to do it that way. Also, I think going chap­ter by chap­ter would just pro­long any PTSD reac­tions I may have to its con­tents. This way I can read a large sec­tion of the book, then write about it, short­en­ing my expo­sure. As much as I need to review the book, I also need to take care of myself. The first sec­tion I’m review­ing here is the pro­logue, and I think it sets up the book (and there­fore helps me set up my review) rather nice­ly. Obvi­ous­ly, I’ll be com­ing at this sta­ple of con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­t­ian fic­tion from a far dif­fer­ent stand­point than I did when I was myself a con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­t­ian. Being a lib­er­al athe­ist, I obvi­ous­ly dif­fer from Rivers’ beliefs very strong­ly and fun­da­men­tal­ly. How­ev­er, I’ll do my best to keep my crit­i­cism of Chris­tian­i­ty itself to a min­i­mum, focus­ing instead on the mes­sages com­mu­ni­cat­ed by the book itself. I’m also going to be upfront with my over­all review from the get-go: this book, while well-inten­tioned, tells dan­ger­ous sto­ries about the nature of love and can be down­right tox­ic for sur­vivors of sex­u­al assault who come to it for hope and heal­ing. <h2>Trigger warnings.</h2> I’m com­ing to this book and these reviews as a sur­vivor of both child­hood and adult sex­u­al abuse, top­ics this book explores in uncom­fort­able depth. For this entire series, there are major trig­ger warn­ings for frank dis­cus­sion of child­hood sex­u­al abuse, rape, sex traf­fick­ing, and incest. I’ll do my best to be sen­si­tive, but I will also be as forth­right as need­ed when address­ing how Rivers’ depicts this vio­lence and her char­ac­ters’ reac­tions to it. I’ll put spe­cif­ic trig­ger warn­ings at the begin­ning of every post, so that oth­er sur­vivors can decide for them­selves whether the review is some­thing they want to han­dle on a par­tic­u­lar day and so they’re aware of what they’re get­ting into. <h2>Overview: the Prologue.</h2> Rivers opens the book with a sim­ple sen­tence: “To those who hurt and hunger.” It’s obvi­ous through this intro­duc­tion, the telling of the entire sto­ry, and the author’s notes at the end of the book that Rivers des­per­ate­ly wants to pro­vide hope to hurt­ing women. In a strange way, she did give me hope for those years that I held this book in the high­est of regards. But I think even in the pro­logue, it’s clear that her goal falls flat. The sto­ry begins in 1835 New Eng­land with our pro­tag­o­nist, Sarah, meet­ing her father for the first time. We’re nev­er giv­en her last name. She is about sev­en years old, liv­ing with her moth­er, Mae, and their ser­vant, Cleo, in a small but com­fort­able cot­tage sur­round­ed by beau­ti­ful flower gar­dens. Her father, Alex Stafford, is a tall, hand­some, rich man. His vis­its are spo­radic and short-lived. Usu­al­ly, Sarah and Cleo leave for a while when he’s stopped by, but this time Mae has decid­ed to intro­duce them. Sarah is beside her­self with excite­ment, but Stafford is cold and angry. He sends Sarah out­side to play, but she sits out­side by the win­dow to be as close to her fam­i­ly as she can be. It turns out that Stafford has a wife and “legit­i­mate” chil­dren, but takes care of Mae qui­et­ly, pro­vid­ing her house and ser­vant and enough mon­ey to live com­fort­ably. He nev­er want­ed a child with Mae, and in fact had pro­vid­ed a way for her to abort, which she reject­ed sound­ly as it was “a mor­tal sin” for her to kill her “unborn child.” He resents being forced to meet his daugh­ter, and says that the time spent with her has tak­en away from the time he came to spend with Mae. It’s implied that Mae was once a sex work­er, but stopped work­ing after meet­ing Stafford. He is angry, vio­lent, intol­er­ant of reli­gious belief, and only inter­est­ed in Mae for sex. Sarah hears all of this, of course, and inter­nal­izes that she shouldn’t have been born. Her moth­er sinks into a dark depres­sion after Stafford phys­i­cal­ly abus­es her and leaves. Sarah believes that she is in the way of her mother’s hap­pi­ness, even going so far as to ask her if Stafford would come back to stay if she were to get sick and die, leav­ing Mae free of her. Mae is appro­pri­ate­ly hor­ri­fied, but instead of reas­sur­ing her daugh­ter, she makes her promise to nev­er speak of such things again. After months of the silent treat­ment, Stafford sends word that he’s going to vis­it again. This time, Mae sends Sarah and Cleo to the ocean for the week­end. Cleo resents hav­ing to take care of Mae’s “by-blow,” and makes sure that Sarah knows it. The place they go to stay is fre­quent­ed by Cleo’s for­mer lover, who ter­ror­izes Sarah and forces her to sit in a cold dark hall­way out­side their room at the inn while he and Cleo have sex. Cleo is hope­ful that he’ll final­ly admit that he loves her in return, but he leaves after their encounter and doesn’t return. When Cleo’s lover doesn’t return the fol­low­ing night, she gets drunk and decides to give Sarah “God’s truth” about men: <blockquote>“I’m going to tell you God’s truth, lit­tle girl. You lis­ten good. … All men want to do is use you. When you give them your heart, they tear it to shreds. … None of ’em care. Take your fine papa. Does he care about your moth­er? No. … “Your mama told me to take good care of you. … Well, I am going to take care of you. I’m going to tell you God’s truth. You lis­ten and you learn. … “Your fine papa doesn’t care about any­one, least of all you. And all he cares about your moth­er is what she’s will­ing to give him. And she gives him every­thing. He shows up when he pleas­es, uses her, then rides off to his fine house in town with his aris­to­crat­ic wife and well-bred chil­dren. And your moth­er? She lives for the next time she’ll see him. … “She’s such a sweet stu­pid fool. She waits for him and falls on her face to kiss his feet when he comes back. You know why he went away for so long? Because of you. He can’t stand the sight of his own spawn. Your mama cries and begs, and what good’s it ever done her? Soon­er or lat­er, he’s going to get tired of her and toss her into the trash. And you with her. That’s the one thing you can count on. … “Nobody cares about any­body in this world. … We all just use each oth­er in one way or anoth­er. To feel good. To feel bad. To feel noth­ing at all. The lucky ones are real good at it. Like Mer­rick. Like your rich papa. The rest of us just take what we can get.”</blockquote> As proph­e­sied by Cleo, Stafford with­draws entire­ly from Mae, leav­ing her des­ti­tute. She takes Sarah and goes to her par­ents’ house to beg for­give­ness and ask to stay. She’s turned away with noth­ing but a small amount of mon­ey her moth­er is able to sneak to her. She and Sarah end up liv­ing on the docks in a shack, where she goes back to sex work. A man Sarah knows as Uncle Rab comes to live with them and help keep them afloat, but Mae con­tracts a dis­ease she can’t fight and dies. Sarah is 8 years old. Uncle Rab is a drunk and a thief, but he promised Mae he would take care of Sarah. He asks around and dis­cov­ers that a man “rich as Midas and way up in gov­ern­ment” wants to adopt a pret­ty lit­tle girl. He has Sarah cleaned up and dressed nice­ly, then takes her to the man’s man­sion to drop her off. They’re met by a well-endowed woman named Sal­ly, who qui­et­ly but urgent­ly advis­es them to turn around and leave. Uncle Rab insists that it’s fine, that every­thing will be fine, and they’re led to a rich­ly fur­nished bed­room to wait. He goes through the room and steals what he can fit in his pock­ets until he’s con­front­ed by Duke, the man of the house. Duke inspects Sarah, who is fright­ened by him, then pays Uncle Rab. Uncle Rab bursts into a grate­ful dia­tribe, and makes the mis­take of men­tion­ing the name of the man who referred him to Duke, and is stran­gled to death in front of Sarah. Duke wash­es Sarah’s face, telling her that as long as she does exact­ly what he tells her, she’ll be fine. He asks her name, but she’s too ter­ri­fied to answer. He begins touch­ing her and replies, “It doesn’t mat­ter. I think I’m going to call you Angel.” He tells her he has things to teach her as he begins undress­ing him­self. The pro­logue con­cludes with “by morn­ing, Sarah knew that Cleo had told her God’s truth about every­thing.” <h2>Analysis: tropes abound.</h2> [cap­tion id=“attachment_1949” align=“alignright” width=“310”]<img class=“size-medium wp-image-1949” src=“https://www.fat-girl-living.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/tropes-310x207.jpg” alt=“Actual note I wrote in the book because OH MY GOD FRANCINE.” width=“310” height=“207” /> Actu­al note I wrote in the book because OH MY GOD FRANCINE.[/caption] There are a lot of tropes that I noticed read­ing through the pro­logue. Some of them are vague nods to teach­ings with­in puri­ty cul­ture, but they’re tropes nonethe­less and I’m kind of sur­prised that I nev­er noticed them before. <ul> <li>Sarah’s father, Stafford, is implied to be a-reli­gious at best, open­ly mock­ing her mother’s ded­i­ca­tion to God. He embod­ies The Angry Athe­ist, who by virtue of his lack of belief is prone to vio­lence against women and inca­pable of gen­uine empa­thy or per­son­al rela­tion­ships that don’t serve him per­son­al­ly. He also ful­fills the Chris­t­ian puri­ty cul­ture stereo­type of a man who’s only inter­est­ed in a woman for sex and noth­ing else.</li> <li>The oblig­a­tory “abor­tion is mur­der” belief is espoused (which is unsur­pris­ing, con­sid­er­ing Rivers’ book<em> Atone­ment Child</em> is ded­i­cat­ed to the top­ic). This, of course, doesn’t negate the dam­age it does to a child to hear they’re unwant­ed by a par­ent. Though I would like anti-choice pro­po­nents to explain why they think forc­ing a per­son to give birth against their will is good for child or parent.</li> <li>The entire sto­ry of Sarah’s moth­er, Mae, is a ginor­mous nod to the Chris­t­ian teach­ing that if you “fall into sex­u­al sin,” you’ll lose your fam­i­ly and your health and will die alone and unloved. In fact, this trope seems even worse to me, as Mae gen­uine­ly tries to do what is best for her daugh­ter, tries to rec­on­cile with her par­ents, and remains ded­i­cat­ed to God until her last breath. It seems to fly in the face of the mes­sage of the rest of the book: it seems to say that not even God can save you if you make these mis­takes. And yet…</li> <li>Rivers makes it clear that Mae is Catholic, which in the minds of most Evan­gel­i­cals will allow them to dis­miss her ded­i­ca­tion to God because she wasn’t <em>really</em> a Chris­t­ian, mak­ing it eas­i­er to accept her death as con­se­quences for her poor decisions.</li> <li>Alcohol is repeat­ed­ly used to demon­strate a person’s untrust­wor­thi­ness, irre­spon­si­bil­i­ty, or god­less despondency.</li> <li>The sex­ist assump­tion that women do noth­ing but pine after men is demon­strat­ed in Mae’s reac­tion to Stafford’s indif­fer­ence and Cleo’s reac­tion to the man she loves dis­card­ing her after their night of sex.</li> <li>The depic­tion of sex work as some­thing women only do when they’re des­per­ate and nev­er as a legit­i­mate choice that they make is present here as well, and devel­oped fur­ther through­out the book. This doesn’t negate the seri­ous­ness of sex traf­fick­ing, nor the injus­tice that many women are forced into sex work in order to sup­port them­selves, but it does paint a nar­row pic­ture of the trade.</li> </ul> I do appre­ci­ate that Duke is depict­ed as a pow­er­ful pub­lic fig­ure that can abuse chil­dren so open­ly with­out the pub­lic know­ing. I think that’s a real­ly impor­tant thing to note: pedophiles aren’t always obvi­ous about it, because they’re often so well-liked by adults that they cre­ate an atmos­phere of plau­si­ble deni­a­bil­i­ty. <h2>God’s truth?</h2> The thing that struck me the most, how­ev­er, was in Cleo’s speech about God’s truth. I think Rivers inad­ver­tent­ly gave us a shock­ing­ly unfil­tered glance into the fun­da­men­tal­ist and evan­gel­i­cal Chris­t­ian God’s truth about the world. The mes­sage that all men want to do is use women? That’s a mes­sage that <em>purity culture</em> teach­es. Of course, it’s present in patri­archy and men’s rights move­ments as well, but it is a fun­da­men­tal por­tion of what <em>Christianity</em> teach­es about men and the world. Con­sid­er­ing the pro­lif­er­a­tion of Chris­tian­i­ty in the U.S.‘s cul­ture and gov­ern­ment, it’s a com­mon belief. But it’s direct­ly informed by the Chris­t­ian God that Rivers spends the rest of the book try­ing to depict as all-lov­ing and kind and for­giv­ing. The mes­sage that peo­ple only ever want to use one anoth­er for their own per­son­al gain is anoth­er fun­da­men­tal mes­sage of the con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­t­ian God (and I’d per­son­al­ly argue a mes­sage of the God of the Bible in gen­er­al). It’s a mes­sage that com­plete­ly denies basic demon­stra­ble human­i­ty and robs peo­ple of the dig­ni­ty of hav­ing their loves and rela­tion­ships and moti­va­tions and lives val­i­dat­ed — unless they fit in a shock­ing­ly small box. I’m remind­ed so strong­ly of the Moth­er Gothel and Rapunzel’s sto­ry arc in Tan­gled. Moth­er Gothel rais­es Rapun­zel to believe that the world is “dark and self­ish and cru­el” — as a direct effort to hide that Moth­er Gothel her­self is the dark and self­ish and cru­el one. But unlike Tan­gled, where Rapun­zel is able to say with con­fi­dence, “You were <strong>wrong</strong> about the world!” this book offers no such hope. Moth­er Gothel’s dark, self­ish, cru­el world exists and real­ly is full of ruf­fi­ans, thugs and men with pointy teeth. And the only sal­va­tion to be found is pro­vid­ed by Moth­er Gothel her­self. And that’s not an accu­rate depic­tion of real life, nor is it a world worth liv­ing in.

Posted in Fat Girl,

<strong>Trigger warn­ings for dis­cus­sion of child­hood sex­u­al abuse and sex trafficking.</strong> <h2>Introduction: why I need to review this book.</h2> From the ages of 17–21, I worked at a Chris­t­ian book­store that even­tu­al­ly was bought out by Life­way. (That’s right. This athe­ist was once employed by LIFEWAY.) At the time, I was con­sid­ered the res­i­dent CCM expert and Chris­t­ian fic­tion guru, and I helped intro­duce a lot of peo­ple to a lot of Chris­t­ian pop cul­ture in the mid-2000’s. Ask me to tell you sto­ries some­time. I have a few. [cap­tion id=“attachment_1948” align=“alignright” width=“200”]<img class=“wp-image-1948 size-medi­um” src=“https://www.fat-girl-living.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/redeeming-love-200x300.jpg” alt=“This was the cov­er the book had when I first came across it.” width=“200” height=“300” /> This was the cov­er the book had when I first came across it.[/caption] A friend intro­duced me to Francine Rivers’ writ­ing one sum­mer through her <em>Mark of the Lion</em> series (which, if there’s enough inter­est, I can re-read and review here as well). The book­store where I worked had a pol­i­cy at that point where employ­ees could “check out” books to read, then bring them back for sale when we were fin­ished. So when I saw the mys­te­ri­ous-look­ing cov­er and the famil­iar author, I jumped at the chance to read it. I’d loved the <em>Mark of the Lion</em> series and her pop­u­lar book, <em>Atonement Child,</em> so I just knew that I would love this book, too. I was prob­a­bly 18 at the time. <strong><em>Redeeming Love</em> changed and defined my life for the bet­ter part of 8 years.</strong> I read it once or twice annu­al­ly, from the time I first picked it up at 18 until <a href=“https://www.fat-girl-living.com/strange-and-unprepared/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>my pub­lic deconversion</a> at age 25. It instan­ta­neous­ly became my favourite book, sec­ond only to LM Montgomery’s <em>The Blue Castle</em> (which yet remains my favourite book of all time). In my mind, I was the main char­ac­ter, and the sto­ry was an alle­go­ry I used to describe my life. I can’t tell you how many times, like Angel’s moth­er, <a href=“http://diannaeanderson.net/blog/2013/3/guest-post-the-ever-changing-faces-of-god” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>I silent­ly cried</a>, “Mea cul­pa, mea cul­pa, I did this to myself.” Or how many times, like Angel, I’d scrape my skin raw in an attempt to feel clean, only to sink to my knees when I real­ized there was no hope for my cleans­ing. It was in such a fit that I wrote prob­a­bly the best — and worst — <a href=“https://www.facebook.com/notes/dani-kelley/revelations/2266740382” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>poem</a> I’ve ever writ­ten. What I’m try­ing to say is that sto­ries are <em>important. </em><a href=“https://www.fat-girl-living.com/the-stories-we-tell/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>I’ve writ­ten about that before</a>. As I said then, the sto­ries we tell each oth­er, the sto­ries we tell our­selves, the sto­ries we accept as truth <em>define</em> us. And oh, did this sto­ry define me — for far, far too long. <strong>Stories don’t exist in a vacuum.</strong> <em>Redeeming Love</em> wasn’t writ­ten with­out the influ­ence of an entire world­view. I didn’t accept it as an alle­go­ry for my life with­out out­side influ­ences, out­side sto­ries, telling me how to think of myself and the world around me. The sto­ry was writ­ten as an obvi­ous retelling of the bib­li­cal book of Hosea. Clear­ly Francine Rivers and I had a sim­i­lar under­stand­ing of how to inter­pret that book — and it’s an under­stand­ing that neg­a­tive­ly affect­ed my life for many years. So why am I review­ing this book? In part because <a href=“https://defeatingthedragons.wordpress.com/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>Samantha Field</a>‘s read­ers want­ed her to review it<a href=“https://defeatingthedragons.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/introduction-to-the-review-series-how-to-win-over-depression/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>*</a>, but she chose to review Tim LaHaye’s <em>How to Win Over Depres­sion </em>as it was a book she already owned and strong­ly felt the need to decon­struct. (Check out her writ­ing and be sure to <a href=“https://defeatingthedragons.wordpress.com/2015/06/17/become-a-patron/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>become a Patron</a> — she does real­ly impor­tant work!) But by and large, I’m doing this in-depth mul­ti-part <em>Redeeming Love</em> review because of the years it defined my life. I need to exor­cise a few demons this book helped feed, and I’d like to do it pub­licly for the ben­e­fit of oth­ers like me. So…let’s get start­ed. <h2>A few things to keep in mind.</h2> I’ll be review­ing the book in sec­tions rather than by chap­ter. It’s bro­ken apart into rather obvi­ous sec­tions, so I think it’ll flow a bit bet­ter to do it that way. Also, I think going chap­ter by chap­ter would just pro­long any PTSD reac­tions I may have to its con­tents. This way I can read a large sec­tion of the book, then write about it, short­en­ing my expo­sure. As much as I need to review the book, I also need to take care of myself. The first sec­tion I’m review­ing here is the pro­logue, and I think it sets up the book (and there­fore helps me set up my review) rather nice­ly. Obvi­ous­ly, I’ll be com­ing at this sta­ple of con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­t­ian fic­tion from a far dif­fer­ent stand­point than I did when I was myself a con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­t­ian. Being a lib­er­al athe­ist, I obvi­ous­ly dif­fer from Rivers’ beliefs very strong­ly and fun­da­men­tal­ly. How­ev­er, I’ll do my best to keep my crit­i­cism of Chris­tian­i­ty itself to a min­i­mum, focus­ing instead on the mes­sages com­mu­ni­cat­ed by the book itself. I’m also going to be upfront with my over­all review from the get-go: this book, while well-inten­tioned, tells dan­ger­ous sto­ries about the nature of love and can be down­right tox­ic for sur­vivors of sex­u­al assault who come to it for hope and heal­ing. <h2>Trigger warnings.</h2> I’m com­ing to this book and these reviews as a sur­vivor of both child­hood and adult sex­u­al abuse, top­ics this book explores in uncom­fort­able depth. For this entire series, there are major trig­ger warn­ings for frank dis­cus­sion of child­hood sex­u­al abuse, rape, sex traf­fick­ing, and incest. I’ll do my best to be sen­si­tive, but I will also be as forth­right as need­ed when address­ing how Rivers’ depicts this vio­lence and her char­ac­ters’ reac­tions to it. I’ll put spe­cif­ic trig­ger warn­ings at the begin­ning of every post, so that oth­er sur­vivors can decide for them­selves whether the review is some­thing they want to han­dle on a par­tic­u­lar day and so they’re aware of what they’re get­ting into. <h2>Overview: the Prologue.</h2> Rivers opens the book with a sim­ple sen­tence: “To those who hurt and hunger.” It’s obvi­ous through this intro­duc­tion, the telling of the entire sto­ry, and the author’s notes at the end of the book that Rivers des­per­ate­ly wants to pro­vide hope to hurt­ing women. In a strange way, she did give me hope for those years that I held this book in the high­est of regards. But I think even in the pro­logue, it’s clear that her goal falls flat. The sto­ry begins in 1835 New Eng­land with our pro­tag­o­nist, Sarah, meet­ing her father for the first time. We’re nev­er giv­en her last name. She is about sev­en years old, liv­ing with her moth­er, Mae, and their ser­vant, Cleo, in a small but com­fort­able cot­tage sur­round­ed by beau­ti­ful flower gar­dens. Her father, Alex Stafford, is a tall, hand­some, rich man. His vis­its are spo­radic and short-lived. Usu­al­ly, Sarah and Cleo leave for a while when he’s stopped by, but this time Mae has decid­ed to intro­duce them. Sarah is beside her­self with excite­ment, but Stafford is cold and angry. He sends Sarah out­side to play, but she sits out­side by the win­dow to be as close to her fam­i­ly as she can be. It turns out that Stafford has a wife and “legit­i­mate” chil­dren, but takes care of Mae qui­et­ly, pro­vid­ing her house and ser­vant and enough mon­ey to live com­fort­ably. He nev­er want­ed a child with Mae, and in fact had pro­vid­ed a way for her to abort, which she reject­ed sound­ly as it was “a mor­tal sin” for her to kill her “unborn child.” He resents being forced to meet his daugh­ter, and says that the time spent with her has tak­en away from the time he came to spend with Mae. It’s implied that Mae was once a sex work­er, but stopped work­ing after meet­ing Stafford. He is angry, vio­lent, intol­er­ant of reli­gious belief, and only inter­est­ed in Mae for sex. Sarah hears all of this, of course, and inter­nal­izes that she shouldn’t have been born. Her moth­er sinks into a dark depres­sion after Stafford phys­i­cal­ly abus­es her and leaves. Sarah believes that she is in the way of her mother’s hap­pi­ness, even going so far as to ask her if Stafford would come back to stay if she were to get sick and die, leav­ing Mae free of her. Mae is appro­pri­ate­ly hor­ri­fied, but instead of reas­sur­ing her daugh­ter, she makes her promise to nev­er speak of such things again. After months of the silent treat­ment, Stafford sends word that he’s going to vis­it again. This time, Mae sends Sarah and Cleo to the ocean for the week­end. Cleo resents hav­ing to take care of Mae’s “by-blow,” and makes sure that Sarah knows it. The place they go to stay is fre­quent­ed by Cleo’s for­mer lover, who ter­ror­izes Sarah and forces her to sit in a cold dark hall­way out­side their room at the inn while he and Cleo have sex. Cleo is hope­ful that he’ll final­ly admit that he loves her in return, but he leaves after their encounter and doesn’t return. When Cleo’s lover doesn’t return the fol­low­ing night, she gets drunk and decides to give Sarah “God’s truth” about men: <blockquote>“I’m going to tell you God’s truth, lit­tle girl. You lis­ten good. … All men want to do is use you. When you give them your heart, they tear it to shreds. … None of ’em care. Take your fine papa. Does he care about your moth­er? No. … “Your mama told me to take good care of you. … Well, I am going to take care of you. I’m going to tell you God’s truth. You lis­ten and you learn. … “Your fine papa doesn’t care about any­one, least of all you. And all he cares about your moth­er is what she’s will­ing to give him. And she gives him every­thing. He shows up when he pleas­es, uses her, then rides off to his fine house in town with his aris­to­crat­ic wife and well-bred chil­dren. And your moth­er? She lives for the next time she’ll see him. … “She’s such a sweet stu­pid fool. She waits for him and falls on her face to kiss his feet when he comes back. You know why he went away for so long? Because of you. He can’t stand the sight of his own spawn. Your mama cries and begs, and what good’s it ever done her? Soon­er or lat­er, he’s going to get tired of her and toss her into the trash. And you with her. That’s the one thing you can count on. … “Nobody cares about any­body in this world. … We all just use each oth­er in one way or anoth­er. To feel good. To feel bad. To feel noth­ing at all. The lucky ones are real good at it. Like Mer­rick. Like your rich papa. The rest of us just take what we can get.”</blockquote> As proph­e­sied by Cleo, Stafford with­draws entire­ly from Mae, leav­ing her des­ti­tute. She takes Sarah and goes to her par­ents’ house to beg for­give­ness and ask to stay. She’s turned away with noth­ing but a small amount of mon­ey her moth­er is able to sneak to her. She and Sarah end up liv­ing on the docks in a shack, where she goes back to sex work. A man Sarah knows as Uncle Rab comes to live with them and help keep them afloat, but Mae con­tracts a dis­ease she can’t fight and dies. Sarah is 8 years old. Uncle Rab is a drunk and a thief, but he promised Mae he would take care of Sarah. He asks around and dis­cov­ers that a man “rich as Midas and way up in gov­ern­ment” wants to adopt a pret­ty lit­tle girl. He has Sarah cleaned up and dressed nice­ly, then takes her to the man’s man­sion to drop her off. They’re met by a well-endowed woman named Sal­ly, who qui­et­ly but urgent­ly advis­es them to turn around and leave. Uncle Rab insists that it’s fine, that every­thing will be fine, and they’re led to a rich­ly fur­nished bed­room to wait. He goes through the room and steals what he can fit in his pock­ets until he’s con­front­ed by Duke, the man of the house. Duke inspects Sarah, who is fright­ened by him, then pays Uncle Rab. Uncle Rab bursts into a grate­ful dia­tribe, and makes the mis­take of men­tion­ing the name of the man who referred him to Duke, and is stran­gled to death in front of Sarah. Duke wash­es Sarah’s face, telling her that as long as she does exact­ly what he tells her, she’ll be fine. He asks her name, but she’s too ter­ri­fied to answer. He begins touch­ing her and replies, “It doesn’t mat­ter. I think I’m going to call you Angel.” He tells her he has things to teach her as he begins undress­ing him­self. The pro­logue con­cludes with “by morn­ing, Sarah knew that Cleo had told her God’s truth about every­thing.” <h2>Analysis: tropes abound.</h2> [cap­tion id=“attachment_1949” align=“alignright” width=“310”]<img class=“size-medium wp-image-1949” src=“https://www.fat-girl-living.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/tropes-310x207.jpg” alt=“Actual note I wrote in the book because OH MY GOD FRANCINE.” width=“310” height=“207” /> Actu­al note I wrote in the book because OH MY GOD FRANCINE.[/caption] There are a lot of tropes that I noticed read­ing through the pro­logue. Some of them are vague nods to teach­ings with­in puri­ty cul­ture, but they’re tropes nonethe­less and I’m kind of sur­prised that I nev­er noticed them before. <ul> <li>Sarah’s father, Stafford, is implied to be a-reli­gious at best, open­ly mock­ing her mother’s ded­i­ca­tion to God. He embod­ies The Angry Athe­ist, who by virtue of his lack of belief is prone to vio­lence against women and inca­pable of gen­uine empa­thy or per­son­al rela­tion­ships that don’t serve him per­son­al­ly. He also ful­fills the Chris­t­ian puri­ty cul­ture stereo­type of a man who’s only inter­est­ed in a woman for sex and noth­ing else.</li> <li>The oblig­a­tory “abor­tion is mur­der” belief is espoused (which is unsur­pris­ing, con­sid­er­ing Rivers’ book<em> Atone­ment Child</em> is ded­i­cat­ed to the top­ic). This, of course, doesn’t negate the dam­age it does to a child to hear they’re unwant­ed by a par­ent. Though I would like anti-choice pro­po­nents to explain why they think forc­ing a per­son to give birth against their will is good for child or parent.</li> <li>The entire sto­ry of Sarah’s moth­er, Mae, is a ginor­mous nod to the Chris­t­ian teach­ing that if you “fall into sex­u­al sin,” you’ll lose your fam­i­ly and your health and will die alone and unloved. In fact, this trope seems even worse to me, as Mae gen­uine­ly tries to do what is best for her daugh­ter, tries to rec­on­cile with her par­ents, and remains ded­i­cat­ed to God until her last breath. It seems to fly in the face of the mes­sage of the rest of the book: it seems to say that not even God can save you if you make these mis­takes. And yet…</li> <li>Rivers makes it clear that Mae is Catholic, which in the minds of most Evan­gel­i­cals will allow them to dis­miss her ded­i­ca­tion to God because she wasn’t <em>really</em> a Chris­t­ian, mak­ing it eas­i­er to accept her death as con­se­quences for her poor decisions.</li> <li>Alcohol is repeat­ed­ly used to demon­strate a person’s untrust­wor­thi­ness, irre­spon­si­bil­i­ty, or god­less despondency.</li> <li>The sex­ist assump­tion that women do noth­ing but pine after men is demon­strat­ed in Mae’s reac­tion to Stafford’s indif­fer­ence and Cleo’s reac­tion to the man she loves dis­card­ing her after their night of sex.</li> <li>The depic­tion of sex work as some­thing women only do when they’re des­per­ate and nev­er as a legit­i­mate choice that they make is present here as well, and devel­oped fur­ther through­out the book. This doesn’t negate the seri­ous­ness of sex traf­fick­ing, nor the injus­tice that many women are forced into sex work in order to sup­port them­selves, but it does paint a nar­row pic­ture of the trade.</li> </ul> I do appre­ci­ate that Duke is depict­ed as a pow­er­ful pub­lic fig­ure that can abuse chil­dren so open­ly with­out the pub­lic know­ing. I think that’s a real­ly impor­tant thing to note: pedophiles aren’t always obvi­ous about it, because they’re often so well-liked by adults that they cre­ate an atmos­phere of plau­si­ble deni­a­bil­i­ty. <h2>God’s truth?</h2> The thing that struck me the most, how­ev­er, was in Cleo’s speech about God’s truth. I think Rivers inad­ver­tent­ly gave us a shock­ing­ly unfil­tered glance into the fun­da­men­tal­ist and evan­gel­i­cal Chris­t­ian God’s truth about the world. The mes­sage that all men want to do is use women? That’s a mes­sage that <em>purity culture</em> teach­es. Of course, it’s present in patri­archy and men’s rights move­ments as well, but it is a fun­da­men­tal por­tion of what <em>Christianity</em> teach­es about men and the world. Con­sid­er­ing the pro­lif­er­a­tion of Chris­tian­i­ty in the U.S.‘s cul­ture and gov­ern­ment, it’s a com­mon belief. But it’s direct­ly informed by the Chris­t­ian God that Rivers spends the rest of the book try­ing to depict as all-lov­ing and kind and for­giv­ing. The mes­sage that peo­ple only ever want to use one anoth­er for their own per­son­al gain is anoth­er fun­da­men­tal mes­sage of the con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­t­ian God (and I’d per­son­al­ly argue a mes­sage of the God of the Bible in gen­er­al). It’s a mes­sage that com­plete­ly denies basic demon­stra­ble human­i­ty and robs peo­ple of the dig­ni­ty of hav­ing their loves and rela­tion­ships and moti­va­tions and lives val­i­dat­ed — unless they fit in a shock­ing­ly small box. I’m remind­ed so strong­ly of the Moth­er Gothel and Rapunzel’s sto­ry arc in Tan­gled. Moth­er Gothel rais­es Rapun­zel to believe that the world is “dark and self­ish and cru­el” — as a direct effort to hide that Moth­er Gothel her­self is the dark and self­ish and cru­el one. But unlike Tan­gled, where Rapun­zel is able to say with con­fi­dence, “You were <strong>wrong</strong> about the world!” this book offers no such hope. Moth­er Gothel’s dark, self­ish, cru­el world exists and real­ly is full of ruf­fi­ans, thugs and men with pointy teeth. And the only sal­va­tion to be found is pro­vid­ed by Moth­er Gothel her­self. And that’s not an accu­rate depic­tion of real life, nor is it a world worth liv­ing in.

Posted in Fat Girl,