Admitted

I will admit it. I’m consumed by this election. And the weather has been darn good for golf. So, I’ve done no writing unrelated to the election and I’m not reading much fiction. Right now, I am reading Chris Cleave’s Everyone Brave Is Forgiven, which is a pleasant distraction from current events.

If you care who I’m working for, it’s Hillary Clinton. Too bad she didn’t win in 2008, but I’m definitely up for this time around. If you wonder why, here’s just one good summary:

100 Reasons to Vote for Clinton

Now, back to it.

More Summer Reading: Review of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale

The NightingaleThe Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Where is the ten-star rating option? This is an excellent book. True to historical context (as far as I can tell) and presents a beautiful family story that could have been set elsewhere but fits very dramatically in WW II France. I recommend this to lovers of historical fiction and also to thriller readers.

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Review of The Summer Before The War

I’ve been vacationing a bit this summer and doing more reading than writing. So, here’s another book review:

The Summer Before the War: A NovelThe Summer Before the War: A Novel by Helen Simonson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I haven’t read Helen Simonson’s first novel, “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand,” but will add it to my list after having read “The Summer Before the War.” The book begins with a quotation from Henry James, which seems so fitting because all the action involves careful strolling about drawing rooms and gardens, at least in the beginning. The setting is incredibly important to the book: The stifling world of the early 20th Century, most fittingly represented by women bound in corsets. But these women, at least the main characters, are fighting to get out. By the end of the Great War, they have at least been relieved of the corsets. The war shatters the setting of the Summer Before the War forever. Beautifully written with characters you’ll love – I did anyway.

This book is classified as historical fiction.  For those not familiar with the period, there is much to learn about women’s history and the status of gay lives. (I won’t mention lesbians, bisexuals, or transgendered lives because they were beyond imagination.)

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Review of Diamant’s The Boston Girl

The Boston GirlThe Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

Truly excellent novel reflecting the period and the struggles of people in immigrant societies of Boston in the early 20th Century.

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A Thought on Writing

The reason that fiction is more interesting than any other form of literature, to those who really like to study people, is that in fiction the author can really tell the truth without humiliating [her]self.–Eleanor Roosevelt

per Susan Albert, author of forthcoming book, Loving Eleanor

Battle for Modernity

HourglassRecently, Linda Greenhouse wrote commentary about two pending Supreme Court cases: Sex After 50 in the Supreme Court, November 26, 2015. Along the way, she paid homage to Justice Stevens’ 1989 statement, “Our jurisprudence, however, has consistently required a secular basis for valid legislation.” Her conclusion:

Yes, there is a fight over birth control that has never really ended, and a battle over abortion that erupts anew in every election cycle. But what the Supreme Court may or may not grasp is that it has on its hands something deeper yet: a struggle over modernity, a battle for the secular state in which women can make their choices and design what Justice Ginsburg calls their life course, free of obstacles erected by those who would impose their religious views on others and who find in recent Supreme Court decisions encouragement that this time they might get their way.

It is indeed amazing that 50 years after Griswald vs. Connecticut established that American citizens may have access to birth control and forty-two years after Roe v. Wade, the State of Texas has forced its women back to self-induced abortions and secular employers are allowed to deny insurance coverage for birth control prescriptions. Both of these are “theologically based” and, thus wrongfully law.

This struggle for modernity is political, not simply legal. One of our major political parties has been captured by religious political extremists who are fighting to impose their will on their fellow citizens. A politician of that party saw this coming decades ago when he said in a speech on the U.S. Senate floor:

I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in “A,” “B,” “C” and “D.” Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me?
And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of “conservatism.”

— Barry Goldwater, September 16, 1981

But the Republican party gave in. Apparently in its greed to hold power, the Republican Party does allow the “preachers” to dictate its votes in Congress, in the State legislatures, and in the selection of judges. The power it has gained is inherently limited by the depth of the religious base. Unless extreme measures are taken, that religious base will wither with age and the repulsion of the majority. But extreme measures have been taken in the gerrymandering of our legislative and Congressional Districts. At least one of their leading candidates seems to advocate a police state with special IDs for suspects. It seems unlikely that the most extreme measures will come about, but in the early-1990s, who would have thought we would see states which are in control of these extremists closing abortion clinics and owners of secular enterprises allowed to impose their religious beliefs on their employees (Hobby Lobby). We must be active and not passive in the face of the “preachers” push.

I find it sadly ironic that a political party that was born of the progressive notion that the U.S. Constitution should not protect slavery has been captured by such oppressors. The emergence of the Republican Party elected Lincoln and led to the enactment of three major Amendments to the U.S. Constitution that have evolved to guarantee freedom and equality for many. Yet, somehow, one hundred years later, the party was captured by opponents of this arc of history.

Reagan did not overtly preach most of the time, but he caved to the preachers in all of his judicial appointments after Sandra Day O’Conner. We are just now beginning to see the restoration of a secular judiciary.  Control of the judges at all levels of the federal system and control of state governments must be the battle cry of Democrats in the next election. It’s easy to win a Presidential race in the current climate; convincing voters to care about the down-ballot races is harder.

Political discussion these days often uses the words “progressive” vs. “conservative.” I think it more appropriate to call the sides “Modernists” vs. “Regressives.” The Modernists seek to preserve society’s progress and make further advances for the general welfare. The Regressives are simply twisted: They have a vision of an ideal past that never was and wish to return to it – an impossibility. A return to the past is a return to oppression not freedom.

I’m an optimist and believe that the struggle for modernity will ultimately prevail. But the road is tragically long with too many victims.

First Excerpt

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter One of my manuscript, a work in progress:

It was September 25, 1914; nine months to the day since Christmas. Not three months since Archduke Ferdinand had been assassinated in Sarajevo, setting off the Great War. Ma had decided that as much as Ava, 20, knew, having been to Teachers’ College and taught the Otterville School now for a year, Ava needed a lesson in birth. So, Ma had decreed that Ava would stay home when Ma started labor with me. That happened about 3 a.m.

By noon, I was born, the last of Emma and W.H.’s nine children. Eleven if you count the two sisters already dead and buried in the Otterville cemetery by then.  Ma had given off a lot of groaning and sighing, but there had been no screaming from the bedroom until Ava, sweeping herself out into the kitchen, yelled “THIS HAS GOT TO STOP,” scaring the bejesus out of Ken and Jessie. Mide came out and picked up Jessie, saying, “Kenneth, go fetch your father.”

Pa had long since taken the bread out of the oven and gone down to the barn to check that Murray and Faye had indeed milked the cows before school. Belatedly, he fed the chickens – normally Emma’s task to do or supervise. Ken ran to the barn and screeched to a halt at his father’s feet. Looking up, he said, “Baby’s here.” Without a word, Pa strode toward the house. Kenny was curious about me, but after babysitting Jessie in the corner all morning, he decided being outside on this fine fall day was the better choice than immediately satisfying that curiosity.

Because Kenny was not quite five he still had some tight restrictions. He couldn’t go near the pig pen or hog house. He wasn’t to climb on anything in the barn, or even be there really unless he was with someone. Even when there with someone, he wasn’t to go into the horses’ stalls or the cow enclosures, unless specifically invited by a responsible adult (basically, Pa or Murray). Kenny’s range really was limited to the house, the porch, the driveways and the apple orchard. He didn’t care about the chicken house – it made him sneeze. No walking to the creek or down the road toward Otterville unless he was with the older sibs. All that was fine with him, there was plenty to entertain. Today, since he was already inside the barn on a legitimate errand, he took an iron wheel hoop out from the center aisle and rolled it with a stick down the driveway toward the road. He saw Grandma Mide come out to the porch and sit in the rocker with a tall glass of water in her hand.

Mide and Nancy had left Will and Emma alone to get acquainted with me. I’ve wondered whether Emma, lying in her exhaustion after any of the eleven baby deliveries, ever had second thoughts. Whether she wished that she’d just gone away before that first one, especially since Ruth died right away. But, of course, she couldn’t have known that was going to happen. She had clearly stayed for Pa. She loved him deeply, though many of my siblings could never understand why.

© Ann Heitland 2015