Further Deconstructing “For Such a Time”: An Angry Book Nerd Manifesto

NOTE: I had all this written and formatted and was doing a final proofread when this popped up in my Twitter feed:

NO, A GRANDDAUGHTER OF HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS DOES NOT WANT TO HELP PROMOTE A BOOK COSMO CALLS

Bloody hell. Un.Effing.Believable.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Related posts:

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Oh. You thought we were all in the “Over It” phase of the Outrage Cycle? I want to be “over it.” But I’m not.

I'm not coming down until someone apologies

This epic manifesto is an attempt to render my tangle of thoughts into a coherent analysis. By “epic,” I mean long (you are not surprised). By “manifesto,” I mean pseudo-intellectual ranting with fake academic subheadings and loads of pretentious “-ism” words and footnotes. I think “manifesto” implies “long” as well, so I’m already being redundant but I really like the word “manifesto” because it makes me feel very…powerful…in a “didn’t-even-have-to-get-off-the-couch-woohoo!” kind of way. I’m keeping “epic” too because people look for “epic” stuff and that will totally boost my SEO and I might even go viral.

I really like run-on sentences.

This post is the first of…several? I keep finding new stuff and then I have to rewrite everything and I have no idea how you author types ever actually get anything done.

If you’re sticking around for this, get yourself a snack and settle in.

*girds loins*

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

*AHEM*

The obligatory #NotAllChristians intro to prove how enlightened I am about my recognizing and acknowledging my privilege and no that’s not hypocritical at all shut up and let me finish I’m just getting started here

As with my previous posts, I am thinking and researching and writing about For Such a Time1 because I am part of the target market. I’m writing this to (1) justify how much time I’ve spent obsessing over this book; (2) validate my righteous indignation; and (3) process why this has become some kind of personal mission for me.

I know the author and publishers have their fingers in their ears. They clearly don’t care.

The truth doesn't change just because you don't want to hear it

Bethany House’s Statement and Our Response

I do care. I care a lot. I’m learning a lot. I hope my voice will help escalate the discussion from a different kind of “Christian worldview” – one that not only cringes at but thoroughly disavows self-righteous revisionism and supersessionism.

I can’t write about it from anyone else’s point of view. I can only read what others have written2 and internalize their stories to reinterpret what I’ve read and inspire me (see what I did there?) to learn more.

I think I will request “Learn More” as the epitaph on my gravestone. When I die in a book avalanche.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Abstract

In which I use the word “deconstruct” unironically.

I know. I had to. It’s the only way some high-minded people will take this manifesto seriously. Which is completely understandable what with all the gay werewolf orgies and whatnot around here.

Are you ready? Here we go:

*straightens bra straps*

The purpose of this post is to deconstruct why the novel For Such a Time by Kate Breslin fails its intended audience and its sub-genre of religious fiction.

Whether we call label it “Christian fiction” or “inspirational fiction,” whether it’s marketed as an “allegory” or a “retelling” or a “reframing” or even a mere “inspired by,” this book is a full-on hot mess of plug-n-play Bible verses presented with all the subtlety of a Looney Tunes anvil dropping.

Looney Anvil Dropping, featuring Road Runner and Wile E. CoyoteIf you mess with — or ignore — the basic elements of the original story, you change the outcome. Unless you’re specifically calling it a fairy tale or alternate history, not acceptable in an allegory/retelling.

If you mess with — or ignore — the basic elements of the original story, you change the meaning and the impact. Never acceptable in a retelling of a Bible story.

By (1) ignoring reader expectations; (2) cherry-picking superficial bits of the source material; (3) conflating the story with scriptural themes unrelated to the source material; (4) relying on deus ex machina and proof-texted divine interventions to drive the plot; and (5) deliberately choosing a setting solely for shock value, this so-called “inspirational” novel ignores and subverts the themes and messages of the Book of Esther so badly as to be nearly unrecognizable.

Instead of “reframing” the characters and themes of the Book of Esther to support the message God wants us to hear, Breslin uses whatever Bible verses she can find to support the story she wants to tell.

DISCLAIMERS:

  • I am not a Bible scholar; all opinions and observations and conclusions are my own. If you don’t agree, please – in all sincerity – call me out. I’m here to learn.
  • I’m using the terms “Bible” and “Biblical” for simplicity and my own familiarity.
  • I’m trying very hard to avoid snark and profanity and all-caps ranting. Wish me luck.

Also, please note I used a Looney Tunes analogy before the disclaimer. If all abstracts had Wile E. Coyote shout-outs and kicked off with a Ritual Straightening of the Bra Straps, I would have stayed in grad school.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Methodology

I started out with a detailed plot summary to make sure I captured all of the key scenes and characterizations in For Such a Time.

After a lengthy brain-bleach, I began a “side-by-side” analysis of the key verses and themes in the Book of Esther and the counterparts in FSAT, using the New International Version of the Holy Bible, cited on the copyright page of the novel as the primary source of scripture quotes.

Side by Side: The Book of Esther and For Such a Time [Google doc3]

I gave up. Beyond the character names, the parallels were hollow and uncomfortable at best, frequently eye-rolling, and all too often utterly disgraceful.

Oh, fudge. I’m not supposed to opinionate in the methodology, am I? Oops.

That was sarcasm, not snark.

Also, my overuse of adjectives and adverbs is completely intentional because I too have access to a thesaurus and I’m not afraid to beat people over the head with it for dramatic effect.

That was sarcasm as well. Still with me?

I then delved into Bible studies and commentaries on the Book of Esther published by Bethany House and other leading Christian publishers. For this post, my expert advisory panel includes:

I also read numerous commentaries and articles from Jewish authors and bloggers5; I am purposefully not referencing these here to keep with my “intended audience/target market” perspective. Also, because it’s painfully obvious the author actively avoided anything actually, you know, <whisper>Jewish</whisper>. Because of…you know…*looks around suspiciously*…<whisper>Jew cooties</whisper>.

That was snark. See the difference? It’s a fine line sometimes.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

A “Hey! I researched stuff! Lookit lookit lookit!” sidebar

Megillat Esther, Italy, 1616 - The National Library of Israel Collections

Megillat Esther, Italy, 1616 – The National Library of Israel Collections | View larger image >>

How can you look at something that stunningly beautiful and glowingly spiritual and not want to learn where it came from and who created it and where they lived and how they used it and…everything? What is the point of being a novelist if you don’t geek out over stuff like this???

I DO NOT UNDERSTAND.

Rats. There goes my “no all-caps ranting.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Ignoring reader expectations

See, I can get to an actual point. Eventually.

To steal the words of a Twitter friend, Bethany House broke a contract with me as a reader.

I championed the publisher as a great source of non-preachy inspirational romances with great non-Regency historical settings.

“Trust me!” I said. Because I trusted them.

Now, my rallying cry is “I am not affiliated with them! They do not represent me!”6

As an inspie reader, I trust7 that authors and editors and publishers of “Christian fiction” know their Bible. I trust inspie authors to do their research, both historical and Biblical. I trust editors at religious publishing houses to do their due diligence to ensure their fiction titles are theologically sound.

I just invented a name for this: my Default Reader Trust Mode. It works for any and all genres.

Yes, “theologically sound” is impossible to define; the translations and interpretations and commentaries are endless. But the whole point of fictionalizing Bible messages and Bible stories is that there are universal truths and guiding principles that still apply to our everyday lives.

Biblical characters experienced God in complex situations, and so do we. By portraying those situations realistically, we learn how to apply the Bible to our own lives.

~ A Walk Thru the Book of Esther

Emphasis mine on the “realistically.” Nearly every inspie I’ve read – including those from Bethany House – focuses on one of those universal truths. There’s a single Bible verse as an epigraph, and the story is built around characters struggling with understanding and living out that seemingly simple but ever-elusive faith message.

Why the author, editors and publisher of For Such a Time ignored this construct is completely beyond me.

What the **** am I reading?

Instead of a story of people struggling with faith and hope in a real-life version of hell on earth, we’re force-fed a “romance” built on Stockholm syndrome surrounded by Hollywood melodrama and stuffed with Dial-A-Scripture platitudes.

*sits on hands* <muffle>nosnarknosnarknosnark</muffle>

After three close reads, I still don’t know what the central faith message of this book is supposed to be, much less how it applies to my own spiritual life. And that’s because it’s trying to tell too many stories at once – and not telling the whole story.

To be continued…. How’s that for a cliffhanger, eh?

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Footnotes

1 I am purposefully using the full title and author’s name, because at this point in the Outrage Cycle, euphemisms like “That Book” only serve to diminish and ignore the issues we still need to talk about.

2 Here are just a few of the voices I’ve been listening to:

I “met” all of these people online only because of the controversy, and they’re doing an excellent job at poking holes in my white privilege. They’re probably getting tired of me favoriting and retweeting everything they post.

3 The Google doc is open for commenting – have at it.

4 Yes, “Thru.” I’m not kidding.

5 My starting points:

Don’t ask where those starting points led me. I haven’t really come back yet.

6 I use that same rallying cry whenever anyone mentions Rep. Steve King (R(abid Bigot)-Iowa).

7 I debated for quite a while whether to use “trust” or “trusted.” I reserve the right to change my mind. Again.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Required reading

Most of these aren’t new, but they’re too powerful to let slip into the cracks.

Recommended reading

Recommended viewing

Advertisements

7 thoughts on “Further Deconstructing “For Such a Time”: An Angry Book Nerd Manifesto

  1. Thanks for this Kelly. I hope this discussion (not just you, but all the other participants as well) reaches its’ intended audience.

    I am a Hindu, not a christian, and I love romances where there is genuine engagement with the characters’ spiritual selves and spiritual lives, and where an engagement with Love is an engagement with Divinity. I have tried a couple of “inspies” and have failed to find that.

    I have not read this book, just a lot of the reviews and commentary. Those have been enough to cause considerable distress.

    I have derived an impression that the book is really about the Jewish woman being a vehicle for Nazi Dude’s redemption, which makes me want to start using capital letters to express my rage.

    I hope the “target audience” of all this takes away the idea, at least, that these other voices matter, and to please respect them.

    • Kelly says:

      Thanks, Des – I’ll be covering the “using Jews in the Holocaust as props” in an upcoming post about what *really* frosts my cupcake about this stupid book.

  2. Susan says:

    The appropriation of Esther/Hadassah strikes many of us so deeply because so many of us are named for her…and there is even a deeper level — it goes to being a Woman …

    When you are finished with studying Hadassah and Vashti — then I welcome you to look back at Gilgamesh and Ashtarte (Ishstar, Astar, Atar and in South America travling with the migration of humanity Amar and Amari along the western coast — the Goddessof fertility of the Seas). Religion is never created in a vacuum and once you have opened your mind to the study of religion and mythology you realize there is so much to learn. In this case it is the the myths of Babylon and Canaan and the fertility Goddess.

    The appropriation of this into such a disgusting useage is more than just misalliance in writing it is the epitome of the destruction of the spirit of the Woman in spirituality…and that is never good.

    • Kelly says:

      Thanks, Susan – I took a few comparative religion classes on college, but let it drift away and am now getting back to it. You and Des are so right about the active denial of the Esther character’s strength and courage. My next post is full of all-caps ranting that I need to tone down.

      • Des Livres says:

        But your rants are marvelous!
        I still remember the ones you did for that author on Dear Author – they were epic.

  3. Des Livres says:

    You know Susan, I think the destruction of the spirit of the Woman in this story is part of what triggered such a strong reaction in me. There seemed to be a denial of the MC’s divinity/humanity.

  4. Des Livres says:

    Kelly, I was thinking about you last night and your project to go through this book yet again. Please don’t pursue this if it is doing you harm. It’s just not worth it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s