16 August 2014

+JMJ+

Character Connection 46


Hosted @ The Introverted Reader

I might as well admit it: I'm a bad planner. I really should have made sure that the local bookstores stocked Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake before giving it a chance to be a "Two or Three" Book Club pick. One branch did have a copy two weeks ago . . . but it was being reserved for someone else. I consoled myself by imagining that the person who wanted it is one of my lurkers. If you're reading this, silent friend, I want to congratulate you on getting there ahead of me. But you realise we're all stuck now, right? ;-P E-mail me if you want to write the first readalong post!

While waiting for another copy of Oryx and Crake to arrive by special order, I have been indulging in a random and unscheduled reread of Leigh Greenwood's Western Romances, one of which gives me something to blog about today.


Betty Crane
Iris
by Leigh Greenwood


When Mrs. Crane got up to refill Monty's plate and bring him some fresh coffee, Iris bit her lip. It had never occurred to her to ask Monty if she could bring him a second helping or freshen his coffee. He had done that for her, several times, and she had accepted it as natural. Now she realised it wasn't. [Her mother] had trained her servants to wait on her and Iris hand and foot. Without realising it, Iris had grown up expecting everyone to do the same.

As Betty Crane moved from one man to another, refilling plates and coffee cups . . . assuring the [men] she would do her best to see her presence didn't make their work any harder, Iris realised she was looking at a very different kind of woman, one whose relationship to men had nothing to do with money, beauty, or social standing.

Women probably didn't go on cattle drives between 1845 and 1880 as often as they do in Leigh Greenwood's stories, but I've got to hand it to him for making the presence of not one, but two female characters perfectly plausible in Iris.

We have to suspend our disbelief a little for the headstrong and spoiled Iris Richmond, who insists on going wherever her cows go because they are the last hope she has of not sinking into poverty. But if I can believe in Scarlett O'Hara, I can believe in Iris. In contrast, it's no trouble at all to accept Betty Crane, when she surprises everyone by walking into their camp one night. Not just because we know that settlers were often left to wander for their lives after attacks in Indian territory, but also because Betty's character is all about being a help rather than a hindrance. Everyone, including the reader, must bend over backwards for Iris . . . but everything is easier with Betty. The contrast is powerful--and no one feels it more keenly than Iris.

I have to admit that Betty puts me to shame, too. Shortly after she is rescued by the cowboys, she whips up a batch of donuts so that they can have something sweet after a long day in the saddle. Now, I could, in theory, get some donuts going as well . . . but I don't know if the idea would occur to me in the same situation, and I haven't actually practiced. =/ Betty's utterly ordinary, utterly epic effort was disconcerting enough to get me looking up recipes for sourdough donuts and vowing to make them the next weekend. So I almost threw myself off the balcony when, on the very next page, she makes jam from fruits and raisins, finds some eggs near a creek, milks a cow, separates the butter from the milk, bakes a cake with the butter and eggs, and spreads the jam between the layers. She may make Iris feel like a useless barnacle, but at least Iris is gorgeous and has hundreds of steers for a dowry--even if she is also totally dependent on someone else to get them to market for her. Put me in the novel and no one would miss me if I got trampled in a longhorn stampede. 

But as you can tell from the title and the cover art, it's not Betty who gets the romantic ending with Monty Randolph. Although he admits that Betty would objectively make a better rancher's wife than Iris, he simply can't get Iris out of his heart. (Cue the "Awwww!" for here.) Rereading Iris last week reminded me of one of my favourite aphorisms by Nicolas Gomez Davila: "Love loves the ineffableness of the individual." And we must agree that a woman like Betty deserves such a love as well, and not just a cool-eyed appraisal of what she brings to the table, however amazing it happens to be.


Image Source: Iris by Leigh Greenwood

13 comments:

Paul Stilwell said...

I would never get past that cover.

You wrote "donut" instead of "doughnut", even after the word "sourdough". Why?

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Well, at least you got past it to the combox! LOL!

As for those chewy sweet treats, I figured that now that they're no longer properly "doughknots," then any spelling goes. =P

Paul Stilwell said...

Betty is just trying to make up for a profound lack inside herself, while Iris is gold wrapped in a superficial blanket of spoiled-rottenness?

Paul Stilwell said...

Oh my word...of course, you are the English Queen. It didn't even occur to me to go further back.

But now I will always write them as "doughknots". Thank you. LOL!

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Iris's upbringing isn't irrelevant, of course, but the gold in her character is her ability to face her weaknesses and her willingness to conquer them. There are no miracles, though: although she picks up some domestic skills by the end of the story, it's clear that she and Monty will still have to hire a cook. =P

And if Iris Scarlett O'Hara, then Betty is Melanie Hamilton.

Belfry Bat said...

It's not clear to me that they aren't doughnoughts; it's pretzles that are knotted, afterall, but nevermind. I'm not a speller. But now I'm curious how they're actually named, on the page, in this Iris thing.

Enbrethiliel, you might allow for that Stilwell mightn't have seen the cover before your irrelevant introduction.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

If we're going to go as far back as I can, let's collectively recall that the original doughknots were twists. (That's right: they weren't quite knotted.) I'm not sure how the current nought shape caught on, as they didn't have the useful talent the twists had of turning themselves in the fryer after the bottom sides got done. Plus, they're simply not as easy to make as the twists/knots. I'm not sure what shape Betty Crane made them, but they were definitely spelled "donuts."

And my dear Bat, the introduction is the most relevant part of this post! You could say that I wrote the rest of it just so I could finally explain, in my usual style, why the Oryx and Crake readlong hasn't started yet.

Paul Stilwell said...

No, no, I saw the cover before the intro.

Sheila said...

I have been obsessively checking for your Oryx and Crake post! Thank goodness you appeared to explain ... I was beginning to wonder if you were ill! (Says the person who hasn't blogged in over a week. I want to, I just can't think of anything to say that is not just one long, protracted whine.)

In one of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, someone mentions that a new round donut* shape is coming into fashion. The Ingalls are dismissive -- what is the point of a new shape, considering the twisted shape turned itself over in the pan as it was cooking?

*Yes, I spell it donuts, because I am American and choose to be consistent in my spelling. I've been quite adamant about this, ever since I was disqualified from a spelling bee for spelling color "colour" at seven years old. That's how my mother taught me! I was furious and corrected her spelling for YEARS.

Me, I'd be a Betty. Once you are in the habit of making food for everyone three times a day, you can't break it, no matter how few resources you have. In my family's direst poverty, my mom made ship's biscuits out of nothing but flour and the old grease from cooking beef. I am always proud of being able to make full meals out of almost nothing. Sometimes my husband will say, at 5 pm, "Do you have anything planned for dinner? Because if not, we could go out." And I'm always hugely offended: what kind of woman would I be if I did not have dinner planned and started by 5? If you want to take me out to eat, you have to plan ahead!

And it was to my deepest shame a few days ago when I was so exhausted and in so much pain I sent him out for a deli chicken. That's the first time I have declared myself unable to make dinner in ..... maybe two years. It's the ultimate failure for me. I don't know why food is so important to me -- perhaps because it's essential for life? ;) I just know I shrug my shoulders at a messy house or a sink full of dishes, but no matter what the circumstance, I WILL be making food for everyone.

Just figures that pretty-but-useless gets the guy, though. The whole "way to a man's heart is through his stomach" thing is a great big lie. They'd always just as soon eat slices of ham out of the fridge or a bag of chips.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Thanks for being concerned about me, Sheila. =)

I'm neither an Iris nor a Betty, but if I had the choice, I'd totally be a Betty! And if it makes you feel any better, long before Betty made me want to leap off the balcony, one of your posts about your family's meals had the same effect on me. "HOW does Sheila do it???" I asked myself, in despair. ;-P

One deli chicken in two years, aye? . . . *speechless* . . . (And I will never stop being speechless about this, so let's just move on!)

In fairness to Leigh Greenwood, he has already written a book in which an excellent homemaker got the happy romantic ending. It's the first book in the Seven Brides series, which Iris belongs to--and since she married the oldest brother, who is also the head of the family, there's a sense in which she is the one whom all the other brides must live up to. But a Romance series is fun only when every couple twists the formula a little, and that's what happens here.

Also, Iris isn't totally useless! I played down her virtues in this post because it's supposed to be about Betty--although, yeah, Betty's main purpose in the story is to make Iris see her own shortcomings. But perhaps I made it seem as if they were both in love with Monty? If so, then let me clarify: Betty is a stranger whom they rescue, and she was widowed in the Comanche attack; so she's really in no position to enter a new romance. Perhaps we'll see her again in another Leigh Greenwood book!

Sheila said...

I should point out that we *have* eaten out some nights, and on other nights that I'm not doing so hot I have been known to pile up a bunch of random things on a tray for everyone and let them at it. Leftovers, stuff from the freezer .... it's just that there's always SOMEthing, and I haven't since Michael was born had to say "please someone else take care of this." (And I have a very vivid memory of holding a one-week-old Michael in one arm and making stir-fry with the other hand. It's a compulsion after awhile .... no matter how bad you feel, you just HAVE to feed the family.)

Now that I mention this I feel pretty proud of myself. I am kind of a failure as a housekeeper in many other respects, but by gosh I know how to keep my family fed.

I don't know where this comes from -- my mother never taught me to cook -- but my guess is that if you are responsible for the meals of the family long enough, you just can't eat unless you've made a meal for everyone. It's a force of habit more than anything else.

DMS said...

I haven't read any books like this one- but it sounds like an interesting read. The cover isn't the type that normally pulls me in- but the characters do sound interesting.

I hope your Atwood book will be ready for you to read soon!
~Jess

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Romance covers may just be the most embarrassing thing about the genre, but a few years ago, in a discussion with some other Romance readers, I found myself championing them. The topic was whether or not Romances should be marketed more widely, and I was on the side of those who felt that if the genre were changed enough to become mainstream, it just wouldn't be Romance any longer. The cheesy covers may put some people off, but they also draw the others in. Which is to say that they do their job and they do it well. Or to paraphrase Alone (of The Last Psychiatrist blog), if you're not reading it, it's not for you! LOL!