Character Connection 46
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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.
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