Tuesday, May 14, 2013

more vampires, and a couple other books, and trouble with the cult of motherhood

I finished The Twelve, the second of Justin Cronin's post-apocalyptic vampire books. The big God reveal which I feared didn't really appear - characters mention God, and for some reason the Catholic nun model is the only one anyone thinks of for a school, one hundred years after the fall of civilization, but whatever. And I did enjoy the book, though it's not as good as the first one. But I had some major problems with it, which I will now discuss in far too much detail:

All Cronin's female characters, with the exception of the one played by Milla Jovovich, are maternally-oriented to the exclusion of anything else. If they are mothers, then they are only mothers, only motivated by their children (women who lose their children either give up or become vampire queens, because once you've failed at womanhood enough to have a miscarriage, you might as well just kill everyone). If they are not mothers, they desperately want to become mothers and are thrilled when they get pregnant, even in a world where you're giving birth under basically medieval conditions and there's a 60% chance the child will get eaten by a vampire. I got so bored with the constant Motherhood thing - there honestly isn't a single fully-human woman who is primarily occupied with her own survival or with a plan for the human race that goes beyond "get knocked up". Only the part-vampire ladies get to think about things other than their wombs (and not even all of them do).

Also every named character is emphatically, explicitly heterosexual. Cronin makes it clear that all his main characters are mixed-race, because when the survival of humanity is at stake (and all the ladies desperately want to make as many babies as possible) no one cares about race anymore, but not a single character is gay. They are all straight and they all happily pair off throughout the course of the books. Except for our Chosen One hero, who likes the ladies but is too Chosen to waste his time on a girl, and apparently has things to do. (We're told, repeatedly, that in the five years between books he's become the most legendary vampire fighter ever, even though the person actually killing all the vampires is the Milla character. We see him kill precisely one vampire in the course of the book and it's not due to any cleverness or strength on his part. Maybe in the third book he'll get around to killing two!)

Between this book and Mothers' Day, I got thinking about the cult of motherhood in our society, and got cranky about it. What it comes down to is that I'm getting the worst of both worlds, as a childless woman who does want kids: I'm constantly having to defend my childless state, and have on more than one occasion been cheerfully informed that I won't know what Real Human Love is until I have a child, and at the same time there's the perception that motherhood contributes inherently to this cult and so a forward-thinking woman should be immune to its appeal. I know that if I have a child I'm not going to stop being offended by the Real Human Love bullshit (one of my friends was once told she didn't know what it was to be human because she was childless, and I don't care what postpartum hormones are in your brain, there is NO EXCUSE for that), and I'm not going to stop being obsessed with my dogs, and I'm not going to stop swooning over used bookstores (Elizabeth Gilbert, lookin' at you). And all the women I know who have kids fight that bullshit too, and raise kids who love bookstores.

I guess the issue for a woman of thirty-six who has always known she wanted kids is that the obvious question is, "Well, why don't you have any yet?" And I can't say that it's because I wanted to get my career on track or I had other caretaking responsibilities in my life or wasn't in a relationship or anything. And so there's the constant sense that I'm a failure because I should have had kids already, when my body and mind were younger and stronger, when I hadn't yet gone off caffeine. Never mind that that would have meant either trying to stay in a relationship that made both parties miserable, for the sake of the child, or finding myself suddenly a single mother. But at least I wouldn't feel put on the spot when nosy semi-strangers ask invasive personal questions! Priorities!

...Anyway. I also read:

 The Painted Veil, by W. Somerset Maugham. I have tried Maugham before and was underwhelmed, but that's because no one told me that the way to read him is in a sinus infection / cold medicine fugue state. I felt like this book was amazing and profound in a way that I fear it isn't, but it's very strangely coldly beautiful. In any case, if you need fever / medicine head reading, I can totally recommend it.

The Dead Hour, by Denise Mina. The second in her series about a young female journalist in 1980's Glasgow. Violence, sordidness, and Scottish food all over the place. Good stuff. You have to love an author who titles a chapter: "Fucking Hell Almighty Fucking Shit God". 

The Pirate Round, by James L. Nelson, which was trying to be Patrick O'Brien but with pirates instead of the British navy. It didn't work for me, but wasn't horrible. Just a little bit boring with flat characters.

And a couple more George and Garritsen mysteries. Very light and unchallenging. Perfect for a lunch break.


  1. As a fairly new mother I really enjoyed reading this! Of course I love my child, but I'm offended by people who assume I was previously incapable of extreme love. Really? No, there are crazy physiological reactions to babies (mostly unpleasant like leaking boobs, but
    also a strong protective instinct) but the love is just a different variety, occasionally fierce but not more than what I feel for my significant other.
    I'm kind of old to be a new mom, so many people have told me, but I frankly have stopped being offended. I might be old, but I am more patient and more laid back and less fucked up than I was in my twenties.
    I met a first time mother in her late forties today and that made me feel great because not only was I younger than her (Yay, I'm winning!) but she is vibrant and full of love and devotion and she had been trying for ten years to have her child. I think that dedication is worth something tremendous and that little girl will know how much her parents worked and wished for her to be born.
    Also, when I had a miscarriage I WAS a vampire for a short time.

    1. I'm offended by people who assume I was previously incapable of extreme love

      Yes, I get SO offended by that. And what if you aren't able to have a baby? Does that mean the universe has judged you incapable of or unfit for the only Real Human Love there is?

      Ironically, one of the most articulate attacks on this that I've read was by a Jesuit priest who otherwise irritated me. He was mostly using as his foil the idea of romantic love rather than mother-child love, but was excellent in his defense of love for friends and family, and how harmful for everyone it is that our society disparages non-romantic love.