Sunday, September 30, 2007

"Deserted us, reviled us, trampled us."

I was first introduced to Marge Piercy by a grad school roommate and i tore through all the books i could find written by Piercy up to that point. I just discovered Sex Wars: A Novel of the Gilded Age New York covering the lives of early suffragettes Susan B. Anthony and (the seemingly more likable, tho less famous) Elizabeth Cady Stanton; sensationalistic (first female presidential candidate) Victoria Woodhull and her rather colorful family; the fictional Jewish immigrant Freydeh Levin; as well as crusader on the side of the lord, Anthony Comstock fighting against obscenity as well as anything outside of "normal" sex roles, in the "turbulent post-civil war years".

This is yet another novel of shifting narrative perspective and some voices seem to be rendered more truly than others (it also did a bit of jumping back in forth in time that had me constantly referring to other pages, but that could just be my chronologically challenged mind.) The character of Fredeh seemed to me one of the most poignant (perhaps because Piercy was not limited so much by historical accuracy in her~and was condom-production really the only good money making option outside of prostitution for the non-seamstress-single-woman, because it didn't seem to draw in a whole hell of a lot?) and even Comstock seemed somewhat more fully drawn (perhaps fruit of a struggle to make him at least a touch sympathetic?) the rest of the characters sometimes fell into stiltedness or caricatures, but not horrendously so, and it was an easy, quick, yet still edifying read (especially on the tail end of an illness when my brain wasn't ready for much.)
As an interesting aside, here's a description of the presidential election of 1876:
"By midnight, when they finally got into bed it was clear that Tilden had won the popular vote by a considerable margin. As the Herald trumpeted the next morning, Samuel Tilden was now president.

However, the Times said the election was too close to call. Henry and Elizabeth talked more during the next weeks than they had in a decade. The election was being stolen, through the three Southern states still under Reconstruction regimes. Boards were set up in Louisiana, South Carolina and Florida that disqualified thousands of ballots for Tilden and certified ballots for Hayes even when the number of ballots exceeded the number of voters in a district. Weeks turned into months and still the election was in doubt. The election finally came down to Florida and the disputed votes there. The states had no president. The democrats were protesting fraud. Finally the election was thrown into the Supreme Court, where Republicans outnumbered Democrats. The crooked election was certified along strictly partisan lines. Rutherford Hayes became the next president while Tilden retired from public life."

Sound slightly familiar?

At least there was no mention of hanging chads.

All in all, this is not Piercy's Best work (Gone to Soldiers is heart wrenching & beautiful, Braided Lives one of my favorites, and He, She and It is great science fiction) but it is still very much worth reading. There are only a few historical novels i take much interest in (or maybe more than a few, now that i think about it~but there are many that i take no interest in) this is one that i enjoyed reading. And, as i said, this oh-so-very-knowledgeable librarian learned a great deal from it, so how can you beat that?

No comments: