My name has somehow landed on the mailing list of the Harper Collins’ imprint Avon Inspire. This means I regularly receive books that publish a line of “inspirational women’s fiction that features that which matters most: family, community, faith, and love.”
Aside from the alternative school of thought claiming “that which matters most” also covers, in no particular order, football, sex, music, the economy, the environment, proper beer, good manners and the public execution of the owners of any dogs that crap on my front lawn, it’s an odd notion that a branch of fiction must define itself as inspirational. The old eastern Bloc tried something similar with socialist-realist literature, and aside from a few texts that sneaked through due to the clot-headed censors’ failure to understand imagery, it was mostly dull. Which is what happens when you try to write a book glorifying life in a cement factory.
Most recently I have become the privileged owner of Shelley Shepard Gray’s ‘Hidden’, a novel about Anna, a “modern girl on the run” from a fiancé “with good looks and prestigious position at a top law firm,” but who’s also violent (boo!). She takes refuge with an Amish family (hurrah!) and “finds fulfilment in the Amish way of life”, which will be handy with the coming energy crisis. Yet she still has to win the trust of one family member, Henry, who has “got the raging hots for her, but is tortured by sexual anguish suppressed by a stringent and quite frankly unsustainable moral code.” Okay, I made that last bit up. The book’s big question, according to the press release, is: “Can he accept that Anna may truly be his soulmate?”
Given that this is inspirational fiction, my guess is that he will, though not without a 200-page struggle. Ah what the heck, I can’t wait. Let’s turn to page 201 (of 202): “Very slowly, very deliberately, Henry curved an arm around her and pulled her close.” Whoooargh Henry, you sly old dog! Is this how the author wants to “showcase her Christian ideals”, as the publicity blurb states? With this filthy, depraved groping? The book ends with them both contemplating a rabbit in a field (“Look, she whispered to Henry, to the man…who would one day be her husband. Another rabbit.”). And it’s not the rabbit of recession I referred to in my last blog entry, but an inspirational, hopping, fertile, action-ready rabbit full of the jumping joys of spring. At least I bet that’s Henry’s view (why didn’t she just call him Horny and be done with it?).
Aside from the commercial angle -- ‘Hidden’ sells at a meta-spiritual $12.95 -- you might ask what is the purpose of literature that so clearly wears its heart on its jacket, with closure as comforting for its readers as a talking bearded Jesus doll. I unwittingly found the answer the other day when a noisome bluebottle landed on my computer screen. The nearest item to hand was ‘Hidden’, which did a messily efficient job of flattening the insect, with the operation concluded by a swift mopping up of its guts using a moist tissue. The book, alas, is sullied and will soon be sent for recycling.
One of the book’s “questions for discussion” says that it is only when the book’s characters “put their futures in the Lord’s hands that they find joy,” asking, “When has following God’s path brought you success?” I played God with that irritating (and undoubtedly evil) fly, consequently reaching a state of peace and contentment due to the absence of its buzzing and dive-bombing. It seems the mysterious delivery of ‘Hidden’ into my post-box was all part of A Plan. Count me in as one of the truly inspired.