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Bride of Fan Mail

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Okay, I have to explain something here, because it will tell you how I ended up in this particular place on this particular morning.

I have an alarm clock, bright yellow travel model, from L.L. Bean.  It runs on two batteries, a watch battery and a regular little cylindrical one. 

I probably just spelled that wrong.

I need a new watch battery for it.  Which means that at the moment, it does not reliably work as an alarm.  And getting the watch battery will require something of a drive, so I haven’t gotten around to it yet.

This would not matter, except that I need an alarm, and the only other available alarm in the house is on my phone.  So at night these days, I bring the phone to bed with an alarm switched on, and that wakes me up in the morning.

But here’s the thing:  my phone is also set up so that I can read e-mail on it.  And the first thing I do in the morning when the alarm goes off is to grab my glasses, grab my phone, and check my e-mail before I sit all the way up.

Most days, this is an excerise in boredom–I wake up at four thirty in the morning, at the latest.  There’s not much on the e-mail except new user registrations for the blog from Russia and little flurries of argument from my harpsichord list.

This morning, I had something else–a fan letter, of the kind that wants to beat me about the head for being on the wrong side in politics.

I get quite a few of these–as I’ve mentioned before–and usually they come down to a reader who has decided that anything any character says is “my” opinion, and therefore it is me, not Franklin or Catherine or Henry, who has X point of view about X subject.

This may be one of these, too, but I can’t tell, because for the first time, ever, I can’t figure out which side this writer thinks I’m on.

I know, I know.  Usually, there are clues.  In this case, though, there are clues going in both directions.  On the one hand, she says that I think anybody who doesn’t agree with me is an ignorant redneck hick–and that sounds like a conservative complaining I’m liberal.  On the other hand, she says I sound like I’m full of hate–and that sounds like a liberal deploring my conservatism.

What’s even more confusing to me is that she complains that my last few books have been full of political rhetoric–but of the last three books, only one has a political theme.  As far as I know, neither Cheating at Solitaire or Wanting Sheila Dead contain any politics at all.

My best guess is that the book she’s taken offense to is Living Witness, in which there are, certainly, two characters who are portrayed as ignorant redneck hicks, and both of them are on the ID side–Franklin and Alice, a pair of hateful, stupid people.

But there are other people on the ID side–Gary and Nick–who are two of the three most admirable people in the book.  And neither of them is ignorant, redneck or hick-y.

Is that a word?

Nick certainly started off as a hick, a child of the Appalachian hills, but these days he reads English, Hebrew, Greek and Latin, takes on Thomas Aquinas for fun, and has a library twice the size (and of considerably more heft) than the one the town runs.  He’s also dedicated his life to making life better for the people he grew up among and built an enormous, prosperous and well-run complex in the process. 

Gary is a war hero, and a near moral saint.  He faced the kind of moral dilemma most of us would fail one way or the other (if only by dying out in the cold), and passed it at considerable cost to himself.  He’s a good, honest, intelligent small town lawman, with more integrity than anybody else in the novel except maybe Catherine Marbledale.

That being said, the other side is equally mixed. 

The woman who brought the lawsuit is a poisonous little twit, a snob and an idiot on almost every level.  Her best friend isn’t much better.  The town’s liberal and atheist icon–Henry Wackford–is worse than that, self-satisfied, smug, arrogant, dishonest and only about a tenth as well educated as he thinks he is. 

(Put Nick in a room with Henry and have them discuss books, and Nick would end up so far over Henry’s head it would be funny to see Henry explode.)

Then there’s Henry’s friend in the local “humanist” movement, a monumental ass with delusions of grandeur who wants to pass laws to stop parents from bringing their children up with religion and whose basic idea of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution is that they shouldn’t count if people use them to do things she doesn’t want them to do.

But then, of course, there’s Catherine Marbledale, who’s very admirable indeed.

Living Witness was unusual in the books I’ve written in that I did in fact signal which side of the basic political argument I’m on in the acknowledgements. 

But the reason that thing in the acknowledgements is there is that I tried very hard–as I do in all the books with topical themes–to make sure that I did not signal my opinion in the novel. 

When I’m working well, there should be no way for you to tell which side I’m on in any of the political battles that come up, or any of the philosophical ones, either. 

Of course, I’ve gotten used to the fact that most people simply decide that I must be on the other side from whichever one they’re on, as if only a book in which their side is portrayed as pristinely good and right could be anything but a partisan hatchet job from the other end of the spectrum.

And acknowlegments or not, I’ll stick with my feeling that I did a good job of portraying both good and evil characters on both sides of the debate in Living Witness.

The real divide between the Darwinists and the ID-ers in Living Witness is twofold:

First (and least important), the ID-ers are all “deep local,” people whose families have lived in town for generations.  The Darwinists are by and large people who’ve moved in to town with the new high tech industries in the area, or people who, in spite of having been born deep local, have spent a significant amount of time living elsewhere.

Second (and most important), the issue for the ID-ers has little or nothing to do with science and everything to do with morality.  It is the moral implications of Darwinism that bother them.

And, come to think of it, that’s true for most of the people on the Darwinist side.  Judy and Henry know no more about evolution than I know about the internal combustion engine.  They “believe” in evolution the way Alice believes in God–they accept it on authority and take it on faith, because they certainly don’t understand it. 

With the exception of Catherine Marbledale, nobody in that book cares about evolution at all. 

The big conflict in Living Witness is not between ignorant rednecks and intelligent, educated cosmopolities.

There are intelligent, educated people on both sides, and vicious idiots on both sides, too.

Ah, well.

I find this an odd post to be writing when what I had intended to write about today was the new Sam Harris book.

I’ll get to that tomorrow.

It’s really, truly, and honestly a completely idiotic mess.

So that should be some fun.

Written by janeh

October 28th, 2010 at 6:08 am

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses to 'Bride of Fan Mail'

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  1. One of the many reasons I enjoy your books is that you DO present a balanced viewpoint. Normally I would run screaming from any character who attended Oral Roberts University, but I’d like to sit down and have a bull session with Nick Frapp, except that I fear that he is so far ahead of me that he’d be bored.

    The Quantum Physicists seem to be saying these days that “Everything is happening all at the same time, in the NOW.” IF they are correct, this has mind-boggling implications for the Creation versus Evolution argument. I THINK it would mean that somehow both sides are right, if you look at the question from a sufficiently multi-dimensional viewpoint.

    Or maybe my mind has just boggled itself into incoherence.

    Off topic: This week’s Masterpiece Mystery, “A Study in Pink” was a delightful reworking of “A Study in Scarlet”. Sherlock Holmes texting Watson when he wants him to come to 221B!! I expected to hate it, but I loved it. (I have been reading and re-reading the original stories for over 60 years now, so any tampering with the Canon normally makes me very unhappy.)


    28 Oct 10 at 12:35 pm

  2. Well, I’ve heard complaints about people attributing political opinions to Shakespeare based on the words of his characters, so it’s probably not something Jane Haddam should hope to escape.

    As for real bias or ignorance, if it irritates me, I just stop reading the author. What on earth is the point of e-mailing someone to tell them they’re biased or ignorant? Surely they already know? Most of us work very hard at our biases and areas of ignorance, and are quite proud of them.

    Where I go to absolute fury is historical slander. If you want to do a film about a cavalry regiment being sut up in the old west, and make your too arrogant for words comander Colonel Thursday, well and good. If you call him George Armstrong Custer, you’re under what I see as a moral obligation to treat him fairly and accurately. That dead men can’t sue makes this more imperative, not less.

    Does this apply to a modern roman a clef, given that a “public figure” also can’t sue? Watch the end of RKO 281 some time. Better still, watch the whole movie.


    28 Oct 10 at 7:00 pm

  3. Oops! “cut up” of course, not “sut up”. Mostly I proofread.


    28 Oct 10 at 7:02 pm

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