Sarah Zettel and The Big Book — Part Three


As you might expect, HUNGER’S BRIDES, otherwise known as The Big Book, is a complicated book.  Wow, is it complicated.

It’s a time-jumping novel.  Not time travel, but it divides its storyline between the story of a modern girl, mostly told from the point of view of her professor who was a self-excusing womanizer, and who was sleeping with her because she was pretty and didn’t think much of it (yeah, he’s a peach of a guy), and never bothered to understand that she had issues.  Okay, not issues.  She had subscriptions — abuse leading to anorexia and other self-destructive behaviors.  The other part of the story of Sor Juana Inez Delacruz, who was a scholar and nun in the time of Imperial Mexico and ultimately falls afoul of the Inquisition.

It’s an ambitious trick, and when you’re doing it in 1300 pages, it’s pretty natural that some bits would succeed better than others.  I want to talk about one of the places that really succeeds.  The depiction of friendship.

Female friendship is something a lot of authors seem to grapple with.  In SF, we’ve gotten used to seeing a woman paling around with the guys particularly if she’s a military officer, a kick-ass heroine of some sort, or a prostitute.  But she’s on her own.  She gets to be friends with the guys and fall in love with them, but friends with other women?  Nope.  Not there.

In The Big Book, there are lots of friendships for Sor Juana.  Her life is not ideal.  She’s tightly cloistered, but within the cloisters, she has a tight circle of friends, and Anderson portrays them very believably.  They’re genuine, complicated, have good days and bad days, little secrets, little confidences, big blow ups, small ones, attempts to help that are sometimes clumsy, sometimes successful and always human.  Not afraid of this strange world, not afraid to show these people as fully human.

It made me so happy.  It’s a simple thing, but I can’t help thinking that the portrayal of friendship is startlingly absent from a lot of genre fiction, especially for women.  It’s one of the reasons I love the Thor movies.  Dr. Jane Whose-last-name-I-never-Remember has a friend, one who is roughly her age and is also a woman.  They talk, they tease, they help each other out.  Stop a second and do a count.  What other genre movies have you recently seen where there’s a scene between women friends?  Go ahead.  I’ll wait.  I’ve got the most recent Hunger Games, and even there it’s sketchy, and Frozen, which is between sisters.  How about you?

Interestingly, the miserable, abused, self-destructive modern woman has no women friends, not currently.  She meets up with an old friend during the course of the book but does not let herself stay with that woman.  She doesn’t make any new female friends.

For all of us, gender aside, friendship is a huge part of our world.  We get so caught up in talking about sexual relationships, we forget about the complexities, the intricacies, the vitality and absolute importance of friendship.  We need to remember more, inside the genre and out of it.