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Pride’s Children

October 13, 2019

Pride’s Children, written and sent to me by frequent NNP commenter Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt, is a novel I didn’t want to put down after the first few chapters. For academics, overthinkers, obsessives, and fiction fans, this novel is a big celebration of all the things we like best.

Academics will be delighted by the prologue, which is labeled a “prothalamion,” a poem written in honor of a marriage. It’s the beginning of a fictional New Yorker article about the main characters of the novel, but written after the events of the novel have already taken place.

The things this novel reveals about obsession may be more commonly spoken about now than they were before 2015, when the novel was published. The main character, Kary (who is a writer and also a fictionalized version of the author herself), obsesses over an actor she’s met to the extent that she ferrets out all the fan websites, watches all his movies, and listens to all his music. We may not all be as thorough about ferreting out every single website as Kary is, but I’m fairly sure I’m not alone in giving myself over to occasional obsessions like this one after seeing a movie or watching a tv show.

I did have a bit of a rocky start with this novel. Chapter One begins with Kary’s point of view, but it lasts for only three pages before we have to start all over again with Andrew’s point of view, which lasts for just three pages before we’re then switched over to the point of view of Bianca. She gets her three pages and then we’re tossed back into Andrew’s point of view for four pages, and Kary’s again for one, and only then do we arrive at Chapter Two. I like to get interested in at least one of the characters before I have to start switching points of view.

The subtitle for Chapter Two intrigued me, however, as it’s “Daughter of Jairus,” a Biblical story about Jesus bringing a girl back from the dead. This is the chapter where we learn that Kary, like the author who created her, struggles against CFS, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. When a talk show host asks her “why, given all that it costs you, are you willing to spend your allotment of energy on writing?” Kary answers “because I can. Because even if I can only work in one-page increments, there is something of me left.” Working against her illness isn’t what brings Kary back to the land of the living, however. A song sung by the other person on the talk show with her–the actor Andrew–is what does that.

At first there’s a little too much of Kary educating others about her illness and describing what it’s like when she writes. But especially for fans of the Song of Roland, Kary’s obsession with Andrew starts out with a fascination with his movie based on the tale and so she goes on for pages about that, too. Here’s a small sample:
“Kary could find no flaw: Roland took each fork in the path of his destiny with a calm able heart, a man on whose shoulders command lay lightly. A supremely intelligent man, always thinking, always calculating risks. The ultimate fighting man, favored by God and his sovereign. Tested by a deity who exacted a high price for His favor. Medieval man, never questioning fate’s blows, because he lived in a fixed cosmos where his place was preordained. Going with good cheer to his final battle.”
Although this hefty (479 pages) novel might have needed the kind of editor Thomas Wolfe had in Maxwell Perkins, readers will eventually find that the effect of the detailed description is cumulative. It takes all those pages of description of the Song of Roland movie to get the picture of this character’s obsession, one that’s familiar to me and maybe to a few of you:
“Each still from the movie brought back a scene, but now the shock of discovery was replaced by an intensity of yearning for the moment to last forever, to avoid the coming fate. She wanted to crawl into the pictures, change history.”
For someone who can’t even talk about how the story of Orpheus and Eurydice always comes out the same without starting to get a lump in her throat (thinking about Hadestown), this is irresistible; I’ve definitely been there and done that. And I like the way Kary brings herself out of it, using a different fiction to get a new perspective–she realizes that: “she had grown a second head, like Mrs. Grales, the old tomato woman in A Canticle for Leibowitz.”

Because this is a novel, Kary gets to meet Andrew, the actor who played Roland, and they get to know each other, as she offers her secluded home to him as a refuge from the public eye, whose predations she is well aware of, having been among his rabid fans. This is where the story really begins. Although in person she is self-controlled and circumspect, Kary’s seclusion gives her free rein for her literary imagination. When she takes Andrew hiking, “the unrhythm forced by stepping over tree-roots and under branches on the overgrown trail made her think of the deserts on Arrakis in Frank Herbert’s Dune, where the fedayeen kept their steps irregular to avoid summoning sandworms.”

Information about CFS is brief and well-worked-in to the fiction after the initial long description, like when Andrew asks Kary how she is able to go hiking and she tells him she has worked up to an hour’s hiking after eight years of practice, adding “half a block….a minute or a short distance” whenever she could.

The point at which Andrew invites Kary to his current movie shoot is where the pacing of the novel really starts to find its footing. Seeing the drudgery, fun, maneuvering for bigger roles, and all the other details of the shoot makes it real for readers who have never been on a set. Andrew’s assistant shows Kary around, warns her when the cameras are rolling, and demonstrates for her his daily routine of “hurry up and wait, with occasional frantic bits” so that each scene can be shot on schedule. We also see the shoot from Andrew’s point of view; he is playing a Revolutionary war colonel:
“His daughter raised her eyes, so like his dear Emily’s. But Emily never defied him, and here was both defiance and—pity? How dare she—
‘AND—CUT!’
The tinny megaphone burst Andrew’s fictive bubble, let in cameras, crew, caterers… It took so much work to reconstruct; he longed to be left in the colonel’s world to finish his story.”

We also see some of the shoot from the point of view of the actress who plays Andrew’s daughter, Bianca. There have been intervals from her point of view before this, but she hasn’t seemed very important; just an ambitious actress who has decided to seduce Andrew to get him to play a part in her next venture. Bianca’s always-competitive point of view provides a different perspective on Kary:
“She took the invader in with one glance: too tall, washed-out hair, gray eyes, no makeup, white sleeveless blouse and a mid-calf denim skirt buttoned up the front, sandals but no pedicure, no jewelry except tiny gold earrings. Damn aristocratic bones.”

From the prologue, we know that Bianca has made what is to her the ultimate sacrifice and let Andrew get her pregnant in return for a promise of marriage and we also know that Andrew was already secretly married to Kary when this happened. None of that happens in this novel, however. We’re seeing only how the entanglements began.

One deep entanglement is Kary’s confession of her previous obsession over Andrew to Andrew. He is initially alarmed, and then he begins to enjoy being known by another person. During a party Kary gives for the movie folk, when Bianca asks Andrew to sing, he asks Kary to join in, and she does:
“As on the CD, he picked a whole verse and refrain; she waited, a cat watching her mouse. In the third verse she let go, and the harmony kicked and teased as she wove tendrils around his simple tune, below, above, in syncopation and back in lockstep. His own music, his own lyrics, transmogrified, subtle, stretched to limits he’d never heard.”
This is the point when Andrew starts to see some benefit in Kary’s familiarity with his music.

What all three characters have in common is in the title of the novel: pride. They each have good reason to be proud, but Kary’s characteristic overthinking reveals the dangers of too much pride and too much reliance on what has worked for her before.

The end of the novel leaves Kary and Andrew as friends, with Bianca scheming away in the background. Andrew has worked through some of the issues with his ex by talking to Kary, and he has helped her bury some of her issues with her ex-husband. We know what must happen next, but how do they get there? All of us overthinkers, obsessives, and fiction fans want to know.

 

5 Comments leave one →
  1. October 13, 2019 12:40 am

    Thanks for the review – much appreciated. I’m working hard on the second volume in the Pride’s Children trilogy, subtitled NETHERWORLD. The third volume is completely plotted and in (very) rough draft.

    • October 13, 2019 9:43 pm

      I’m glad to hear you’re working on the second and have a draft of the third!

  2. October 17, 2019 10:37 am

    I’d read this!
    and is there a badge for “frequent NNP commenter”? or is that only Facebook. 😀

    • October 17, 2019 10:41 am

      I will send the book on to you. I believe I have your current address.
      The prize for being a frequent NNP commenter is getting books sent to you occasionally!

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