Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Diana Gabaldon, Outlander (1991)

This one floored me.

It begins as a time-travel romance-- one of unforced sweetness.    Of course, the formulaic "psychological obstacles" are there, but the situation and characters are so well-drawn that all structure is a natural extension.

In the middle of the book, however, Gabaldon adds a shock.  And it's an honest sort of shock:  The hero lives in a place and time when beating one's wife is acceptable.  So, when the heroine--a woman slipped back in time from the 1940s-- takes an unnecessary (he thinks) risk, he first saves her life and then beats her nearly to death.

The mother of all psychological obstacles??  Ninety-nine percent of my brain was rooting for her to leave him-- anachronistic or not-- even while recognizing that, from a practical standpoint, the heroine was stuck.  But relationship-wise, where could it go from here?  Downward spiral? ...That the author does move these two characters beyond the trauma in a convincing way is testimony to her skill.  I'm in awe.

But wait-- you thought that spousal abuse was an obstacle? What's ahead is transgressive.  It's psychologically wrenching.  It's well foreshadowed, so that it fits (nothing in Outlander feels forced), but-- it took guts to write!  And while the cleanup is surely more tidy than in real life, this horrifying string of scenes takes the story to a place that I'd never have expected or, frankly, wanted to go.  The word "unflinching" comes to mind, although I'll assure you that I, the reader, flinched plenty.

Unexpectedly, too, Outlander backlights this final stretch of horror and salvation with a positive depiction of devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, which becomes the heroine's source of strength.

How they'll make a movie (er, TV series) of it, I have no idea.  

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