09 January 2012

Post 467: When She Woke

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan. ISBN: 9781616201180 (eBook).

Spoiler Alert: This is going to be a compare and contrast post, so if you haven't read this book or The Scarlet Letter, I'm going to go almost straight to the Maury Moment with the Baby Daddy reveal.

Although When She Woke (WSW) covers more topical issues of persecuting children out of wedlock, I think The Scarlet Letter (SL) is still the stronger, and more relatable story. For one thing, Hester Prynne (SL) is forced to keep her child and live with the emotional and financial burden of raising a child without a father in a time where that was nearly impossible. The fact that Prynne was able to make a living for herself and avoid more than social ostracism within the Puritan community is more of a testament to her resourcefulness than Hannah Payne's (WSW) access to resources (namely family and funds). Where Payne is able to tap into her baby daddy's influence without revealing his identity, Prynne was unable to do the same in such a small, close-knit, and pre-internet society.

I felt like Dimmesdale from The Scarlet Letter was a much more sympathetic tragic character than his When She Woke counterpart Aidan Dale. Dimmesdale was just as isolated from the community as Hester Prynne by his position of moral authority as minister, so much that it took a physical toll on his well being. Meanwhile, Dale actually has a wife and gains even more prestige while Payne is hidden away and "chromed" red. While I'm certain Dale must have suffered some guilt and remorse regarding Payne, we don't see him much in WSW, and so it's harder to connect to him sympathetically, and sometimes he even comes off almost villainous, even when he's paying off assisting Payne so she is better able to endure her years of chromitude.

In short, I like The Scarlet Letter more because the relationship between Dimmesdale and Prynne is far more complex than that between Dale and Payne. For one thing, Pearl adds a whole new level of complexity that Dale/Payne's aborted child doesn't, and while Dale has a wife, Jordan presents Dale as someone who could very easily leave his lustless relationship for the more exciting one with Payne. I don't really regret reading Jordan's work, and I don't think it's a horrible story, but I would much rather have gone into it without constantly being reminded that it was a derivative of The Scarlet Letter. In this way Jordan almost set herself up to fail, because it needed to be 300x better than the original in order to blow me away, and it didn't even come close.  But, it did make me want to reread The Scarlet Letter, so I'll be doing that soon.

Also, I apologize, but this is definitely a half-assed post. I read WSW about a month ago and just let it sit because I wasn't particularly moved by it. Also I wrote this the day before posting. I'd totally give myself a generous C- on this.

A glowing review from Bookalicio.us for those of you who think Hawthorne is a pretentious schmuck who couldn't write his way out of a paper bag. Goodreader Jeanette pretty much sums up my feelings about the book.
LibsNote: Library copy via Overdrive.

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