Thursday, February 9, 2012

Completed: Bound


Well, you were right! I don't know what I was thinking. This might be a gross generalization, but even the hardest novel is an easier read than non-fiction. I like non-fiction, but it seems to require more of my brain power. So I'm glad I asked for you advice. Now I'm done with my February read and can move on with Tournament reading (more on that later).

Bound is historical fiction, set in Cape Cod in the 1760s. The main character is Alice Cole. The story starts when she is a young girl. She and her family leave London for America on a ship, hoping for a better life. Unfortunately, Alice's mother and both of her brothers die on the voyage over. When they arrive, her father does not enough money for the 5 fares (because even if someone dies on the second half of the trip, you still have to pay their full fare. Charming.), so he "sells" Alice as an indentured servant. She is now bound into servitude until her 18th birthday.

The book jumps ahead to Alice at 15. The family she has been with for so many years has taken rather good care of her. The family has a daughter, Nebby, only a few years older than Alice. She gets married and takes Alice with her to her new home. Kelly, I'm sure it won't surprise you to guess what happens to Alice next. And although the scenes where she is raped by Nebby's husband are mercifully brief, it really doesn't make it any less disturbing. After some weeks of this nightly abuse, Alice escapes, runs off, and boards a ship as a stowaway.

One of my issues with this novel is that Alice is a closed book, emotionally speaking. All of these awful things happen to her, yet she's remarkably stoic. Although I get that being a servant doesn't allow a lot of space for emotional upheaval, the net effect is that I just didn't find Alice to be all that compelling as a character.

Alice's ship lands in Cape Cod and she finds herself some work with the town's widow. The widow takes boarders as a way of keeping herself afloat financially, and her other boarder is a man called Freeman. Freeman and Widow Berry take good care of Alice and they find a way to make a life together.

Now we come to my second issue with this book, which is that none of the plot twists seemed all that surprising. All seems to be going well, but I just knew that some sort of further conflict would have to present itself. Obviously, at some point Alice is going to have to face up to running away. And, I found myself thinking, I bet Alice is pregnant! I found myself thinking, I bet the Widow and Freeman are lovers. And sure enough, I was right. Ho-hum.

It's Alice's pregnancy that drives the rest of the plot. She thinks about trapping some local into thinking he's the father, but ultimately is unable to carry off her plan successfully. Then, as months pass, her best defense is to just deny that she is pregnant. Finally, on the night she gives birth, the widow goes for the midwife, but then come back to discover the baby is dead. Alice is put on trial for murder and also for breaking the terms of her service.

By the end, everything felt simultaneously melodramatic and predictable, which is quite an accomplishment when you think about it. Some long court scenes of Alice's murder trial ensue, and I bet they are historically accurate, but it was also boring. I still wanted Alice to FEEL something, and it didn't help that I found the whole plot at this point ridiculous. In what 1770s Massachusetts village could a servant successfully hide a pregnancy for 9 months? (Come on, am I the only one who's ever read The Crucible?) Was I really supposed to believe that the handsome young man in town, bound for Harvard, would be able to carry on a romance with a serving girl? Could it be that Alice will try to solve her problems once again by running away?

I feel like I'm making this out to be worse that it was. I quite liked the writing, but I just wasn't too interested in Alice's story. Interestingly, Widow Berry and Freeman are the primary characters in one of Gunning's earlier novels, The Widow's War. I'm sort of tempted to read it because they were quite likeable and interesting. And they are adults! Alice is a teenager, and she thinks like a teenager. That's not her fault, but it was something else that was annoying about the narrative.

Quick, done, and moving on,

PS Tournament Update: I've finished 9 of 16!

1 comment:

  1. Just realized I never commented on this!

    We've previously discussed whether or not a protagonist has to be "likeable" for a book to work for us (For me? The answer is Yes.) But this adds a new element: Does the character have to be... interesting? Emotional? Or is it... relatable?

    Perhaps another reader who shares Alice's lack-of-emotion would find her story more interesting, because that is how *they* would react to her situation, so they understand her. I don't know -- I'm just putting it out there. When a character acts in a way that I, myself, do not understand (and, actually... even if I don't agree with them... just when I don't "get" their reaction), I do find a book less compelling. How about you?