The Heroines

The Homestead is a B&B of a different kind. Where most guest houses provide rest and relaxation for tourists, Anne-Marie Entwhistle’s place provides a haven for Heroines in distress: Emma Bovary, Anna Karenina, Scarlett O’Hara, Franny Glass. When things become too much for them at the climax of their novels, they escape (somehow), and appear at the Homestead for a few days’ rest with Anne-Marie and her teenage daughter Penny. Then they disappear, back into the pages of their novel, to live out their predetermined fates, however happy or unhappy those may be.

But The Heroines, by Eileen Favorite, is not actually about those literary heroines, except in glimpses. It’s about Anne-Marie and Penny, the heroines of their own stormy story. The book takes place in 1974, as Nixon is resigning amid scandal. Penny, thirteen, takes off into the woods — a forbidden zone — after a fight with her mother. There she meets a real, live Villain, also escaped from the pages of a novel, come to take his Heroine back.

And here’s where things get confused (if they weren’t already.) Penny’s sympathies lie with  Conor, the Villain, whom she seems to find sexually attractive and threatening in equal measure, so she agrees to help him. When she comes home, her mother has called the police (because her adolescent daughter has been gone… what… a couple of hours? In 1974?) Even though Penny insists that the man she met didn’t touch her, they force a rape kit on her, which we get in loving detail (really? In 1974? Really?). And then Penny’s mother, who is portrayed as smart and loving, agrees that in order to “keep Penny safe,” she should be committed to a psych ward, “just for a couple of days.” Would anyone do this? She was supposedly railroaded into it by something about insurance, but it was so cardboard-thin. None of the characters were fleshed out — the doctors, the nurses, the heroines, the Villain, not even the mother.

Penny’s adventures in the ward, being drugged and restrained, being rescued, and withdrawing from Valium and so forth, were moot for me at that point. The way she got into her problem was so contrived I could hardly stand it, and the way out was contrived, too. There was scarcely a person I could understand, since the motivations were so unclear. There was no chance for her relationship with her mother to develop. The “big reveal” at the ending was hardly a surprise, since it had been hooting and hollering at me from the first twenty pages. In the end, I wished that the story had been about the Heroines — about what it was like to live with them, and talk to them off-duty, and find Jane Eyre rummaging through your linen closet.

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12 Responses to The Heroines

  1. Yes, it does sound from your description as if the author’s inspiration as to opening scenario was much better than what she ended up making of it. Too bad she can’t be sent back for a re-write.

    • Jenny says:

      I agree! The book felt confused to me, as if it wasn’t sure what sort of book it wanted to be: fantasy, philosophy, coming-of-age tale. There were elements that never got used (Nixon, for instance.) Oh well.

  2. Lisa says:

    Too bad that Penny can’t escape to another story! This sounds like an uncomfortable juxtoposition of “gritty” real-life elements (rape kits and drug withdrawl) and fantasy.

    Does the town know about their literary visitors – does everyone accept that aspect of their lives, do literary tourists show up? And can the heroines make return visits?

    • Jenny says:

      No, the Heroines are a Big Secret, until the mom is forced at the end to co-opt a policeman (???). And the Heroines only appear once, as far as I can tell, which means that the most important one is from a trashy romance novel that doesn’t even really exist. It’s bizarre.

      You’re right about the juxtaposition of elements. I think this book wasn’t quite sure where it wanted to land.

  3. Jennifer says:

    Rats :( When I first started reading the review I thought it sounded interesting but then…I guess not. Ah well, the best laid plans right?

  4. Aparatchick says:

    I read your first paragraph and thought “That sounds like something I’d like to read.” By the time I got to paragraph three, I was disabused of that idea. Too bad.

  5. Deb says:

    I seem to be commenting a lot recently about books I either dislike or think I wouldn’t want to read–and, sadly, the streak continues with this one. The anachronisms would drive me crazy–especially since I was in my teens in 1974 and remember things clearly. I’m gonna give this one a pass.

    • Jenny says:

      That was one of the things that drove me nuts. I didn’t find any actual anachronisms (things that would not have been invented in 1974, for instance), but the usage seemed really off to me. And the characterization was crummy, and the use of the Heroines was just weird. I wouldn’t really recommend it!

  6. softdrink says:

    I’m positive I read this book somewhere in the past, but I can’t remember a thing about it. Other than it was nothing like what I was led to believe. Or maybe I’m confusing it with something else. Either way, I’m not reading it (for the first or second time). :-D

    • Jenny says:

      Well, this was given to me as a review copy, so unless you got it too, you probably haven’t read it. But it may be similar to something else you’ve read. Either way… :)

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