When Mary Charlotte Domandi interviewed me about my novel The Road From La Cueva on Santa Fe Radio, she asked why a woman like the main character Ana would not fight harder for her own rights and independence, especially "in this day and age". My answer was: Have you ever heard of a battered women's shelter? A rape crisis center? Have you heard of a woman's plight in a third-world country, or in the third-world countries that exist for many women right here in America? I answered that Ana was the modern equivalent to Edna Pontellier in The Awakening, or Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, or Flaubert's Emma Bovary.
The Ana in my story is constrained, yet passionate. She is subsumed by a controlling husband, but desperately craving her own fulfillment. It is the age-old story of male domination and woman's struggle for fulfillment within real or perceived boundaries. What I like most about Ana is that through hardship and grim determination, she learns to look with her own eyes, to feel with her own heart. Unlike the tragic characters in the novels mentioned above, she discovers a deep well of resilience and compassion, with room for growth and freedom. Ana's story is one of a leap of faith, away from despair and toward life at its fullest.
This type of 'survival' response to oppression is not automatic, despite our relatively recent decades of feminism and "liberation". Women everywhere are still afraid -- of their husbands, of themselves and their own urges, of danger, of judgment. I wrote the book so that those who are disenfranchised might be empowered -- so that women who now see through the eyes of fear might learn, as Ana does, to navigate themselves through small but profound changes, into new ways of living, of relating to friends, their children, themselves.
I have spoken to many women about the book -- in New Mexico, Texas, and Maine, so far. I find that the women who understand it and love it the best are those who have experienced a similar oppression. I know that "in this day and age", women may technically have all the choices available to them that would allow them to live free and complete lives. But I also know that many of us, like Ana, do not readily have the tools or knowledge or skills to do so.
Look at some of the books in Oprah's book club:
Sula and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
The Pilot's Wife by Anita Shreve
Here on Earth by Alice Hoffman
What are these if not depictions of women who have been weakened by their patriarchal worlds, and who have learned, painfully, of the need to move beyond such worlds?
Jane Brunton, one of the book reviewers featured on my blog www.sheila-novel.blogspot.com says:
[You depict] the way that our early familial relationships form the unseen scars that twist and warp all future relationships. When our lives are ruled by a controlling parent, we are ripe and ready for the plucking by a controlling partner. And how the controlee, almost feeling she deserves this treatment, becomes subversive rather than rearing up and fighting it out or simply scuttling away in the night...
And Linda Bankard says:
I could not put this book down. To me it was a true love story, not of the usual type that is so common, but a love story of a woman for her child, her father and a friend. When Ana was able to love herself, she found she was able to be loved by a man and not be his possession. This book will stay with me for a long time.
Why was my interviewer so doubtful of the relevance of such a theme in "this day and age"? I can only be grateful, for her and the many other young women who have apparently not known such oppression, for the women's movement that has provided such freedom for them. But I must also stress, as I did in the book, that many women today are not so lucky.
If you are a woman who has been oppressed, or even if you just know of one, get the book. Read it, and learn why Theresa Studer said:
This book could pertain to any number of women around the world in trouble. Ana learned that life is not always what you're handed, and you can change the outcome. [The Road From La Cueva] captured me, educated me, and let me see that there are true friends and love out there, you only have to reach for them.