The Woman Who Lost Her SoulThe Woman Who Lost Her Soul by Bob Shacochis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
it’s been a long time since i read a contemporary book this good and this frustrating at the same time.

the good: wow, what beautiful sentences. long sometimes but hey, i do have an attention span. anyway yes, beautiful, glorious, surprising, observant, perceptive, clever (not in the i’m-so-clever way of a lot of contemporary writers, either–i mean genuinely clever, not sniggering clever), just all the correct words and no more, and even profound.

and what a plotter! not many people can sustain a 713-page plot without wobbles or unneeded digressions or authorial sucking up of all the light. i think this book has perfect pacing, for the most part, as well.

yep, just exquisite writing. so, you ask, not that there’s anybody out there to ask but hey, i have to pretend to be humble: what’s your problem with this book?

it’s the girl thing.

there are three main characters in this book: Tom, Jackie, and Eville (plus one other in the shadows: Daddy). Tom is a human-rights lawyer. Jackie is a photojournalist with a disconcerting habit of not taking pictures. Eville is a spec-ops guy. these disparate souls meet up in post-invasion Haiti, where their universes rather spectacularly collide.

Tom and Eville are painted quite completely, with i think pitch-perfect accuracy in their speech, habits, thinking. both get a very sympathetic but not worshipful treatment: it’s definitely not a case of white hats vs. black hats here, whichever hat you’d assign to whichever character. they are both treated as 100% humans–kind, wanting very much to do the right thing, sometimes kind of jerks. just like real humans. the big thing i don’t quite buy in the book is that they are both attracted to Jackie, who is so toxic she’s practically radioactive.

there’s no doubt the author wanted to portray Jackie as a very damaged person–fractured under extreme pressure. and if what had happened to her had happened to you, you’d probably fracture too (i know i would). and bad things do happen to good women, or girls, and taken on that alone i feel that the author did a really fantastic job of portraying a woman who has a permanent address in Hell. in the chapters written more or less from her viewpoint, she comes across as a woman practically heroic in overcoming decades of abuse.

but… but. SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

she is really the only significant female character in the book, and her story is sooooo rapey.

it really bothers me when “victim” is the only character slot for a woman to inhabit (with the usual exceptions of wife/mother/whore, the only other slots available in this book and which are done in very unexceptional ways). it’s not like Jackie has no agency, but her agency has all been appropriated by another, and she does little to resist that.

if an alien read this book, Yt would think that women were a kind of male adjunct: women follow men like plants follow the sun.

and that really, really bothers me.

but in some ways i am not sure it’s a fair criticism with this book. Shacochis does such a fine job of anatomizing her personality, it’s not like she comes across as one-dimensional. and there probably are people who have been fractured as Jackie has been fractured, and react similarly. so is it fair to say a book is flawed because it portrays a fractured person as a fractured person?

i don’t know. i’d be very happy to hear from anybody out there who has read the book, what they think of the Jackie issue.

in any case, it’s definitely a book well worth reading, and one that will stay with me a long, long time.