Feminism

Redeeming Love Review: These Boots Are Made for Walking

Plot Summary:

  • Angel continues (physically) healing.
  • Michael takes her to see a sunrise.
  • Later, they have sex for the first time.
  • She tries to leave, but gets lost and has to return to Michael’s farm.

***

As you can see, nothing much actually happens in these three chapters; most of what Francine gives us here is internal emotional struggles happening inside Angel and Michael. From a character development perspective, Francine is focusing on making certain archetypes brutally clear. Up until this point in the book, she’s been focused on the “Hosea” element of Michael’s character, but in these chapters she hits us over the head, frying-pan style, with comparisons of Michael to God and Jesus. He washes Angel’s feet, for one (163), and he’s constantly haranguing her to “put her trust in him” (137).

Francine is not a particularly good writer. This book isn’t the worst thing I’ve read– and it’s passable for the Christian Fiction genre– but this is where she runs into even worse show vs. tell problems than what we’ve seen so far. It’s not that she tells us more than she shows us, it’s that what she tells us contradicts what she shows us.

For example, in Michael’s perspective, we read this:

Most men would have been satisfied to have such a malleable, hardworking wife. Michael was not. He had not married her to have a drudge. He wanted a woman as part of his life– part of himself. (141)

However, all he’s done is tell her that she has to stay there, learn to work, clean, do chores, feed him, and he’s expressly forbidden her from leaving. He won’t even use her name– in fact, in these chapters he calls her Mara, Tirzah, and Amanda. For no reason. He tells her when to sleep. When she wants to sleep, he yanks the covers off her repeatedly, drags her out of bed, and forces her out onto a hike. When walking through the dark is a clearly triggering experience– she even tells him she’s afraid because it’s reminding her of “something that happened” when she was a child– he ignores her and just pulls her through the woods (136-39). A drudge is a “person made to do hard work,” and that’s how Michael has treated Angel for forty pages.

It happens again in Angel’s perspective:

She didn’t like that he didn’t fit any mold she knew; that he kept his word; that he didn’t use her; that he treated her differently from any way she had ever been treated before. (143)

I want to comment on two things happening here. First, it’s not surprising to me that Francine has this problem. In her culture, it is expected for Christian leaders to tell people what and how to think, and how to “correctly” view the things that are happening to them. The Bible, or your pastor, are capable of overriding your own experiences– in fact, they’re supposed to supersede them.  For Francine to expect her readers to listen to her authorial voice over what she’s written the characters actually doing fits right in with that cultural narrative.

Second, the principle struggle for Michael in these chapters is to not have sex with Angel. He goes on long walks in the night, he talks cold baths, he sits by the fire and mopes, all while being “tempted” to have sex with her. All of this is painted as what makes him like Jesus, and a better person than his father (who had the life philosophy that all women want to and deserve to be “dominated” [142]). He’s not having sex with her, and that means that he’s not “using her” and “treating her differently.”

He won’t use her name. He refuses to ever listen to her, about pretty much anything. If she says she wants to do something, like stay in bed, he forces her– bodily– to do what he wants her to do, right that second. He manipulates her– like asking her to collect walnuts because he knows the shells will stain her hands and she won’t try to leave him (148).

But he’s not having sex with her, so he’s a great guy. Again, this point of view is unsurprising. Christian culture is obsessed with sexual “purity” to the point that basically every other concern, including abuse, is tossed by the wayside. As long as people aren’t getting jiggy with it, who cares about whether or not we’re treated with respect, consideration, and kindness?

***

From the opening pages of Redeeming Love, Michael’s been hearing The Voice of God, which appears as bolded text. Well, in these chapters, guess who else starts talking to Michael– and Angel? Satan. He starts encouraging Michael to have sex with Angel, and guess what he starts telling Angel to do:

You have to go back, Angel. You must. You’ll never be free if you don’t … You can build another cabin like this one, and it will be all yours … (145)

Think of having something for yourself. Think of being free. (156)

You’ve got to get out of here! Save yourself and flee! (158)

All of Angel’s impulses toward independence, self-preservation, and freedom are ascribed to Satan. In Francine’s story, Angel wanting to live her own quiet life without interference is an actual literal Devil inside of her head– and of course, to the vast majority of people reading this book, the only logical conclusion is that it would be a sin for Angel to have the freedom she wants– that craving independence is sinful. And, of course, to Francine and her audience, this is all justified because the freedom Satan offers is obviously a lie. Angel can’t truly be free and independent without God … or Michael, who in this telling is both. Considering that the complementarian theology inherent to most of conservative Christian culture almost explicitly conflates the role of God and Husband for women, this is, again, unsurprising.

Interestingly, the fact that they have sex is almost a complete non-event. He makes her say his name over and over again, even though he can tell she doesn’t like it. Apparently this goes along with his “we’ll make love and I’ll show her how sex is REALLY supposed to go!” plan. It backfires because she leaves him the next day– until he tracks her down and finds her bloody and wounded in the rain. But he washes her feet like Jesus so it’s all ok!

Heavens does this book make me furious and sick.

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  • Lily

    Honestly I think the thing that makes me even more sick is the fact that I read this twice when I was younger and didn’t see the strobing red flags. I mean, I know I’ve changed a lot in the last few years but how, how could I missed stuff like this? It should be obvious, you know? Glaringly obvious.

    • I know, me too. How did I not see this? I mean, the only time one of her books bothered me was “The Mark of the Lion,” in which the male lead almost rapes the female lead. Even as a teen, I was quite horrified that it was all a-okay because he wasn’t a Christian and hey, he stopped. (And quite sad because I genuinely liked all the characters in that story). But ugh most of the other stuff that didn’t involve sex slipped right by me.

      • Lily

        I haven’t read any of her other works, but yeah, similar stuff in other books just slipped right by me. :/

    • Sarah S

      Ugh. Me too. No wonder I always had such a fucked up view of myself and what my life was supposed to look like, if this was “good”.

  • Kathleen Margaret Schwab

    I also read it years ago, and didn’t get the problems. No wonder I stayed in a relationship with a controlling Christian man so long.

  • Phil Ledgerwood

    It’s really uncanny how closely the author mimics the biblical story of Hosea. Remember that chapter where he makes Gomer wake up and march through the woods at night? I don’t, either, but it’s probably somewhere near the back.

    In something of a point of correspondence, Hosea tells Gomer they won’t have intercourse, either, but he does this to symbolically act out Israel not having a king or the use of the Temple. I’m very interested to see what truths about national Israel Michael Hosea’s abstinence reveals.

    • Erik K

      Well, since Israel doesn’t have a king or their Temple currently, it’s going to be a long time before they’ll ha-

      Oh, they have sex in this section? Um, never mind.

  • Anna

    It really is weird to look back on this book these days and remember how early teens me didn’t catch any of the ickiness. These days, if I want something romantic and over the top, I prefer Nora Roberts. Her characters are typically a lot better at modeling healthy relationships and consent. I think part of the reason I read Rivers’ books when I was a teenager was because it was a way to read romance novels that had sex in them in some way and feel like it was okay for me to read them, because they were Christian.

  • Ysolde

    Honestly I would report Michael for Spousal abuse and it is so very sad that there are women like Angel in the real world. I’ve seen them in the shelter after the abuse and then they go home again when hubby apologizes and says he’ll change. Really they are going back home because their income and education don’t provide them any freedom from that cycle. All these women want is freedom and though the women’s shelter is a path to that freedom so very many just go back…sighs…I hate men like Michael and wish they were only fiction.

  • bekabot

    All of Angel’s impulses toward independence, self-preservation, and freedom are ascribed to Satan.

    This is directly in line with the conventions of mid-20th-century women’s fiction. Before WWII, writing by and/or for American women was mostly about their aspirations, and before WWI, it was about the struggles of innocence versus experience (Innocence was mostly written as a pure young light-haired girl, while Experience was a dark world-weary ‘sinful’ older woman). But in the years immediately following WWII and including most of the 1950’s, the split between the good blonde girl and the evil brunette adult, though it still survived, was formulated differently. Nobody has ever anatomized the form this split took better than Betty Friedan, so I’m going to quote her analysis from The Feminine Mystique, which has no rival that I know of. Here goes:

    In an earlier time, the image of woman was also split in two–the good, pure woman on the pedestal, and the whore of the desires of the flesh. The split in the new image opens a different fissure–the feminine woman, whose goodness includes the desires of the flesh, and the career woman whose evil includes every desire of the separate self. The new feminine morality story is the exorcising of the forbidden career dream, the heroine’s victory over Mephistopheles: the devil, first in the form of a career woman, who threatens to take away the heroine’s husband or child, and finally, the devil inside the heroine herself, the dream of independence, the discontent of spirit, and even the feeling of a separate identity that must be exorcised to win or keep the love of husband and child.

    (If any of you guys want to read the original from which this quote is culled, turn to Chapter 2 of The Feminine Mystique, which is titled “The Happy Housewife Herione.” Enjoy.)

    IOW, the struggles of Michael and Francine are part of a tradition…but it’s a secular and not a Biblical tradition. Just thought I’d haul out the footnotes to prove it. (Thanks for your time.)

    • I see the same thing in family sitcoms from the 50s/60s. Over and over, a wife is tempted by a career, only to discover that home is where she belongs. Or an episode of “Father Knows Best” in which Betty wants to be an engineer, but everybody laughs and lectures her until she finally “comes to her senses.” I wrote my thoughts on it here after watching it recently: https://nyssashobbithole.com/wordpress/betty-girl-engineer-1950s-sexism/

      • bekabot

        I’m going to read your blog post right now, but first, let me say, that there’s an episode of the Patty Duke Show in which the mother-figure suffers a meltdown, and I mean a real meltdown, but it turns out (by the end of the episode) that all she actually wants is to “be appreciated.”

        (Whoever wrote those episodes back in the ’60’s overshot the mark.)