A little while ago my good friend and colleague Libby Anne linked to my Redeeming Love review series and that was just the kick in the pants I needed to get back on the Book Reviewing Horse so here we are.
- Elizabeth Altman is pregnant
- She asks Angel to help her deliver the baby
- Angel decides Michael needs a wife that can have babies
- She leaves for San Francisco, tells Miriam to make Michael happy
The chapters take place over the course of almost a year—this plotline starts in late spring with Angel deciding to leave by early in the next spring. I’m pretty sure that it takes place over this time period so that Francine can get hamfisted with the planting and harvest imagery, as well as with Nativity references for the events around Christmas. I don’t think anyone’s ever accused her of being a subtle writer.
At this point, we are starting to see some significant changes in Angel’s character. Since this is a character-driven book, I’d expect to see these types of things happening at the closing of the second act, which is about where we are. What’s frustrating to me is that the changes are completely uninteresting, and the reason why they’re uninteresting is that Francine is bound by evangelical theologies about morality and gender.
In the beginning, Angel is “bad” because she is bitter and independent, and these are the qualities that need to be changed to make her a “good” character. By chapter 25, Angel is losing her bitterness and independence, and becoming the “Silently Suffering Saint” archetype. I recognized it immediately in this line:
Angel refused to defend herself against Paul. What was the point? She was polite. She was silent. (335)
and this one:
If Paul called her a harlot to her face, she would take it and say nothing. (363)
because as a budding teenager writer I wrote this character over and over again. All my heroines were the Silently Suffering Saint, champions of Inner Resolve and knights of the Moral High Ground, where good women endure endless harms and abuses with Quiet Steadfastness. I was not that person—not even a little bit—but oh how I longed to be. The only time I’ve ever come the close into fitting this mold was in an abusive relationship. I was convinced my abuser was shaping me into the godly woman I could never attain on my own, a woman who takes the hits and “says nothing.”
Later, after I had finally escaped from that abuse, multiple people in my life told me that I would know I was “recovering” from the abuse when I stopped talking about it. This is the pattern we’re seeing in Angel’s character—her goodness is directly related to how much she can shut up and let a man get away with being vicious and cruel to her. We know this is the “right” track for Angel to follow, since we get “he would respect her silence” from Michael a few pages into the chapter (339).
These types of character arcs are just incredibly boring. An Angel that reforms while still retaining her wit, her fire, could be interesting—at the very least, entertaining. Instead, we get the same insipid Martyr character that high-handed morality plays have been trying to sell us on for centuries.
Angel also starts literally hearing the voice of God: a still, small, and yet audible voice that is being hopelessly cryptic. He says to “Come forth, beloved” and when Angel understandably goes “huh?” she gets nothing (336). At one point, a “sweet fragrance filled the darkened cabin” and a voice “fills the room” and says “I am.” She tries to talk back, but “no answer came. No voice filled the stillness” (345). When harvest comes and she’s shucking corn, God tells her “You have to die to be reborn.” Again, Angel’s response is “huh?” but receives nothing more from God (357-58).
We know from the times that Angel listens to Michael talk and read the Bible that all the religious lingo is utterly foreign to her and she can’t make heads or tails of it. She’s having the same reaction to the stuff God is literally saying to her, personally, as when Michael reads the Bible.
This framing of God is consistent with what I got in conservative Christian theology. I was taught that I needed to memorize as much Scripture as I possibly could, because we need to give the Holy Spirit the power to communicate with us, and that comes from having the Word of God “written on the table of our hearts.” If we have Scripture memorized, then anytime we think of a verse we’ve memorized, that’s the Holy Spirit trying to tell us something. Apparently, God is like Mrs. Who from A Wrinkle in Time except unlike her, he can only use biblical allusions instead of the universe’s entire library.
There’s also the concept that only born-again Christians are capable of understanding Scripture. I was taught that the Bible would appear “foolish” to all non-Christians who tried to read it, and that this was why non-believers think the Bible can be criticized and mocked. They don’t have the Holy Spirit guiding them to a true understanding of what the Bible says. Angel can’t understand God because she’s not “open” to receiving his words.
The end result of all this theology ending up in Redeeming Love is that God looks petty and ridiculous.
The primary conflict of this section is that Angel is barren while her neighbor is pregnant, and this is a constant reminder that she will never be able to “give” Michael children and a family of his own. At one point before the baby is born, Miriam tells Angel “[Childbirth] is a woman’s reason for being, isn’t it? Our divine privilege: to bring new life into the world and nurture it” (355).
This sort of statement popping up here makes me suspicious that Christians write an overwhelming amount of historical fiction so that they can get away with forcing their ideology into everything. A teenage girl saying something like in a contemporary setting would be ludicrous, or invoke the assumption that the character is probably cloyingly Old Fashioned. But in a book set during the California Gold Rush, this would be a perfectly ordinary thing to say! (supposedly.)
Point being: this is not just present in Redeeming Love for historical color—it’s there because this is something the author agrees with. Pregnancy and childbirth, according to Francine, is the single purpose God intends a woman to serve. Francine could have chosen a more compassionate path, one that could have brought a lot of comfort and possible healing to women who struggle with both infertility and the constant cultural demand that they incubate offspring or they’re useless. She could have left Angel childless and depicted a happy ending with Angel and Michael that showed that Christians can still be happy even if they aren’t living out the Nuclear Family ideal.
Instead, by the end, Angel is not actually barren. Or she was barren, but God miraculously cures her and she has babies with Michael. She’s given the “divine privilege” of childbirth—which, if this section is to be believed, can happen with a minimal amount of fuss. In fact, if you’re a Good Enough Christian, you can keep sitting in front of the fire, mending your husband’s shirts, until moments before the baby is born! In fact, contractions and labor can be experienced in total silence (there’s that Silent theme again, huh) so that your other kids don’t even know something might be going on with mom!
Everything about this section is eyeroll inducing.