Searoad, The Chronicles of Klatsand (2004)
by Ursula K. Leguin (1929-)
This novel is told as a set of vignettes centered (mostly) around some of the women of a small Oregon coastal town, from the 1890s to the 1970s. It seems to portray a consistent view of the relations between women and men, in which the women are mainly disappointed, but in a way that is not tragic. The women mainly are stronger (emotionally and morally) than the men, and their expectations of men are not high. Many of them raise one or two children without their husbands participation, though with their own mother’s. The only children who are followed are daughters, with most sons lost to war. The long-term relations are all between mother-daughter pairs, as told in the last part; the first part mainly sets the scene and tone for these women’s stories.
The very last part contains a (short) diatribe against the masculine world of war and domination, which has resulted in a world oriented around money.
The intent seems to be to show that (these) women’s lives are worse for their relations with men, and that these relations are based on domination and power struggle. The relations between the women are less intense, and are more deeply explored. She relies on the view that no person actually understands anyone else, to avoid specifying exactly what anyone thinks about the other people they are relating to. In this way, the men are condemned by innuendo, based on foggy perceptions of their motives and attitudes, beliefs and desires, while the women are praised, based on the same kind of perceptions. There is some allusion to people not really knowing what they want, but not enough exploration of the consequence of this fact. The book contains relatively little action, and relies mainly on mental soliloquy to convey the attitudes of the protagonists.
I found the book interesting, but frustrating. Generally I am sympathetic to her attitudes, as expressed pretty clearly in her two books of essays and talks. But in this novel, I think she misleads her audience. Just as no person actually understands anyone else, no one can know another’s mental voices. I feel this would have been a more persuasive book if the author had let people’s actions speak for them more than their supposed mental speech. It is very easy to manipulate the reader, by presenting a mental voice for which the author is incorrigible, and a more difficult task to present actions (including speech), whose realism every reader can (and does) judge. This approach makes suspect the conclusions drawn from the evidence presented. Nonetheless, I recommend the book as a thought-provoking look at an important subject.