I think I’d feel less anxious about the Sue Allen project if I didn’t feel like no one takes this narrative approach because it’s stupid. I mean, I don’t think it’s stupid. Obviously, I write what I write for two reasons–either to see if I can or because I’d like to read a book like this (or both).
But I like a lot of things other people think are stupid, so I’m just not sure.
I wish I knew how exactly to describe it, but it’s kind of a straightforward third-person fantasy broken up by gossipy digressions about the narrator’s opinions on the Civil War and Inanna and who would get to be in an occult history of Nashville and why and also sometimes broken up by the narrator talking directly to the reader about the narrator and reader’s interactions–as if they, too, have made some kind of incomplete jump to the past–and the reader might need a tour guide.
See? To me that sounds awesome. If someone said to me, “Here’s a book about a women in Nashville who was a medium during Reconstruction and it has all these gossipy digressions about other shit,” I would have that book on hold at the library so quick.
But the question I can’t answer is whether I would then finish reading the book thinking “Oh, yeah, that was cool” or “wow, that was kind of weird and didn’t work.”
I also think, upon reflection while walking the dog, that I’m going to have to combine Jere and Edmund Baxter, because I want Ed to have more to do in the second part of the book. I don’t know. I’m still thinking about it, but I think I can divvy up Jere’s plot points between Ed and Bobby Overton. Sorry, Jere Baxter fans, of which I’m sure there are a few. He still has a high school and a town named after him. He’ll be fine.
I guess I should feel more anxious about that kind of revisionism, but there are already so many names, so many dead people dragging behind those names like morbid bridal trains, that I feel like I need to keep the people heading toward the altar pared down, you know?
I don’t picture it as historical fiction, really. I picture it as a legend, a myth. Leave it to someone else to clear up what really happened.
Which reminds me–at the Metro Archives, in the Allen file, there is a lengthy pissed-off response to The Raven’s Bride by one of Eliza Allen’s however many great-grand nephews that appeared in either theBanner orThe Tennessean, I forget which. And I haven’t read the book, but it appears that the author imagines that Allen was in love with someone else and that that’s why she couldn’t stay married to Sam Houston and the nephew was all pissed off about this because he thought that this claim somehow dishonored Allen.
So, I spent part of the afternoon on Friday just looking up what I could find about Allen. There’s not a lot. But it is clear that something not good happened to her in the very early days of their marriage. Every other speculation–that she was pissed to be brought to Nashville, but then not let actually participate in Houston’s social life, that she was pissed at not being included in his planning, that she was bored and lonely, that he was a miserable drunken lout whoring it up in front of her, etc.–all seem plausible. Hell, it’s plausible that she may have preferred another suitor to him, but he was the Governor of Tennessee so tough shit for her.
But it’s hard not to read what little there is to know of her and not go to a very dark place–that when Sam Houston got drunk, a woman was not safe around him.
I think that’s the truth. I mean, I don’t know. Who knows what goes on in other people’s marriages. I’m just saying that, when you look at what little evidence of her life Allen wasn’t able to destroy, and you look at the fact that she both told people she hated Houston while they were married and that she was really, really nice to him in public, the dots are kind of easy to connect.
I think the fact that his last wife was like “Motherfucker, you will stop drinking if I have to nail you to this floor to make it happen” (obviously, not a direct quote) also points to the fact that he probably wasn’t a man safe for women to be around when drunk.
So, Crook comes along and wants to tell a story that imagines for Allen a possibility in which she wasn’t just a child her dad gave to some drunken asshole who did things to her that were bad enough that, when she ran away, her parents didn’t make her go back (I mean, people, my god, Andrew Jackson tried to talk Houston out of getting married, because marriage didn’t seem to suit him. When Andrew Fucking Jackson is the voice of reason and restraint?! Andrew “Oh, hey, honey, I stole you this kid while I was out genociding his parents” Jackson is all “You know, let’s try to decide before it turns out like shit whether this is a good idea”?! Andrew Jackson, fuck him, really, but for all his faults, and let’s not start listing them, because some of us have to go to work, he liked women. And I am starting to get the impression that he understood that this was not common among his peers.) because it was a good political match, but instead was a woman who could exercise some agency in her life.
If you’re not going to choose the truth, wouldn’t you rather have that story?