Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Rachel's Holiday

1997, 2012 Penguin edition
Marian Keyes
Rachel's Holiday
Original price unknown, purchase price $5.00
Surprisingly worn paperback considering its age, and I've only read it once

This is definitely the weakest of the "Walsh sisters" series, not only with some of the flaws of Watermelon, but with flaws of its own.  To begin with, this time instead of gratuitous slurs against lesbians and Italians, we've got not-quite-so-gratuitous slurs against lesbians and Latinos.  While Claire just made random insults, Rachel (the middle sister and our "heroine" here) actually seems to be saying that, promiscuous as she is (especially when she's stoned and/or drunk), even she has her limits.  Her roommate Brigit dates Latinos, but Rachel finds them ridiculous and too little.  (And, yes, she's a size queen, in height and penis length, just like Claire, so that when she finally sleeps with her crush Chris, she's disappointed that he's smaller than her ex-boyfriend Luke, of whom more shortly, no pun intended.)

As for the lesbians, Rachel clearly has an unknowledged crush (maybe asexual but still strong) on beautiful, glamourous Nola, but Keyes makes it clear that both Rachel and her mother regard it as more shameful for the neighbour lady to have a lesbian for a daughter than for Mrs. Walsh to have an addict daughter.  Also, there's a New York lesbian, "a beefy, short-haired, moustachioed woman, who answered to the name of Brad" (subtlety is not Keyes's strong point), and who has an acknowledged crush on Rachel.  As Van Leer's Queening of America showed, in his discussion of Heartburn and Breakfast at Tiffany's among other works, sometimes authors will make fun of gays and lesbians to distance their protagonists from their own queerness, a literary sleight-of-hand.

You see, it's not enough that Rachel keep pining for Luke, or at least pining for his attention.  Not only is there much more emphasis on whether or not he loves her than if she loves him, but Keyes makes Luke, a '70s throwback, in the macho, not the sensitive sense: "a Real Man."  While there's a lot about Rachel's lust for him, we also hear about her fear and repulsion.  There's a scene where he "punishes" her for cock-teasing him earlier while high, "men don't like that," by making her strip for him.  She finds this sexy, but it's also clear that she's afraid of him, and it comes across as approaching rape, even if it's "consensual."  (She thinks she should say no, but doesn't.)

Now, some of this may be related to her low self-esteem and addiction.  But he's never held accountable for it, or any of his other mind games, as Brigit is accountable for liking being the saner roomie.  Instead, we keep hearing how "sweet" Luke is, and Nola thinks he's a "dote."  (I hoped at first that was just her mispronouncing "dolt.")  

Even when Rachel is sober, after going through a rehabilitation program that takes up much of the book (with flashbacks throughout), she and her world are as shallow as Suzanne and Hollywood in Fisher's Postcards from the Edge (1987).  Rachel is arguably a more dislikable person, but she does have what Suzanne didn't have, an interesting family.

This is set roughly two years after the events of Watermelon (which came out two years earlier), with Claire now 31, Helen now 20.  Helen is again scene-stealing, although unfortunately we get less of her than before.  We do get our first real glimpses of second-eldest Margaret, "the lickarse," i.e. the dependable sister.  And we see a bit more of Anna, who is a more casual drug-user than Rachel, and apparently the sweetest of the sisters.  (Not that there's much competition.)  The parents aren't as funny as before, even when Dad has a role in Oklahoma, although Mum has a few moments, like when the women are ogling Harrison Ford.

I will say that, Luke aside, the characterisation seems more consistent than in Watermelon.  Admittedly, I didn't really buy it when Rachel, who has a very hard time getting into anyone else's viewpoint, decides she'd like to become a psychologist, but it's less of a leap than Anna's career choice in her book.  But first I'll take a look at Maggie (Margaret) in 2002's Angels....

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