SPOILER ALERT—if you plan on reading The Diviner’s Tale, by Bradford Morrow, and don’t want to know about key plot points, do not read this post.
All righty, then, we’re all here, and all agreed that we’d like to discuss the book in detail, and not worry about things like giving away the plot? Good–here we go.
First, just to get us all up to speed, I just finished reading The Diviner’s Tale, by Bradford Morrow. The Blood-Red Pencil wanted a review focused on a central aspect of the book–its point of view. In this case, the point of view is that of the female protagonist, Cassandra, water diviner and sometimes teacher, single mother, and daughter of a water-divining father and a schoolteacher mother. Cassie is a woman. The author of the book, Bradford Morrow, is a man.
The Blood-Red Pencil was particularly interested in my thoughts on how convincingly Morrow manages to create a female character, given that, as far as we know, he has no firsthand experience in this area. As I pointed out in my review–and if you’re interested in a less personal response to The Diviner’s Tale I’d suggest you pop over to the Blood-Red Pencil and check out my review there–I spent a great deal of the book thinking that he hadn’t managed to pull it off.
The central character and story-teller, Cassie, has little or no physical reality. We get a few clues–she’s thinner than not, and has curly red hair–but I spent most of the book with no sense of her as a physical being. Even worse, there’s a great deal of ambiguity about how far we should trust Cassie’s version of things. She herself wonders about that, and in fact spends a great deal of energy in trying to be “normal” and see and sense only what everyone around her does. Certainly, just about everyone except for her diviner father and her sons seems to believe that she’s crazy.
It was frustrating, and puzzling, because other aspects of the book–the settings, descriptions of divining–were masterfully drawn. It wasn’t until I reached the last quarter of the book, where Cassie relates seeing her idolized older brother involved in a girl’s fatal fall, only to have her father tell her that what she saw wasn’t real, I began to understand. And when she at last acknowledges to herself that one of her brother’s friends raped her immediately following her brother’s death, and then pretended to have rescued her, it all made sense.
In describing the experience, Cassie says, “…whatever had happened had already begun to cloak itself in a mist of unreality.” She doesn’t forget, but she’s a child. She’s been told a certain sequence of events is “real.” When her own sequence doesn’t tally, it “slid[es] into a deviation far out of the stream that was my life.”
A good friend of mine who once observed similar “unreal” events described the process as “misfiling.” The event is not forgotten, but it is “filed” under another name–“things I saw because I was snoopy,” or, as in my own case, “things that happened to me because I had been bad.” As such, the events acquire a freight of shame, unreality, and guilt all out of proportion to the victim’s actions.
Likewise, Cassie’s apparent inability to see and describe herself echoes my own experience–as a child who grew up in a home where molestation was happening, and being concealed under a very different external reality, I, too, found safety in invisibility–to the point where, as Cassie apparently does, I have found it impossible to hold onto a clear image of myself. I look in a mirror, and understand that I am seeing “me,” but describing myself is impossible. Furthermore, I have lived most of my life in the kind of clothes that Cassie prefers–men’s flannel shirts and jeans–something we only discover about her after she has regained her own reality, and found with it her Self as a woman.
The piece that anchors the picture of Cassie as a traumatized child who is never allowed to own the true nature of her pain is a detail that is easy to miss–it’s related in a conversation her sons describe. They tell Cassie that the sons of the man who raped her as a child have quoted their father saying that she is “psycho.”
It sounds like a small thing, and not really to different from what most of the town believes. But when I read that I found myself remembering my father’s response when I asked him questions about my own childhood memories. “You’ve always had a weak grip on reality,” he told me, smiling. And then he went to his Bible study group and told them that “the girls are mad and saying awful things because they think we made them work too hard.”
My father and Roy Skolar, the child rapist in the story, operate out of the same sense of self preservation, launching a pre-emptive strike to discredit their victims, lest their victims ever become their accusers.
Ultimately, Cassie gets validation when a construction crew unearths the bones of Roy Skolar’s other victims. She accepts her own painful past, saves Roy Skolar’s latest victim, accepts her extra-normal abilities, “tells herself,” and even moves on to renew an apparently healthy relationship with a childhood sweetheart. And she lives happily ever after, secure in her own reality, and in her self. In short, she does what she needs to do to make peace with her past, and move into a present and future.
The Diviner’s Tale is about a woman struggling to understand and accept herself, and her remarkable abilities. But even more, it is an answer to all those who consider child abuse something that can be “put behind you,” “forgiven,” “let go,” “in the past,” without ever being acknowledged, and understood in the context of the adult self. Cassie never dons a dress, wears her hair loose, or in any other way celebrates her self as a woman until after she has acknowledged and “told” herself–expressed her own reality and had it acknowledged and its affects understood by those whose opinions matter to her. Furthermore, her self-knowledge is essential to stopping the dangerous cycle that threatens yet another child, Laura.
In the end, The Diviner’s Tale is less about divining water than it is about divining one’s true self, and having that internal reality validated by those whose opinions matter. Cassie is fortunate. The bulldozers unearth Roy Skolar’s victims in time for her to gain enough credibility to rescue Laura. But what about those of us who are less fortunate, whose families prefer the comfort of denial, who refuse to understand that pain and shame experienced and denied in childhood can wreak havoc on the adult’s sense of self? What about those of us who are advised to “get over it,” without anyone ever being willing to acknowledge what “it” is?
The Diviner’s Tale has left me with the comfort of knowing that I am not alone in my experience–and with validation for my own efforts at “telling myself.” I don’t often see myself more clearly after reading a novel, but this time, I do. So, back to the initial question–does Bradford Morrow succeed in speaking convincingly as a woman? In my opinion, the answer is a resounding “yes.” He not only speaks convincingly in a woman’s voice, but in a particular woman’s voice. The very ambiguity that haunts much of the book becomes chillingly convincing once we, like Cassie, have ‘divined’ the events which have shaped her. In the end, Cassie is as real as I am–maybe a bit moreso.
The Diviner’s Tale is available at Amazon and at your favorite bookstores. I’d suggest you pick up a copy, posthaste. In my opinion, the craftsmanship in this book, and the fact that it rewards thought, comparison, and examination moves it out of the realm of popular fiction and into the realm of literature.