2007: 41. Misfortune

“By now, Pharaoh had reached his destination.  A dirty young man of no more than fifteen years, he stood at the door of a crooked house in an alley, out of breath, gasping for air and wondering what to do.”

Misfortune, Wesley Stace

Wesley Stace is also known as the musician John Wesley Harding, and this is his first novel.  I picked it up in hardcover at the reduced price table at Barnes and Noble, remembering a review I’d read somewhere of it.  Its an odd story - a Dickensian type novel about topics that Dickens would never have touched.  It tells the story of Rose Loveall and Love Hall.  Rose is an orphan who is found on the streets as a newborn, and adopted by Lord Loveall, the effeminate heir of Love Hall.  With some fancy footwork, and a quick marriage to the Hall’s female librarian, Lord Loveall passes off Rose as his heir.  The one small problem is that he is convinced Rose is a girl, like his beloved deceased sister Delores, and Rose is most definitely a boy.  The new Lady Loveall, a feminist scholar who doesn’t believe in gender, goes along with the scheme.  Things are fine when Rose is a child, but all hell breaks loose when he hits puberty.  The book captures all of this, and Rose’s fall from grace, and ultimate success at the end.

It’s a weird book.  The beginning is quite good, once you get over the initial suspension of disbelief, as Stace is nicely able to capture the tone of a Victorian novel, with its digressions and details, its villains and heros.  Then, all of a sudden (right around when Rose’s true gender is exposed to the evil extended family), the book falls apart.  The leisurely nineteenth century pace is dropped, and events are rushed through and glossed over.  All of a sudden Rose is in Turkey, and we have no idea how he got there.  There is some interesting stuff with Rose battling with who he is and what his gender should be (let’s just say that Stace is a nurture, not nature guy), and the book ends with a nice Victorian melodramatic coincidence, which is nice.  But I couldn’t get over the baffling middle section - it was as if Stace got tired of his own story for a while, and rushed through it.  It would have been just as effective to skip the sojourn to the Turkey then to give it such glancing attention.  However, this was Stace’s first novel, and I would certainly consider reading his second, to see what a more practiced hand could do.

Recommended for: Gender theorists; People who like Victorian pastiches with modern twists; John Wesley Harding fans.

Date/Place Completed: 3/21/07, D.C.

Categories: Fiction

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017