Retraction: Karen Valentine

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Now boys and girls, it's time for everyone's favorite segment of the show in which Steven is required to eat crow. This week's session is Karen Valentine.

I was thinking over what I had said a while ago about Karen Valentine and realized that I had made several errors and hasty decisions and judgments regarding her work. The particular book I was reading was The Haunted Rectory, one I had picked up with the hope of a frisson of delight during the Hallowe'en season. Perhaps part of the reason for my hastiness is that the frisson was a long time coming--in fact, as far as I read it never really did. Whatever the cause, let me explain why I think I was in error. In the course of the work Ms. Valentine introduces us to a character who seemingly blithely had determined in the course of a possibly invalid marriage to a previously divorced person that they would have no children of their own in the course of the marriage. And to the point of the book I had gotten (and that point in the marriage) they had lived true to that determination. This set off the usual alarm bells that can be overly sensitive in those of us who have emerged from that mindset and have determined to entertain that idea no more.

So, where's the error? (1) It is inappropriate to attribute to an author the feelings, idea, or thoughts of any one or any aggregate of the characters they present. Were I to be consistent in this condemnation, I would have to throw away half of Flannery O'Connor, most of Graham Greene, and all of Walker Percy, amongst others. (2) It is inappropriate to assume that the author condones the attitude of the characters, even if there is considerable sympathy on the part of the author for the individual. Once again, consistency would force me to abandon Endo's Silence, Greene's The Heart of the Matter and The End of the Affair and many other worthy works.

Why the error? It's a curious thing--I am less tolerant of this type of thing with regard to my light reading than I am with my "literary" reading. Stuff I read for entertainment must reach higher standards than stuff I read for edification. Part of the reason for that is that I leave much of the critical apparatus and defensive shields out of my light reading. The shields are down so bad ideas have greater influence than they might otherwise have. (This explains, in part, my reaction to The Devil's Advocate.)

I have always been a reader. Fiction is subversive. It shapes the way I view the world in ways far more profound than any piece of nonfiction (other than the Bible) has ever done. Hence, greater caution is required with fiction than with nonfiction. Nonfiction invites skepticism and challenge--fiction invites intimate conversation.

So, I made a blunder, overreacting to a piece of fiction; and that blunder unfairly maligned an author about whom I should have better remained silent. What's done cannot be undone, but at least I can say that it was done in error and one needs to judge each work individually. I sha'n't return to The Haunted Rectory for a great many reasons, and I wouldn't recommend the work; however, I shall attempt other works. Ms. Valentine's writing is stronger and less inclined to some of the sappiness inherent in Jan Karon's work. I like her tight style and the lack of sentimentality that I found in her work. She reminds me more of Philip Gulley than of Jan Karon, and so while all three present a kind of idealized community, I prefer the presentations of Gulley (Quaker) and Valentine than that of Karon.

So, Julie, take that book off the bottom of your stack and put it back on the list. Be vigilant, but enjoy the book. You read quickly enough that Ms. Valentine's novel won't take more than two hours out of your hectic schedule, and it might well be worth it. Sorry for the faulty guidance and next time I'm not talking about a specific work, I will endeavor to be more careful. My apologies to all and most particularly to Ms. Valentine.

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Karen Valentine? I thought she was an actress. I think the show was "Room 222".

Dear TSO,

How odd, my wife pointed out the convergence of names just the other day.



I thought of the same person. Room 222, wow now that's going waaay back for me. :-)

Just noticed ... it's Katherine Valentine. :-)



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on October 26, 2006 7:24 AM.

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