The Writing On The Wall, by W.D. Wetherell
In 2008, Orson Scott Card, the author of Ender’s Game, published an article which argued against the legal recognition of same-sex marriage. The backlash was immediate. Many people who once professed to be huge fans of the author vowed to never read or buy another of his books. There was plenty of name-calling. And more recently, when it was revealed that Card would be writing for new Superman comics, some comic stores announced they would not stock any future issues. The artist who was to work on the comic quit. DC eventually gave in and scrapped Card’s story altogether. Please stick with me; I’ll connect this to Wetherell’s The Writing on the Wall shortly.
I will not hide what might bias my thoughts here: I’m conservative. And though there are many aspects of this that I could comment on, the thought that inevitably strikes me hardest is this: when it comes to entertainment, liberals are spoiled. For whatever reasons, the creative sphere is undoubtedly dominated by people with strong liberal tendencies. This means that it is completely normal for me to encounter progressive ideas in the fiction I read, and usually these take the form of snide comments about conservatives. I’m not talking about knowing that the author is liberal — I pretty much assume that when I pick up contemporary fiction — I’m talking about actually seeing it in the text (which wasn’t the case with Ender’s Game, by the way). Do I abandon the book, write off the author, and instead cocoon myself in media that agrees with me? Of course not, for four reasons. First, because I believe in seeking to understand and reasonably engaging with viewpoints that differ from mine. Second, because books sometimes rise above their authors’ intentions. Third, because if the author is worth his salt, such things won’t affect the quality of the work itself. And fourth, because I just don’t have that privilege if I want to read widely, and that fourth point is what I’m getting at when I say liberals are spoiled. They have the luxury of boycotting conservative novelists because there are so few of them; they can tune out voices that differ because they aren’t very loud.
Bringing It All Back
Home to this novel by W.D Wetherell: for me, it is an absolute failure. Fiction written with an agenda rarely turns out well. (This is one reason that contemporary “Christian fiction” is usually kind of terrible.) Well, instead of literary, let’s call this book “liberal fiction”. WDW has claimed to have “an extravagant belief in stories”, but, gosh, I can’t possibly discern such a belief through this 2012 novel’s shrieking ideology.
The saddest part is that the frame of the story is pretty compelling. Vera, recovering from some traumatic event unknown to the reader (until the end), retreats to her sister’s fixer-upper house, determined to both rebuild her life and remodel the 100-year-old home. As she removes the layers of wallpaper in the house, she discovers that two women before her, one around 1900 and the other around 1970, have recorded their own personal traumas on the walls before papering over them. Of course, she is ready to make her own confession by the end of the novel. She writes her story on the wall before covering it, perhaps to be found by another pathetic housewife in another 50 years.
Really, that’s a pretty great setup for a book (it would be even better for a horror novel), and the obvious nod to Gilman is appreciated. But the quality of the execution naturally depends on the strength of the stories told by the different women. And it turns out that this is less the tale of three unique and compelling women with strong voices and real stories to tell and more a tour through liberal talking points which uses the women as communication props. The early story, circa 1900, is the least egregious, but it builds with the next (hint: Vietnam) and culminates in Vera’s own story, which was ridiculous and had me in a state of perpetual eye-roll (hint: 2004). The human element in this novel is completely overcome by the agenda, and Wetherell has nothing new to say. It’s too bad, really, since the prose is clean and readable, and it does keep you moving (I blew through it in an afternoon). What a waste of a great concept.