There’s something irresistible about free books, especially when they are found in unexpected places – in this case, spotted while leaving a farm market. You rush to the bookshelf and peruse the titles with a singularity of purpose rarely known on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Title after title of self help books and guides to spiritual enlightenment only makes that rare find just so much more desirable – a recognizable name, a unique premise, anything that indicates that this book might be … well, if not amazing, at least tolerable. Really, the most mundane books seem like absolute gems when found in such a situation.
That is how I came across “Here on Earth” by Alice Hoffman. I had no real expectations regarding the book’s quality – I knew the author’s name, but it was there, it was free, and there wasn’t anything more appealing to be had.
The book’s most glaring flaw is its basic premise – I just can’t see how it is necessary to have a modern Wuthering Heights. The gothic exaggerations and extravagances just don’t translate well to the modern world. There is a certain absurdity that the author seems insensitive to. Reading the book was a relatively painless experience – I cringed occasionally at some overly sentimental attempts at poetry, but couldn’t complain much about how the book moved along through the story. The characters were hard to understand, a bit forced – but what else could you expect from such an attempt? I really think it best to just leave Wuthering Heights when and where it belongs.
What makes the book so difficult is that you can’t understand the actions of the characters. It becomes clear what the author wishes. After all, we’ve all heard that no one can understand why abused persons go back to their abusers, why they blame themselves, etc. Yet there seems to be a fear to actually go there, to actually try to understand – it is simply easier to make the abuser come across as completely inhuman, to make the relationship seem entirely about sex, to not even try to convey that there might have been lovable traits in the person who behaved in such a monstrous way. Hoffman tries to get close, tries to show how hard it is to leave, but backs off from uncomfortable truths and wants to make absolutely sure that no one can maintain the slightest hint of sympathy for the abuser. As a result, the actions of the main character are completely incomprehensible – there seems to be no love there at all. And all the characters come across as just a bit flatter as a result.
I also disliked the stereotypical depiction of the rebellious daughter who falls in love with a horse and gradually discards her coating of toughness.
This does make me want to reread Wuthering Heights, give it another chance. I can’t remember it clearly enough to make the comparison. Certainly, the tale fits more in the gothic atmosphere than the more realistic style of modern writing. But I think more important to the failure of the modern retelling is the lack of a realization that one can sometimes feel something for the villain – that embedding even the worst characters with basic humanness makes the story more gripping and its effect more lasting. We don’t have to like them in the end or agree with their actions – but if we don’t recognize them as human, where does the story take us?