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An American nightmare ended

The death of a nation’s nightmare

is cause enough to celebrate,

especially if it wasted

forty-nine years of the culture.

Irrational Roe is damned by Dobbs.

Let every prolifer rejoice!

The refused and voiceless unborn child

is vibrant with his or her voice.

And we in this prolife nation

are binding the demons of choice

and voting red in elation.

6 July 2022

Categories
Book reviews

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun (Vintage International, 2021)

Interesting casual reading, functioning as a warning for parents against genetic editing of their children and for children not to rely on “Artificial Friends” for companionship.

Ishiguro has depicted once again a dystopian world like his Never Let Me Go which entertains, but serves the didactic function of literature more.  The novel is an admonition for parents, showing the negative effects of “uplifting” their children by genetic editing.  The work also serves to caution children and young adults not to rely on the AFs (Artificial Friends) created for them.

One thinks immediately of the hundreds or thousands of “friends” whom many young people have on social media services like Facebook or Twitter.  Is the art of friendship so lost among our youth that they rely on the sanitized profiles of anyone on the Internet?

One part of the plot is weak and implausible.  Klara, the AF for the human Josie, plans to destroy only one machine which she thinks will help stop the pollution that she thinks is responsible for making her human feeble.  Since AFs are supposed to be intelligent, if Klara were that intelligent, wouldn’t she know that much more would be necessary to save the life of her human?  Despite this weakness, the narrative proceeds strongly enough so that the reader doesn’t know with certainty until page 243 that being “lifted” means that children are enhanced by “genetic editing.”

Is the moral of the novel, then, that it’s perfectly human for kids to be stupid?  Not necessarily.  Besides, if any parent wants STOOPID kids, then he or she will send his or her children to public schools and then leftist colleges or have them vote Democrat.

There are, however, two conclusions one can reach from the novel.

First, work with the abilities that children naturally have.

Second, yank those damned Xbox and phones saturated with social media apps out of kids’ hands and then kick the kids out of the house to play in the back yard with other children.

A penultimate thought: religious readers will see through the stupidity of those adults who come close but never near enough to recognize that human beings have souls.  Witness the following passages where characters hint at that bit of immortality given to them by God yet never reach it:

“Our generation still carry [verb tense in original] the old feelings.  A part of us refuses to let go.  The part that wants to keep believing there’s something unreachable inside each of us.  Something that’s unique and won’t transfer.  But there’s nothing like that, we know that now”  [….]  It’s not faith you need.  Only rationality” (207, continuing on unpaginated 208)

Similarly, Josie’s father seems to think that the “human heart” is “Something that makes each of us special and individual” (215).

Dear God, are there that many people in the reading public who can’t understand religious language?

A final thought: the last paragraph in the novel, which shows Klara in a junkyard, waiting for a construction crane to take her away, is sheer pathos since Klara seems more human than the human characters.

Categories
Papers Presentations

Case Study of Contemporary Abortion Fiction: Applying Right-to-Life Literary Theory to Lisabeth Posthuma’s Baby & Solo

Abstract:  This study examines Lisabeth Posthuma’s Baby & Solo, a contemporary abortion novel (2021) geared for the young adult audience.  After applying principles of some of the major literary theories used to explicate literature, the five questions of right-to-life literary theory are used to evaluate the life-affirming content of the work.

          Many contemporary abortion novels geared for the young adult audience are written by authors who openly profess their support of the anti-life movement, particularly the abortion enterprise Planned Parenthood.  One thinks, for example, of Christine Heppermann’s Ask Me How I Got Here (Greenwillow Books, 2016) or Bonnie Pipkin’s Aftercare Instructions (Flatiron Books, 2017).  Absent an explicit affirmation of abortion in her author’s biographical statement either on the book jacket or following the text, however, Lisabeth Posthuma’s Baby & Solo (Candlewick Press, 2021) may be an exception to the rule.

          Posthuma’s Baby & Solo is a well-written, complex work of fiction which follows a template which authors have used for decades to structure their abortion plots, consisting of a mother who wishes to abort and a young man who joins her in the journey motif of locating an abortionist willing to do the killing.  Posthuma’s novel, however, alters the template by describing the odyssey of a male teen, Joel Teague, who presents to the reader a possible case of a gender identity problem; this young man befriends a teen mother, Nicole Parker, who seems to accede to the abortion killing at first, but who ultimately rejects it.

          Posthuma’s rendition of the standard abortion plot has achieved some popularity.  [slide 3]  Amazon shows that Posthuma’s novel has earned a rating of 4.8 out of 5 with 59 customer reviews.  Although the novel ranks #835,186 in the best sellers category, it occupies spot #1,486 in the “Teen & Young Adult LGBTQ+ Fiction” category, #1,052 in “Teen & Young Adult Fiction about Death & Dying”, and #507 in the category “Teen & Young Adult Fiction on Depression & Mental Health”—all respectable numbers for a novel published in May 2021 (“Baby and Solo”).  Moreover, Goodreads.com gives the book a 4.38 rating from a wider field of 504 ratings (“Baby & Solo”).[1]

          The above brief summary of Posthuma’s work does not, nor should it, satisfy contemporary readers living in a fast-paced culture as ours who want to spend their time wisely.  That is, readers want to spend time on reading contemporary fiction to accommodate the ancient principles not only of entertaining them, but also of educating them.  Thus, contemporary literary theories can expand readers’ appreciation of a given literary work by offering different perspectives from which the work can be viewed.

[slide 4]  This study will consider some aspects of twelve of the more common literary theories used in the academy to help students appreciate contemporary fiction: archetypal or Jungian criticism, biographical criticism, critical disability studies, critical race theory, deconstruction, feminist literary criticism, formalist criticism, gender criticism (gay and lesbian or queer studies), historical criticism, Marxist literary criticism, psychoanalytic criticism, and reader-response criticism.[2]

Archetypal or Jungian criticism

          An archetypal or Jungian critic could focus on the age, religious, and employment stereotypes of Posthuma’s characters: young people who are seemingly irreligious and who work in a 1990s video store.  The archetypal elements of the novel are enhanced by the unique naming strategy of the store’s employees; instead of using their real names when dealing with customers, the workers must identify themselves by names of movie characters whom they admire.  Thus, Joel Teague is known as the Star Wars hero Han Solo throughout the novel.  The young woman whom he befriends, Nicole Parker, becomes Baby; it is ambiguous whether she is named because she was admonished not to be a “baby” about associating herself with a film character or whether she is named after the character Baby in the film Dirty Dancing (which, appropriately, further alludes to the abortion element in that iconic film’s plot).

This unique naming strategy demonstrates a cross-fertilization of literary theories at work in the novel.  Joel’s identity as Han Solo suggests the personality of the hero character of the Star Wars film, which further suggests the psychological component of a human being identifying himself more with a fictional character than his own ordinary humanity.  Similarly, that Nicole becomes Baby indicates not only the archetypal standard of an infant (helpless, reliant on parents, and ostensibly the object of love from those parents), but also a key principle of anti-life feminist literary criticism (that a woman’s life is subordinate to the life of an unborn child, especially if that child is unwanted).

Biographical criticism

          A biographical critic would wonder what connection the plot has with Lisabeth Posthuma’s life.  The author’s website contains two biographies written for “the press”, both of which may appeal to the young adult audience for whom she writes, but, for biographical literary critics, present significant obstacles since the humor of the biographies obscures the facts of the author’s life.  [slide 5]  For example, “Press Bio 1” succinctly conveys only the author’s likes:

Lisabeth Posthuma is a devotee of obscure documentaries about drive-ins, a lover of rotary telephones, and a trophy-winning champion of TV trivia. She lives in Michigan with her two parakeets, Tiki Bon Jovi and Alaska Riggins. Her favorite story is probably Frankenstein.  (“Media”)

[slide 6]  “Press Bio 2” provides more biographical information, some of which justifies a one-to-one correspondence with the novel under examination:

Lisabeth Posthuma was a high school teacher, a photographer, and most importantly, a video rental clerk before becoming a writer.  She holds an English degree from one of those really expensive private liberal arts colleges that no one can afford (including her).  She grew up obsessed with teen soaps, which her therapist says explains a lot, and likes to brag about that one time she attended the cast party for The OC.  Orange is her favorite color because in first grade no one chose it, and she felt sorry for it.  She currently lives in Michigan where the winters are too long.[3]  (“Media”)

Readers who like to determine whether aspects of an author’s life informed his or her work would find the above entries challenging.

          Even more challenging for the abortion-minded (either anti- or pro-life) biographical critic, determining Posthuma’s position on the first right-to-life issue is difficult.  Some bloggers, like Kelly Jensen, have jumped to the conclusion that Posthuma is promoting an anti-life perspective.[4]  However, the excerpt which Jensen includes on her blog post wherein Posthuma discusses abortion as a topic in young adult fiction is ambiguous.

[slide 7]  Knowing abortion affects so many people who make up the young adult demographic, it’s a disservice not to acknowledge the subject’s necessary place in YA media.  Though public discourse about abortion continues to be divisive and heated, young adult content creators can provide our audiences with low-stakes avenues through which to wrestle with their difficult feelings about difficult subjects.  Realistic fiction is a valuable gateway to rediscovering the lost art of uncertainty, for recognizing the gray within the false narrative of a black-and-white world.  In fact, it might be the most fertile soil for empathy to grow in.

[slide 8]  I’m learning that the hypothetical is the safest space to feel unsure.  It’s seemingly the only place where there’s no urgency to form the “right” opinion.  It’s where people can privately challenge their own thoughts, explore nuances, and ultimately grow in their understanding about the issues that affect them.  I wish that at thirteen I’d had more safe places to contemplate issues like abortion, but I didn’t.  As an adult, however, I’m grateful that I can join with other writers who want [to] change things for this generation’s YA audience.  I am hopeful that as abortion continues to be a relevant subject, even more authors will seize the opportunity to create these spaces for teens, too.

Posthuma’s language affirms neither the anti- nor the pro-life sides of the controversy, but reads merely as a defense of freedom of speech, arguing for the inclusion of controversial issues in literature for young adults so that they can explore those issues freely.  In fact, one can argue that Posthuma’s argument would benefit anti-lifers more than pro-lifers.  Since pro-abortion persons have blocked themselves from a life-affirming choice, anti-lifers can use works which have a life-affirming content as sites “where [they] can privately challenge their own thoughts, explore nuances, and ultimately grow in their understanding about the issues that affect them.”

Critical Disability Studies

Those who use critical disability studies would offer much to enhance readers’ appreciation of Posthuma’s characters.  Although no character has a physical disability, all suffer from emotional and psychological trauma.  Joel’s supervisor at the video store, Scarlet, suffers from post-abortion syndrome, which most likely accounts for her being so angry later in the novel that Baby is giving birth to her unborn child.  Joel’s psychological trouble, documented throughout the novel, is sometimes described in language which suggests that emotional trauma has a physical effect.  [slide 9]  When he describes the impact that his brother’s suicide at age sixteen had on him, Joel’s language conveys more physical disability than psychological: “It wrecked me.  It broke me in half.  And it ruined my fucking life” (368).

          Moreover, it is interesting that there are many instances where a character’s psychological problems are described with religious imagery.  For example, when he confides his mental illness to Baby, Joel compares the disclosure of such personal information to a key sacrament: “I ended my confession” (226).  The confusion between psychotherapy and religion is repeated when Joel mentions that his mother brought him to a priest for an exorcism regarding his mental illness.  Joel’s father spends Sundays “at the nearest AA meeting” (unpaginated 83).

Critical Race Theory

          Proponents of critical race theory would face a severe challenge in applying their literary theory to Posthuma’s novel, except for one crucial element: all the characters are white, which could be construed either as white oppression of minorities or, a particularly egregious form of oppression, a perception that abortion does not concern minority groups.  Pro-life activists, of course, know otherwise and have been alarmed at the abortion rates of African-American and Latina mothers, so critical race theory could offer much to draw the reading public’s attention to the genocide against minorities which is legalized abortion.  However, since most critical race theory proponents are politically leftist and since a prime political strategy of the leftist movement is to secure the abortion policies of the Democratic Party, one fails to see how critical race theory could abandon its pro-abortion focus and recognize that abortion is significantly reducing minority populations.

Deconstruction

          A deconstruction literary critic could delve into several statements which demonstrate the essential concern of the theory, the instability of language.  When he realizes that he is a tabula rasa at the video store, Joel implicitly affirms the idea that language is not an essential element of being human; he enters his employment at the video store and, by extension, his life, without language, without any markers common to all humans, without the vocabulary necessary for human beings to function in the world.

The word play which deconstructionist critics delight in can be further evidenced even when the characters use the language common to all English speakers.  When Indiana Jones, the father of Baby’s unborn child, gives an envelope to Joel to forward to Baby, saying that Baby is “expecting something” (34), the reader is uncertain to what the term “something” refers.  (The pun on “expecting” adds further delight to the expression.)  It is only later that the reader understands that the “something” is not a thing at all, but an unborn human being, Baby’s child.  It would be interesting for a pro-abortion deconstructionist critic to consider the pro-life implications of this passage on the further erosion of language, an effort to which deconstructionists have contributed, since the goal of destabilizing the language affects the human relationships which the language denotes.

Feminist Literary Criticism

          Applying feminist literary criticism to the novel seems obvious, given the plot details; this novel does, after all, concern abortion, the quintessential political issue for a feminism which is fast becoming irrelevant because of its refusal to recognize the right to life.  Besides that, the traditional concerns of anti-life feminist literary criticism (the oppression of women, the dominance of patriarchy putting women in a “subject” position, and even newer phrases of feminist theory such as heteropatriarchal oppression) become feeble concerns, given the independent women depicted in the novel and the men who are either weak because they accede to the women’s desires or have same-sex attraction.  For example, Joel does not question Baby’s request to drive her to an abortion clinic, and his father is obviously not “the man” in the house; Joel’s mother has significantly more dialogue and controls the family more than his father.

However, whatever attention a feminist literary critic could give the novel must face the many life-affirming statements from women characters, which will be discussed in the section on right-to-life literary theory below.

Formalist Criticism

          Formalist critics would appreciate the irony, let alone ignorance, of several characters’ statements, which manifest their attitude towards religious values.  For example, responding to Baby’s claim that he could have objections to abortion, Joel asks, “What kind of morals would I have if I made a girl take a cab to her own abortion?” (59).  While non-religious contemporary readers may not see the irony in such a statement, educated readers would immediately understand that the rhetorical question which Joel offers indicates his warped values; not driving a mother to an abortion clinic is not a moral concern of greater priority than stopping that mother from having her child killed in an abortion clinic.

          Since they are intensely aware of the unity of a literary work, formalist literary critics would revel in the progression of the novel from its exposition; to several crises; to climax moments not only regarding the relationship between Joel and Baby, but also Joel and the integration of his seemingly fragmented self; and ultimately to the denouement, where all the remaining issues in the novel are resolved as neatly (and happily) as a compact mystery novel.

Gender Criticism (Gay and Lesbian or Queer Studies)

          Gender criticism, also called gay and lesbian or queer studies, would focus on a variety of elements evident in Posthuma’s work.  For example, from the beginning of the novel, Joel expresses his desire to be “Normal” (5; capitalization in original).  Even though the novel is set in 1996, contemporary readers must deal with the connotations of the word signifying not merely the mean of opposing standards, but also the possibility of characters having same-sex attraction which was emerging as a force against heterosexual normativity in the 1990s and which, for the contemporary reader in 2022 and beyond, is the dominant social construct, forcing people against their moral principles to accept gay and lesbian sexual activity as equivalent with heterosexual activity.

Historical Criticism

          A reader aware of the tenets of historical criticism would have much to say regarding the setting of Posthuma’s novel.  Why Posthuma would place her characters in the 1990s in an outdated technological industry with characters who have no ambition and, apparently, no transferrable skills once technological advances destroy their livelihoods are matters which a historical literary critic could resolve.  Posthuma herself explains that she set the novel in the 1990s for two reasons: first, doing so helps us understand the history behind social issues which began in that decade and which persist today, and, second, she happens to like this period of twentieth-century literature; she states that she is “obsessed with twentieth-century pop culture” (Author).

Absent the expressed opinions of the author, of course, a historical literary critic might conjecture that Posthuma places the action in August 1996 because that time may have been the “golden age” of pro-abortion history.  Clinton had been in the White House for a disastrous four years, trying to force his pro-abortion policies on the nation and the world, rolling back the pro-life advances of Presidents Reagan and Bush.  In a few months, he would be reelected, and the pro-life community would suffer through four more years of a virulently pro-abortion president.  Abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood were receiving federal tax dollars.  A vibrant anti-life activism was emerging in academia as professors and the media became more strident in their support of abortion.  No wonder some abortion-minded writers chose the decade of the 1990s as the setting for their works.

Marxist Literary Criticism

          If they are not blinded by support for abortion, Marxist literary critics could isolate the financial transactions in the novel as evidence of underlying power structures at work in the characters’ lives.  One such passage of the display of economic power is especially telling in terse prose.  While Joel seems oblivious to the meaning behind the money in the envelope that Joel received from Indiana Jones, Baby immediately realizes that the money is meant not to assist her in giving birth to the unborn child, but to procure an abortion.  Joel stupidly remarks not in irony but in bland reportage that “Somehow this was enough information for Baby to figure out the answer, because a few seconds later she said, ‘Oh’” (44).  Baby’s single-term interjection demonstrates that she has more wherewithal than Joel in perceiving the choices available to her.

Furthermore, a Marxist literary critic would also point out the competing ideologies at work in the unstated conversation(s) which must have occurred between Baby and Indiana Jones, the father of the unborn child.  Unlike other abortion novels, where the mother confronts the father with news about her pregnancy and engages in a dialogue about options for or against abortion, Posthuma’s novel contains no such encounter.  In Marxist terminology, Baby must have tendered her ideology to Indiana Jones, who must then have countered her belief about the possibility of raising the unborn child with him with his own worldview of being single and unfettered by the responsibility of caring for a child or the child’s mother.  Indiana Jones’ proffer of a packet of money to be used for the abortion closes any option other than his desire to maintain his ideology, the single life and its economic status that he wishes to maintain.  The absence of the exchange between the ideologies can thus be construed in Marxist terms as one economic power struggle dominating another, Indiana Jones’ ideology winning the struggle.

Psychoanalytic Criticism

          The repertoire of concepts from psychoanalytic criticism would generate much interesting, albeit contorted reading.  The reader quickly becomes aware that the character Crystal may be Joel’s alter ego, and, if so, the disintegration of personality can be appreciated by a study of psychological concepts inherent in the theory.[5]  Furthermore, Joel’s stipulative definition of “the girl you sometimes hallucinate is more in line with a schizoaffective disorder” (45) is a small bit of literary evidence that Freud’s ideas have continued force in contemporary literature.

          Of course, as the common knowledge perception renders it, psychoanalytic literary criticism is heavily based on Freudian theories and is often reduced to (in the classroom, certainly) an analysis of phallic and yonic imagery evident in a literary work.  The novel does not disappoint the more salacious aspects of this theory by providing some instances of phallic imagery which should titillate, if not educate, the eager young minds reading the novel for intellectual pleasure.  For example, when Joel says, “After a few minutes outside in subzero temperatures, my balls retracted into my body, and I was able to think about what had just happened with my brain instead of my dick” (unpaginated 260), an adult reader might guffaw at the adolescent use of vulgarisms, while a young adult reader, the novel’s target audience, may think that the passage demonstrates how relevant and “hip” the character and the author are.

Reader-Response Criticism

          Reader-response critics can use one key concept of the theory to assist contemporary readers to appreciate the novel more: the idea of the competent reader.  Unless they are active members of pro-life groups, readers in 2022 may be unaware of the long history not only of abortion in the United States, but also of the pro-life efforts to restore the first civil right to life.  Perhaps this accounts for Baby’s complete ignorance of pregnancy support groups which flourished during the anti-life Clinton administration to assist mothers like herself who are unmarried and abandoned by their lovers because of untimely pregnancies.  Similarly, contemporary 2022 readers may be ignorant of the large body of literature which, by 1996, had already countered anti-life claims.  The absence of any pro-life entity in the novel makes it seem as though the pro-life movement was non-existent.[6]  Whether this lack of knowledge is deliberate on the author’s part to show the ignorance of the characters or whether the ignorance is an effort by the author to ignore the pro-life movement’s effects on anti-life culture are research questions proper to a detailed biographical literary critic’s study.

Right-to-Life Literary Theory

          Even the above applications of contemporary literary theories should not suffice for readers who want to learn more about Posthuma’s novel, however, since all contemporary literary theories are deficient in two areas: first, they focus only on one aspect of human life; second, they fail to address several key questions which precede any literary discussion, all of which concern the value of human life.

          The archetypes that archetypal or Jungian criticism stresses are not the paramount concern of human life, nor are the details about an author’s life, the focus of biographical criticism.  Whether one is able-bodied or differently abled as Critical Disability Studies suggests is important, but not the essential criterion of being human.  Nor is the race of a human being as Critical Race Theory demands, or the stability of the language that deconstruction is concerned with, or the gender of a human being as feminist literary criticism or gender criticism demands.  The milieu in which a human being lives, the focus of historical criticism, is important but not a defining element of human life, nor is the economic status of a human being as Marxist literary criticism suggests, nor is the psychological state of that human being as psychoanalytic criticism asserts.  Finally, both formalism and reader-response criticism, both of which focus on the literary work itself, either by examining the words themselves or the reader’s understanding of those words, falter as comprehensive literary theories since reading and writing, albeit key markers of human activities, are not essential for the existence of human life.

          [slide 10]  Since these literary theories are all deficient, applying right-to-life literary theory should enhance discussion of Posthuma’s novel because the five questions which the theory asks address foundational matters about human life before any written work can be produced which illustrates some aspect of that life.

The Pricelessness of Human Life

          First, does the literary work support the perspective that human life is, in the philosophical sense, a good, some “thing” which is priceless?  There is overwhelming evidence in the novel that this first question of right-to-life literary theory can be answered affirmatively.  (This sets aside the principle that whether the author herself is anti- or pro-life is beside the point; she has written a work which per se is a life-affirming artifact.)  Joel’s wish at the beginning of the novel to be “Normal” (5; capitalization in original) is itself an affirmation of human life.  So, too, is Baby’s response to receiving the envelope of cash from Indiana Jones for an abortion.  Her simple interjection “Oh” (44) implies sadness obviously that the father of the child does not want to help her either give birth to the baby and release him or her for adoption or give birth and help her raise the child; her simple interjection, therefore, is a further testament to her valuing human life as priceless.

Respect for the Individual’s Paramount Right to Life

          Second, does the literary work respect the individual as a being with inherent rights, the paramount one being the right to life?  This question can be answered affirmatively, thanks to the gender dysphoria topic which the novel incudes as a subplot, but which is not crucial for this discussion of the first life issue of abortion.  The gender confusion which Joel’s brother, Brian, experienced at a young age until his suicide at sixteen illustrates a philosophical position which the pro-life community has adopted since its inception: that one’s right to life is not predicated on age (whether at the moment of fertilization or beyond birth), location (in or out of the womb), condition of dependency (able-bodied or not), or sex (whether the unborn child is male or female).  Posthuma’s novel, then, comports with the pro-life perspective that, even though he committed suicide as a teenager, it was correct for Brian to have been born, if only to try to resolve his gender dysphoria.  The novel further shows that Brian’s life, although brief, had a severe effect on someone who loved him deeply, his brother Joel, who declared that Brian’s suicide “wrecked me.  It broke me in half.  And it ruined my fucking life” (368).

Heterosexual Normativity and the Integrity of the Family

          Third, if the literary work covers the actions of a family, does it do so respecting heterosexual normativity and the integrity of the family?  Answering this question of right-to-life literary theory involves a pro-life interpretation of quotes and passages which would be overlooked by many other critics, whose perspectives are restricted to certain aspects.  For example, soon after Baby decides not to abort, about halfway through the novel (243), a passage illustrates the burgeoning affection, if not love, between Joel and Baby.  [slide 11]  Before she gives birth, Baby implicitly acknowledges the emotional bond inherent in the heterosexual family when she says, “I think I’m going to feel lonely afterward, once it’s gone” (275).

          The emergence of the heterosexual family unit works to restore the love which should exist between its members.  About three-fourths of the way into the novel, there is a long (seven page) and touching scene between Joel and his father (319-25).  The pain of giving her child up for adoption is lightened for Baby when Joel’s psychiatrist, Dr. Schwartz, and his wife agree to adopt the child, and the adoption scene makes it clear that Baby would remain active in the child’s life (341-4).  To signify further that a helpless newborn baby can bring more joy than anxiety to an unmarried mother and her circle of friends, even Scarlet, Joel’s supervisor who aborted the child fathered by her live-in boyfriend, reacts lovingly to Baby’s child.

The Inherent Right to Exist of Unborn, Newborn, and Mature Human Life

          Fourth, does the literary work comport with the view that unborn, newborn, and mature human life has an inherent right to exist?  Scattered throughout the second half of the novel are numerous references to Baby’s unborn child, and these remarks are dominantly life affirming instead of the dehumanizing language used by explicitly anti-life authors.  The respect which Baby shows the unborn child begins early in this second half of the novel (page 244) when she gives Joel an envelope that contains a notation about the sex of her unborn child; she does not want to know the child’s sex (the baby is a girl).  Showing a character who is unwilling to know the sex of an unborn child may be bizarre for contemporary readers, familiar with gender-reveal parties, a practice which began in the first decade of the twenty-first century.  In this instance, however, Baby is following the practice of previous generations, and her decision not to know can be interpreted as acquiescence that there is something more important than knowing the sex of the unborn child: letting him or her develop in the womb.

          The life-affirming statements continue in rapid succession.  Referring to her eventual labor pains, Baby remarks that “the godawful amount of pain will be all the clue I need that the person inside of me is trying to break out” (264).  Unlike fiction written by anti-life authors, the unborn child is personalized as the following passage between Joel and Baby indicates:

“Was that a kick?”

“Or an elbow.  I can never tell.”

I was completely amazed.  “It has elbows?”  I looked down at Baby’s stomach and then back at her face.  “There are elbows in there?”  (274)

It is after this brief conversation that Baby asks the rhetorical question “Did they not show you the Miracle of Life video in homeschool?” (275).  After she gives birth, the newborn is not denoted as a burden to Baby, the single mother, or as a non-human entity in dehumanizing legal terms, but respectfully; the baby, now named Daphne, is described as “an impossibly small human” (341) and a page later “such a small person” (342).

The Divine Presence in the World

          Fifth, when they are faced with their mortality, do the characters come to a realization that there is a divine presence in the world which justifies a life-affirming perspective?  Answering this last question of right-to-life literary theory is especially challenging since religious references are scarce in the novel.  When he realizes that he “really did have a blank slate at this job” (24; italics in original), Joel does indeed seem to be bereft of any religious or moral institution which could ground his biological beliefs about abortion or other aspects of human life.  Although Joel’s mother is ostensibly Catholic, it is obvious that Joel’s parents are cultural Catholics if anything; remember that his father spends Sundays “at the nearest AA meeting” (unpaginated 83).  Furthermore, when characters reference God, the noun is always lower case.

          How, then, can an answer be supplied to this last question of right-to-life literary theory?  Throughout the novel, Joel engages with “Crystal” who, to the reader, seems as though she is his alter ego or a manifestation of his fragmented, perhaps schizophrenic personality.  [Recall that Joel himself suggests the possibility of such a mental disorder when he declared that “the girl you sometimes hallucinate is more in line with a schizoaffective disorder” (45).]  It is only towards the novel’s conclusion that it is clear that Crystal is truly a manifestation of Joel’s brother Brian, who committed suicide at age sixteen, most likely because of his conflict over his gender dysphoria.  It is significant that, at novel’s end, Joel concludes that his own life is “Normal: (380; capitalization in original) only after he was able to visit Brian’s grave and experience a final appearance of Crystal.

          Other than this episode, the characters—young, rejoicing over the birth of Daphne, and blissfully unaware of the collapse of their employment because of technological innovations soon to come—do not address the larger existential questions of human life.  It would take another novel, perhaps, to demonstrate their maturity.

          Anti-lifers who think that Lisabeth Posthuma’s novel Baby & Solo could be used as a literary artifact to advance an anti-life, specifically pro-abortion, agenda on the cultural scene would be seriously mistaken.  Using the many literary theories to which students have been exposed for decades (some theories, like formalism, for nearly a century) and the newer principles of right-to-life literary theory, an objective reader must conclude that the novel has a stronger life-affirming perspective than an anti-life one.  This conclusion is remarkable, given the characters’ secular outlook (no character is either grounded in religious teachings or expresses any piety) and seeming obliviousness to the pro-life movement which, by the time of the novel’s setting, had established itself as a political force in the nation despite anti-life political victories.

Since the customary logical arguments for and against abortion are not presented in this work of fiction in passages of dreary didacticism (a feature which makes most anti-life fiction propaganda pieces for the pro-abortion movement), Posthuma’s novel, therefore, can be a site where both anti- and pro-life readers can explore the controversial issue of abortion in a fictional environment, bordering on fantasy, where, as the author herself hopes, “people can privately challenge their own thoughts, explore nuances, and ultimately grow in their understanding about the issues that affect them.”  Her novel could be the means by which anti-life readers are able to challenge their ideology that unborn human life is worthless, explore the ways in which an approach to life which affirms and does not destroy it is most satisfactory, and ultimately mature in their understanding about how abortion affects mothers, unborn babies, and fathers.

[slide 12]  Works Cited

“Baby & Solo by Lisabeth Posthuma.” Goodreads.com, www.goodreads.com/book/show/44084731-baby-solo. Accessed 8 June 2022.

“Baby and Solo Hardcover – May 11, 2021: Product Details.” Amazon, www.amazon.com/Baby-Solo-Lisabeth-Posthuma/dp/1536213039. Accessed 8 June 2022.

Heppermann, Christine. Ask Me How I Got Here. Greenwillow Books, 2016.

Jensen, Kelly. “’The Hypothetical Is the Safest Space to Feel Unsure’: Lisabeth Posthuma on Abortion in YA Lit.” Newsletters Dev: Getting It Done!, 2022, https://newsletterdev.riotnewmedia.com/2021/10/18/the-hypothetical-is-the-safest-space-to-feel-unsure-lisabeth-posthuma-on-abortion-in-ya-lit/.

Pipkin, Bonnie. Aftercare Instructions. Flatiron Books, 2017.

Posthuma, Lisabeth. Author Lisabeth Posthuma Discusses Her Book Baby & Solo. Vimeo, uploaded by Candlewick Press, 14 October 2020, https://vimeo.com/468304935.

—. Baby & Solo. Candlewick Press, 2021.

—. “Media Kit.” Lisabethposthuma.com, 2021, https://www.lisabethposthuma.com/media-kit.


[1] Statistics for both services are current as of 8 June 2022.

[2] Several other literary theories could be applied to Posthuma’s novel, but doing so would expand the scope of this paper from a conference presentation to a dissertation topic.  Besides, contemporary readers (and I am thinking not only of ordinary students of literature but also of readers who consume novels like Posthuma’s for some didactic value certainly, but more for entertainment) would slide into somniferous boredom if any professor, lecturer, or television personality began applying postcolonial literary criticism, post-Structuralism, Structuralism, or semiotics to the work.  It is not that these theories are passé, especially now that newer and “sexier” theories like critical disability studies have emerged on the academic scene.  It is the case, however, that some literary theories serve no benefit or practical use for students who still approach literature with the formalist questions of what the literary work means before they can enjoy it, which are themselves formulations of the ancient principles that literature has a didactic and an entertainment value.

[3] Both biographies were obtained from the author’s website on 8 June 2022.

[4] Jensen concludes her excerpt of Posthuma’s discussion by saying, “Whether or not abortion is a choice they agree with for themselves or others, the reality is abortion is healthcare and should not be outlawed.”  Such a conclusion cannot be obtained from Posthuma’s remarks.

[5] The disintegration of Joel’s character becomes more apparent to the reader and, accordingly, a plot feature when Joel is visited by Crystal and when Joel’s mother discovers a dress in his closet; shortly after that, Crystal manifests herself to Joel.

[6] Baby’s query to Joel, “Did they not show you the Miracle of Life video in homeschool?” (275) cannot be cited as evidence of a pro-life group’s educational effort since no such group is identified.  Besides that, Baby makes it clear that the 1983 documentary (a publication not of a pro-life group, but of NOVA) was offered not in a school setting, but at home.

Categories
Book reviews

Thomas J. Euteneuer’s Demonic Abortion: A Sobering Commentary on the Satanic Nature of the Modern Abortion Industry (Human Life International, 2010)

A classic of Catholic Christian examination of the abortion industry and its demonic nature, Euteneuer’s 2010 book is as relevant in 2022 as it was when first published, maybe even more relevant than then since abortion zealots in academia, entertainment (so-called), and government (think of the violently pro-abortion wrongs Democratic Party) collaborate to force abortion on all of us.

Euteneuer’s book can be easily read in one day, and transcribing notes using the voice feature of most email services will enhance the study of the demonic nature of the abortion wrongs movement not only for students who are fighting high school and college indoctrination, but also seasoned pro-life activists who witness at abortion mills.

Instead of elaborating needlessly about the high quality of Euteneuer’s ideas and writing style, I offer the following quotes as the ones that I deem most interesting and applicable to fighting the satanic nature of the abortion movement.

“The pro-life movement has an immense amount of resource material on issues and activities related to the effort to restore legal protection to the unborn child, but the present work is not meant to be an analysis of the pro-life issues per se.  […]  Here I examine the spiritual power that the Church can marshal in the defense of the most innocent of God’s children, the unborn—and their mothers—from abortion.  I will also relate this effort to the need to repulse other demonic attacks against the sacred institutions of marriage and the family.” (6-7)

“The term ‘culture of death’ refers to any society, region or nation where killing innocent human beings has been legalized and institutionalized.” (9)

“Planned Parenthood-style hedonistic indoctrination about sex [has] a devastating effect on the young: they hook them on birth control, indoctrinate them into alternative lifestyles and open them to the idea that abortion is just another ‘choice’ that they can make when promiscuity gets them into trouble.” (17)

“The abortion industry of today offers ritual blood sacrifice to that ancient demon of child sacrifice: it is in every way a demonic religion.  It has an infallible dogma (“choice”), a ruling hierarchy (Planned Parenthood), theologians (feminist ideologues), a sacrificing priesthood (abortionists), temples (abortion mills), altars of sacrifice (surgical tables), ritual victims (babies and also women), acolytes and sacristans (clinic workers and technicians), guardian angels (police and escorts), congregations (foundations and private supporters of abortion) and its own version of ‘grace’ which makes everything work (money).” (21)

“There is indisputable evidence now that abortion targets the very people that feminists were supposed to liberate: namely females.  Female infanticide is the ugly hidden secret of the culture of death.” (29)

“In sum, contraception is essentially the gateway drug to an immense amount of spiritual evil.  It is a bitter pill that has poisoned the human race’s very gift of procreation and seduced generations of fertile men and women into sins against God and themselves.” (43)

“Finally, abortion has contributed mightily to the fracturing of American society into essentially two opposed value camps: pagan and Christian; or those who see all truth as relative and those who acknowledge that objective right and wrong really exist and have a claim on us.  These differences are reflected roughly in our political divisions, in our social permissiveness versus true moral values, in the various opposing cultural movements which are growing in intensity each day, in the corrupt media versus the new alternative media, etc.” (49)

“It is therefore no surprise that the culture of death has grown in direct proportion to the weakening of the Catholic Church and her leadership in the past forty years.  When the Church is weak in carrying out its God-given mission, all society is weak.  When God is driven out or unwelcome in a culture, demons enter in.  Only the re-establishment of a strong, authoritative Church will heal and liberate the world from abortion.” (56)

“At an abortion mill, for example, a person can bind any of the unclean spirits that are present at that spiritual stronghold: the spirits of abortion, birth control, coercion, fear, greed, violence, witchcraft, etc. [with the following prayer] ‘In the Name of Jesus, I bind the spirit of ­­­­­ ___.’” (60)

“Abortion is a traumatic experience, physically, emotionally and spiritually, and demons can enter through this trauma.” (74)

“In general, we must always be extremely careful to present the truth about abortion in a professional fashion to an abortion-minded woman, rather than trying to scare her out of an abortion by claiming that it is demonic or will cause infestation.” (74)

“Let us never pretend that abortion is just a social or political phenomenon that has to be voted out of office to be defeated.  We must do everything we can to restore legal protection to our most innocent citizens, but our battle against the devil will not be one of the polls.  It will be won on our knees before the Lord and on our feet before the centers of death.  More than ever we need men and women of tested holiness who are willing to fight the spiritual battle for the lives of God’s precious babies and the souls of their mothers and fathers.  Even abortionists […] are caught up in a demonic religion which can be challenged and defeated by those of us who belong to the true Church of Christ, the only spiritual power strong enough to defeat the ‘sacrament’ of abortion.” (114)

Categories
Book reviews

Lisabeth Posthuma’s Baby & Solo (Candlewick Press, 2021)

A well-written odyssey of a male teen who befriends a teen mother who rejects abortion, Posthuma has generated a fast-paced novel that transgender and pro-life activists can enjoy without being bashed over the head with woke or leftist nonsense.

So many contemporary novelists (especially those who use their writing skills to groom children and young adults to accept abortion, gay marriage, or anal genital activity) bash their readers over the head with their distortions of sexuality.  Think, for example, of Heppermann’s Ask Me How I Got Here (Greenwillow Books, 2016) or Bonnie Pipkin’s Aftercare Instructions (Flatiron Books, 2017).

How refreshing, then, that Posthuma has written a novel which contains controversial elements that develop characters and advance the narrative instead of a novel which works merely to make her readers accept her positions on contemporary biological, political, or social issues.

And the novel has much which is controversial.

You want a gay component in your casual fiction reading, a feature which every novel published in the woke United States of 2022 apparently must have?  Posthuma’s novel has it; focus on the character Maverick and his male model perfection.

You want an abortion component?  Posthuma’s novel has it; the abortion business Planned Parenthood won’t appreciate this novel, though, since the mother in question went to her appointment for an abortion but obviously rejected that choice and delivered her daughter.  Lost profit for Planned Parenthood, but an exciting narrative for everybody else.  On this criterion alone, Posthuma’s novel far surpasses the preachiness of both Heppermann and Pipkin, who struggle to disinfect the abortion company as much as they can with their stiflingly ignorant praise of the business.

You want a little bit of religion?  Posthuma’s novel has it; orthodox readers will wonder at the hypocrisy of a purported Catholic character like the mother of the narrator, Solo, and every instance of the word “God” being lower case, as though God is merely an interjection.  Agnostic and atheist readers will appreciate the life-affirming choices that not only the character Baby makes to give birth to the unborn child, but also Solo’s choice not to commit suicide.

You want aliens from Saturn sweeping the hapless and useless Joe Biden out of the White House, thus saving the planet from World War III?  Not gonna happen.  Unlike other partisan hacks who write abortion or transgender “novels” which are more didactic than entertaining, Posthuma’s work is grounded in reality.  These are real irreligious young people who swear, think sex is meant for just casual entertainment, and slither from one minor life goal to another.

You want a transgender component, another feature which every novel published in the woke United States of 2022 apparently must have to avoid being persecuted by leftist activists?  This is perhaps the most fascinating feature of Posthuma’s work, the suggestion that the narrator or his alter ego, Crystal, may suffer from gender dysphoria.  Since I like this novel, no spoiler alert will follow.  Suffice it to say that activists on both sides of the transgender nonsense plaguing the nation will appreciate the sensitivity of Posthuma’s narrative, which, unlike other activist authors, shows readers the discomfort of those genuinely confused about their gender despite their sexuality having been recognized (not assigned) at birth.

Since Posthuma’s fiction approximates real life, its 406 pages read so mellifluously and swiftly that the entire work can be leisurely read in two days.

Categories
Book reviews

Bonnie Pipkin’s Aftercare Instructions (Flatiron Books, 2017)

Despite the pro-abortion author’s efforts to make the abortion business Planned Parenthood shine, pro-life readers can cite this book as evidence of the many negatives of the abortion behemoth—aspects that Planned Parenthood’s Marketing and Public Relations departments can never erase.

Of course, the novel has the usual components of an anti-life plot: warped sexuality (fornication), attacks on religious persons, disparaging pro-lifers, and the ambiguous use of language to refer to the unborn child.

For example, Genesis (the selfish and extremely voluble “I”, “me”, and “I” again narrator) is a young woman who is sexually “liberated”; her boyfriends Peter and Seth are just her boy toys.  Parents and grandparents are “old-fashioned” because they are religious and, ostensibly, pro-life.  Genesis’ sense of religion is a reduction to having meditated before theater class (9-10).  Peter’s parents are described as “nutso religo-freak parents” (13).

Since pro-abortion characters cannot refute pro-life ideas, pro-life activists suffer ad hominem attacks as in the case of Peter’s mother, who is demeaned as the “ringleader of our community’s pro-life, anti-choice movement” (38).  In contrast, abortionists are called “doctors” as though using this term would dignify their killing work as much as doctors who save human life (unpaginated 323).

Pipkin employs other standard tactics in the pro-abortion literary repertoire.  For example, she uses the third-person pronoun “it” ambiguously so that a reader cannot determine if that pronoun refers to the abortion procedure or the unborn child killed in that procedure.

For example, the narrator uses ambiguous language in talking about refusing sedation for the abortion when she says, “I wanted to feel it.  I wanted to feel my choice as it left my body” (unpaginated 3).  Does “it” refer to “abortion”, what she thinks is her legal right to “choose” killing another human being, or does that pronoun refer to the child killed?  Oddly, this same language and concept is repeated in one of the drama portions incorporated in this novel when Genesis tells the audience, “I need to feel this.  I need to know it’s real.  I need to feel it leaving.  I need to feel that I’m making a choice and it’s mine” (324).  Again, to what or to whom does “it” refer?

After five decades of anti-life authors writing about the abortion procedure, there is no new way to describe the act of killing, which is why Pipkin’s description of the abortion is clipped and composed of a series of nouns: “I think back.  To the click.  Slip.  Pull.  Snap of rubber gloves and metal wheels over tiled floor and my knees and thighs shaking” (62).  The description of the abortion procedure is repeated towards novel’s end in similarly mechanistic terms; the stage directions in one of the drama portions of the novel refer to “the buzzing sound of a machine” and then later, “The machine stops” (327).

All of these standard pro-abortion wrongs literary tactics are expected from a virulently anti-life author such as Pipkin, who is effusive in her praise of the largest abortion company in the country: “Thank you to Planned Parenthood, where I’ve been receiving safe and affordable care since I was sixteen years old.  Thank you for EVERYTHING you provide to the community without judgment.  I stand with you, always” (356; caps in original).

What is unique in this teen abortion novel is the recognition that Planned Parenthood has sinister sides.  High school and college students trained in close reading, an aspect of formalist literary criticism, will be able to look beyond the author’s pro-abortion bias immediately in the following lines.

For example, when Genesis wonders why Peter has not called her after the abortion, she says, “It’s not like I just had a tooth pulled” (41).  This line counters those anti-life activists who claim that having an abortion is a “simple” procedure, like a tooth extraction.

Similarly, Genesis’ description of the inside of the abortion business counters the best efforts of any pro-abortion marketing brochure.  “In the dingy waiting room where Security makes non-patients sit,” Pipkin writes, “With its gray-lavender walls and daytime television and fluorescent lights.  Trashy magazines and dead eyes” (155).

Another example illustrates Genesis’ frustration not only with her boyfriend, but also, using a typography which indicates shouting, with the business which aborted the child.  Genesis becomes angry over Peter’s leaving her “AT FUCKING PLANNED PARENTHOOD?” (221; all caps in original).  Note that she did not ask, as the author asserts, why Peter left her “at Planned Parenthood, where I’ve been receiving safe and affordable care since I was sixteen years old.  Thank you for EVERYTHING you provide to the community without judgment.  I stand with you, always” (see above for Pipkin’s sickening praise for the abortion company).  The use of the present participle “fucking”, in all caps moreover, suggests not so much a casual use of vulgar language typical of an irreverent and vulgar teen, but Genesis’ unconscious idea that there is something seriously wrong with Planned Parenthood.

Finally, Pipkin’s chapter titles betray Planned Parenthood as a place where medical attention is secondary to its profit-making motives.  Granted, all medical facilities give patients aftercare instructions, but those instructions naturally follow life-saving procedures.  Pipkin’s chapter titles, however, suggest that Planned Parenthood’s aftercare instructions are designed to minimize and cover up the killing which occurs at every one of its offices.

While some chapter titles seem innocuous; “Monitor Bleeding” (unpaginated 36) and “Recovery Times May Vary” (unpaginated 61) meet this criterion, the chapter titles quickly become more sinister as the novel progresses, such as “You May Experience a Wide Range of Emotions” (unpaginated 129) and “Talk to Someone if You Experience Feelings of Detachment” (unpaginated 144).  Given  the large number of mothers who have died at Planned Parenthood “clinics” and other abortion businesses and whose deaths are covered up by the pro-abortion media, the chapter title “Do Not Hesitate to Call with Any Questions” (unpaginated 175) could be translated by a suspicious person to “Call Us Instead of Your Attorney Because This Abortion Business Doesn’t Want to Be Sued.”

Interestingly, a series of even more sinister chapter titles occurs in quick succession, warning the mother who has aborted that “You Are Not Alone” (unpaginated 219), “If Your Temperature Reaches 100.4°, Call Us Immediately” (unpaginated 229), “A Period of Emotional Paralysis Can Occur” (unpaginated 243), “Are You Experiencing Any Regret?” (unpaginated 265), and “Support Groups Are Available” (unpaginated 275).

That a pro-abortion author would include such damning lines as the above in an ostensibly pro-abortion novel is not only fortunate for pro-life activists; it’s also a refreshing bit of honesty from those who support the harming of women, the killing of unborn babies, and the alienation of fathers.

Thank you, Bonnie Pipkin, for writing a novel that pro-lifers can use to protect women from Planned Parenthood!

Categories
Book reviews

Heppermann’s Ask Me How I Got Here (Greenwillow Books, 2016)

Although a feeble teen abortion account, pro-lifers can use this “novel” (so-called) to show how post-abortion syndrome affects a young woman who lacks orthodox religious faith.

Heppermann’s work, a “novel-in-verse”, is anything but.  The “poetry” is feeble; the “lines” would read better if they were written as sentences in paragraphs.  Since full-length novels have the space to develop characters, this “work”, therefore, could qualify as a short story.  It still would not give Hemingway a run for his money.

Why Greenwillow Books would waste 225 pages of paper and ink like this is beyond me.  Maybe it felt that this tenuous “book” served a young adult reading audience need, I dunno.

Bad publishing and marketing choices aside, though, this “work” has some merit.  Although Addie is a typical young woman who fornicates with her boyfriend, becomes pregnant, and thinks only of killing the unborn child at one of the offices of the abortion business Planned Parenthood, the “work” does illustrate three ideas long known in the pro-life world:

1.  That mothers who abort experience post-abortion syndrome (PAS), often a short time after the killing has taken place.  This is evident when Addie’s personality disintegrates; she quits track at high school; picks fights with her boyfriend, leading to their breakup; and chooses a misguided lesbian relationship as a source of affection.

2.  That parents who are weak in their faith often abscond from their responsibility as parents in helping their teen daughters choose life.  This is the case with Addie’s parents, whose lack of firm Catholic Christian faith is evident when they say nothing about helping Addie choose life.

3.  That the abortion itself is difficult to talk about and the person killed in an abortion is always dehumanized.  This is obvious when Addie’s parents are unable to talk about the time of Addie’s abortion.  Addie’s mother refers to the abortion as “what we went through / a few months ago” (172); her father, similarly, cannot refer to the abortion:  “She never had those [side aches] before” without specifying that the term “before” is a truncation of “before the abortion” (173).  How surprising, then, to read that, when Addie writes a letter to her unborn child towards the “novel’s” end, she refers to the child as “a girl with Nick’s smile, / a boy with my eyes, / a baby” and says that she “would never want you / to hate yourself”, which suggests that Addie hates herself (211).

Maybe this novel is so feeble because the author herself is anti-life; Heppermann promotes the abortion business Planned Parenthood on the last unnumbered page of the book as one of several anti-life organizations that “exist at the community and national level that teens can turn to for help.”

This vapid “work” only takes about an hour to read; the “poetry” is ordinary language, nothing significant, so, unless you’re an English professor who must read crap like this to monitor fiction on the life issues, one can turn page after page without needing to annotate anything important.

The best way to reply to the book’s title Ask Me How I Got Here is to say, “Let’s not and say we did.”

Categories
Book reviews

Paul V. Mankowski’s Jesuit at Large (Ignatius Press, 2021)

Mellifluous, trenchant, and often witty writing on a variety of topics, this collection of Fr. Paul V. Mankowski’ s essays will inspire faithful Catholics to fight against pro-abortion priests and to affirm their Catholic Faith.

First, though, since Amazon collaborates with cancel culture zealots and bans conservative and pro-life books, don’t buy this book on Amazon.  Purchase it from Ignatius Press directly: https://ignatius.com/jesuit-at-large-jlerp/.

A few pages into reading this book, I knew I had a problem.  Besides George Weigel’s well-written introduction, which was forcing me to annotate several paragraphs, by the first couple of pages of Fr. Mankowski’s essays, I knew I had to buy the book.  The annotations were becoming so numerous that buying the book instead of transcribing notes from the library copy would save time in recording them into my electronic notes.

Why is the writing of Fr. Mankowski so worthwhile?  I offer three reasons.

First, of course, is the human element.  Every faithful Catholic who is persecuted by priests who are not pro-life or who support pro-abortion Democrats like the hapless Joe Biden or Catholics who are orthodox in their faith but are called rigid by the Church hierarchy (as the leftist Pope Francis does) can sympathize with Fr. Mankowski, a persecuted priest who died without ever knowing the praise he deserved for exposing corruption in the Jesuit order.

The book’s editor, George Weigel, notes that Fr. Mankowski “was often berated, deplored, and rejected by his own” (13).  Knowing that Fr. Mankowski was persecuted by his “fellow” Jesuits for exposing the political machinations that shoved a pro-abortion Jesuit, Fr. Robert Drinan, into the U.S. Congress colors the entire reading.  The book is transformed from a collection of essays into a dramatic narrative; the reader wants to know if Fr. Mankowski will be redeemed.

Furthermore, why is reading a book which includes a significant portion focusing on one pro-abortion Jesuit (Drinan) so worthwhile?  Weigel explains:

During his congressional career, Father Drinan was a reliable vote in favor of the most extreme interpretations of the abortion license created by the 1973 Supreme Court decisions Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton; in doing so, he helped provide political cover for numerous Catholic politicians who tacked to the prevailing cultural winds by taking a similar stand.  (15)

When Fr. Mankowski gave Jesuit archival material to another Catholic researcher, the famous Catholic historian James Hitchcock, abortion-minded Jesuits did not merely oppose him; they persecuted him:

The publication of Hitchcock’s article unleashed a firestorm of criticism, but the hot blasts of opprobrium were not aimed at Father Robert Drinan or his Jesuit enablers.  They were aimed at Father Paul Mankowski, who had given materials he had gleaned from the archives of the New England Province of the Society of Jesus to Professor Hitchcock as documentation for his article.  (16)

Fr. Mankowski himself succinctly explains why he exposed Drinan and his politically-minded operatives within the Jesuit order, basing his actions on pro-life principles which should endear him to every pro-life civil rights activist today:

Pro-lifers (of whom I am one) regarded Drinan as one of their most formidable and injurious opponents in the U.S., despite his insistence that he accepted Church teaching on abortion.  I’ve yet to meet a politically aware pro-life Catholic who wasn’t baffled and exasperated by the damage Drinan was permitted to do as a priest-congressman and a priest-lawyer.  Therefore, presented with firsthand testimony that Drinan was complicit in a ruse from which he launched his career as a pro-abortion legislator, I was fully disposed to challenge his moral authority by making the knowledge public.  (196)

One would hope that this persecuted good man was vindicated.  Unfortunately, Fr. Mankowski’s contributions in exposing the fraud of Drinan and those who collaborated in getting him into Congress despite the opposition of Superior General Pedro Arrupe were never appreciated in his lifetime.

This book, therefore, damns those pro-abortion Jesuits who oppose the Catholic Church’s respect for human life and vindicates Fr. Mankowski for his suffering and heroism.

The second reason why Fr. Mankowski’s essays are worthwhile is that they remain relevant, even the ones dating from the 1990s.  The pro-abortion zealot Drinan is long gone, but faithful Catholics still must contend with disgraces to the Catholic Faith like Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden, two Democrats who, like Drinan, put “social justice” (or their distortion of it) ahead of the first civil right, the right to life, and thus vote for tax dollars for abortion, appoint judges who oppose the first civil right to life, etc.

Fr. Mankowski knew that the presence of pro-abortion Jesuits was only a symptom of a larger problem: “rot” affecting the entire order.  As quoted by Weigel, Fr. Mankowski wrote, “I believe those in command [of “the Roman Jesuit leadership”] are, for the most part, frightened to stand up to the full extent of the rot.  I believe a few positively desire the rot; they want religious life to disappear and want to be agents in its disappearance” (14).

A third reason why Fr. Mankowski’s essays are worthwhile is that they address those relevant issues within the Catholic Church in a learned, beautifully written style that often contains snarky humor.

Examples of Fr. Mankowski’s mellifluous prose can be found when he affirms working-class Catholics.  His praise for such hardworking people ranges from the simple “In effect the new liturgists disenfranchised working-class Catholics, and in particular working men, from reasonably wholehearted participation in the Mass” (30) to lengthier and more complex prose, culminating in a call to “resist” those who would distort the most significant item of Catholic worship, the Mass:

Taken together, all the visions of the deconstructionist, all the resentments of the disaffected, all the personal quirks and daydreams of the individual minister, all the globally contextualized inclusivities of the professorial hierophant, do not add up to a single reason to deprive the faithful of the Mass, the Mass in its full integrity.  Those who come into our midst mouthing the sweet words of compassion and openness are, very often, trying to wheedle us out of our birthright.  Perhaps the time has come to resist.  (37)

Faithful Catholic readers will understand immediately Fr. Mankowski’s discussion of a category of cleric he calls “tames”, priests, bishops, cardinals, and, we could add, perhaps even the current problematic (and Jesuit) Pope Francis.  These tames aim for popularity instead of orthodoxy, which, by itself, is not problematic, but Fr. Mankowski explains how the drive for popularity emasculates tames when they are compelled to collaborate with the aggressive gay and lesbian lobby.  “In the contemporary Church,” Fr. Mankowski writes:

tames serve the agenda of gays in the long run, even though they sometimes find themselves forced to take a contrary stance.  Tames are extremely susceptible to emotional blackmail of all kinds, and gays are adept at putting a thumb on the emotional windpipe of weak men in order to manipulate them.  (67)

Readers will find footnote six on this matter especially interesting:

It is noteworthy that bishops who are tames almost always have a number of gays as advisers or high officials in the chancery; once in office they are virtually powerless to prevent gays from collecting around them, and as a consequence any pressures for reform are effectively neutralized.  (70)

Fr. Mankowski’ s comments about the sexual orientation of his fellow priests are alarming.  Regarding the number of priests who have unresolved same-sex attraction, he writes:

I would estimate that between 50 and 60 percent of the men who entered religious life with me in the mid-1970s were homosexuals who had no particular interest in the Church, but who were using the celibacy requirement of the priesthood as a way of camouflaging the real reason for the fact that they would never marry.  (74)

Since persons with same-sex attraction who have fallen victim to the gay and lesbian lifestyle invariably oppose chastity and purity, Church officials who promote those virtues would necessarily be targets of their opposition and hatred.  Fr. Mankowski accounts for the Jesuit hatred of Pope, now Saint, John Paul II thus:

Over the course of twenty-eight years in the Society of Jesus, I’ve watched Wojtyła- [Pope John Paul II-] hatred turn into one of the principal subthemes of Jesuit life [….]  The dreams that progressivists surfaced during Paul VI’s pontificate—of a congregational, sexually emancipated, anti-sacral “picnic” Catholicism—were frankly infantile.  Yet Catholics over fifty will remember the emotional mist of auto-suggestion that “the next pope” would move with the times and make these dreams come true.  Not all Jesuits got smitten by this vision, but the majority did, and was stunned when Wojtyła failed to act out its fantasy.  Many left the Society to seethe outside it; others remained, and seethe within.  (81-3)

One fellow Jesuit is a particular target of Fr. Mankowski’s criticism.  Everybody knows Fr. James Martin, whose pro-LGBTQ views and opposition to the Church’s teaching on sexuality saturate contemporary leftist media.  Martin has done more damage to persons with same-sex attraction than any other by suggesting not only that gays and lesbians have been abandoned by the Church, but also that the Church must accept their homosexual lifestyles.  Fr. Mankowski counters Martin’s flaccid arguments with one succinct line: persons with same-sex attraction who live a chaste life “already live in the heart of the Church” (158), and the frequency with which same-sex persons receive the confidential Sacrament of Penance testifies to their faith.

Fr. Mankowski offers a thorough analysis of another unorthodox and famous (infamous) priest, Theodore Hesburgh, president of the University of Notre Dame.  “Hesburgh became resentful of direction—which he viewed as interference—on the part of agencies claiming superior authority, most notably the Holy See and his own religious congregation” (186), Fr. Mankowski writes, so it is understandable that Hesburgh would coordinate the Land O’ Lakes conference, which sought to separate Catholic colleges from the Magisterium on a distorted claim of “academic freedom” (186).  Hesburgh further manifested his antagonism to the Magisterium by supporting contraception (188-9).  Hesburgh relegated the right-to-life movement to an inferior position, siding instead with leftists in favor of the safer, politically-correct social justice issues of “global poverty and world peace” (189).  Unlike Fr. Mankowski, who praised working-class Catholics, Hesburgh had a “fear of being lumped with the defenders of Humanae Vitae—the thick-necked ‘red meat and rosary’ folks who typified working-class Catholicism” (190.)

Students who want to appreciate a solid writing style should study Fr. Mankowski’s use of parallelism: the repetition of “I live” (21), “gone” (60), and “every culture” (112) are exemplary.  His diction is concise, as demonstrated by his ability to translate the psychobabble of papers presented at leftist academic conferences into plain English.  For example, he brilliantly reduces one paper from the American Academy of Religion to the following: “Were I forced to decode [the presenter’s] thesis in monosyllables, I would render it thus: gay men see things in more black-and-white terms than do ‘bi’ girls” (104).

I can confirm Fr. Mankowski’s general comment about the academic preoccupation with sex, having attended numerous academic conferences whose programs read more as sex therapy or heterosexuality gripe sessions than symposia for English language and literature professors:

For want of a better term, I would call it an impulse to vandalism.  The interest here displayed was overwhelmingly an interest in aberrant sexuality—evidenced not only in repeated protests against so-called “compulsory heterosexuality” but in a macabre litany of erotic pathology: mutilation, child abuse, incest, sadomasochism, ritual castration, and so on ad nauseam.  (116)

Granted, Fr. Mankowski critiques the culture well in a learned manner, but the essays are punctuated with comic gems.  For example, there is this first-page bit of humor: “I am promised prosperous and intriguing companions by the folks who brew my beer; and those who sell my shaving cream are at pains to assure me that it will provoke the women I encounter into sexual frenzy.  (The last claim, I might add, is an exaggeration.)” (21).

Feminist nuns are an especial target of some of Fr. Mankowski’s humor, probably because they, like pro-abortion Jesuits, don’t care for the pro-life issues as much as politically-correct leftist social justice ones:

Today’s Skimpole is more likely to be a feminist than a Nazi, but both are missing something—and not just a balanced picture of God.  [….]  Feminist Skimpoles [….]  are in the same intellectual position as a pouting child at the breakfast table picking the raisins out of the bran flakes.  (131-2)

Fr. Mankowski even jabs feminist nuns while reviewing a dismally ridiculous Norman Mailer novel:

[H]e is so far behind the Heterodoxy Curve as to be unaware that his shattering innovations are little more than the platitudes of New Age suburbia, and have long been superseded by those “weekend spirituality workshops” in which feminist nuns and retired orthodontists are taught how to deconstruct the New Testament and make pumpkin bread.  (152)

This 237-page compilation ends with a chronology of Fr. Mankowski’s expose of the pro-abortion Drinan and a detailed list of Drinan’s extensive anti-life votes (229-31).  Unfortunately, the volume does not have an index, a fatal flaw from Ignatius Press which impedes faculty and student research.

Summary judgement: it’s time to canonize Fr. Paul V. Mankowski for having accomplished two major tasks, exposing corruption within the Jesuit order and living worthily as a genuine and pro-life Jesuit priest.

Categories
Book reviews

Richard Antall’s The X-Mas Files (Atmosphere Press, 2021)

Antall’s latest novel is a delightful review of the mistake called “Christmas” from a perspective that every pro-abortion Democratic politician would appreciate: Satan himself.

If the preceding sounds emotionally charged, then you’ll love Richard Antall’s latest novel, an account of how Satan and his minions would view the birth of Christ if, as the novel suggests, “computer” files were obtained of “reports” from Satan’s demons, trying to explain how they let the baby Jesus slip through their hands and failed to kill Him.

The novel is an attempt of reportage from Hell.  No one has ever considered the birth of Christ from the perspective of Satan, who calls the Incarnation the “Invasion” by the “enemy” angels who chose to remain with God.  Antall does a remarkable job of filling in the gaps of what a demonic account of this supreme failure would be.

And “failure” is what Christmas is, if you’re a fallen angel working for Lucifer.  Since devils despise human life (which explains why they would promote abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia), the birth of Jesus is the ultimate failure for the third of the heavenly host which fell from Heaven instead of the joyous time that the Christian world knows it to be.

The novel is certainly not simple, as in naïve.  It contains several erudite passages, including sophisticated Persian or French terms like “Dahak” or “mauvaise foi”, most of which, fortunately, are translated for us ignorant American readers (9, 58).  Also, some literary allusions require diligent readers to check DuckDuckGo.  For example, “who said that history might have been different if a certain Egyptian queen [Cleopatra] had had a longer […] nose”?  Answer: Blaise Pascal (172).

But that’s the fun of this fictional account of Satan and his minions covering their asses for the failure of stopping the birth of the Messiah.

Antall has a wonderful ability to create characters with whom us ordinary people can identify, probably because he has decades of experience not only reading the quantities of books that he has (when you think of Antall, think of an educated man), but also “reading” people who come to him for spiritual counseling or remission of their sins.

For example, even though she was a most exuberant whore and conveyor of abortifacients all of her life, readers will cheer when Pulcheria has a change of heart near the time of her collapsing in death (118).  Similarly, readers feel joy when the drunkard Nathan acts like a little child, urging his animals to warm the Holy Family as the Virgin Mary gives birth (178).

Moreover, the novel’s comedy is obvious and sophisticated.  I laughed out loud on reading the hilarious “transcriptions” of what are purported to be court records of the trials of the devils who were unable to stop Jesus’ birth.  A filmmaker would have a delightful time producing a Perry Mason-like version of many of these passages (cf. 58ff).

Technically, the novel has merits which should endear it to college and university faculty and students.  The polyvocal contributions of devilish commentary on the Messiah’s birth, the sometimes erudite literary allusions, and the plausibility of what can be categorized as a spiritual allegory should make this novel popular with students in secular institutions, which love anything which seems to attack Christianity.  Orthodox Catholic colleges and universities, of course, will appreciate the novel for its contrarian perspective.

Not only to be read during Christmas, Antall’s latest work can supplement one’s faith journey throughout the year since the topic is universal: the importance of Jesus’ Incarnation.  Who would have “thunk” that a novel written from the perspective of devils could increase someone’s faith?

Categories
Book reviews

Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body (Vintage International, 1992)

Written by a lesbian writer, this novel affirms heterosexual normativity and Christian belief in the sanctity of marriage seen through the lens of adultery.  Gay and lesbian literary critics, therefore, and, even worse, transgender literary critics, would probably abuse Winterson the same way they have tried to cancel J. K. Rowling.

A genderless and unnamed narrator has an adulterous affair with a woman, who either has died or merely vanished from the scene.  That this entire novel is merely a linguistic exercise and not a fictional work meant to have some type of meaning in reality or didactic value for contemporary readers is obvious on the penultimate page, when the narrator asserts that “It’s as if Louise never existed, like a character in a book” (189).

That’s it.  Nothing else to say about the plot.  Typical adultery novel.

What’s fascinating, though, is that the gender of the narrator is irrelevant.  If the narrator is female, then the adultery involves a lesbian relationship.  If the narrator is male, then the adultery involves a heterosexual relationship.  So what?  Adultery is still adultery.  The narrator is still contributing to a wife breaking her marriage vows.

What’s more fascinating are the literary allusions to Scripture and Christianity throughout the novel.  Being a British work and set in Britain, the type of Christianity is Anglicanism grown flaccid in its theology and practice as the descriptive passage about a feeble worship service on pages 151-3 illustrates.

Also interesting are casual comments from various characters who show that a vibrant Christianity was desperately needed in the Britain of 1992 as it is still needed now, in 2022.  The philosophy of one of the narrator’s boyfriends is not that love is God Himself and the greatest distinguishing feature of humanity, but that “love had been invented to fool people” (93).  Another typical void-of-religion statement comes from a cancer doctor who says that taking care of cancer patients is “wasting your time”; the question “Why bother?” posed to this doctor is unanswered (149-50).

Pro-life readers, whether those who have same-sex attraction or those who are secure in heterosexual normativity, can cite one statement from the seemingly irreligious narrator as evidence against suicide.  Commenting on being separated from his adulterous lover, the narrator affirms that “Although I felt that my life had been struck in two I still wanted life.  I have never thought of suicide as a solution to unhappiness” (155).