Saturday, August 13, 2011
Backslide by Teresa Stores
Publisher: Spinsters Ink
Backslide is the story of lesbian novelist Virge Young who has hit the best seller list with her book Sinner. It's a loosely autobiographical work of fiction based on her life being raised in a fundamentalist Christian home, how she broke away from that teaching and the people she encountered in her hometown as she went through this. The book has stirred up a lot of controversy and caused Virge to receive more than one death threat. No one is prepared for what happens however when she is on a talk show and a member of the audience stands up and shoots her.
The book then proceeds to tell Virge's story, some chapters going forward from when she is shot (obviously she survives) and some going backward to when she was young. These are interspersed with musings from Virge's mind about an imaginary trip she is making and whether she'll be able to complete it or not. The trip appears to be an allegory for when she is shot and her battle to decide whether to live or not.
Virge's trip through life brings her into contact with a varied cast of characters who all have an impact on her development, including preachers, a Holocaust survivor, a sharp and straight-talking great aunt, a secret African American friend and her infamous-to-be friend Ricki Ann. She develops from a child who believes totally in the religious message she has been raised with into a young woman who must cope with the fact that a fundamental truth about herself conflicts with that message and the realization that people don't always live according to what they say they believe. She learns that the world is a place of contradictions and trying to find your place in that can put tremendous stresses on your life.
"Backsliding" is a tricky concept to define. It appears to be when a person is headed in one direction or one set of beliefs and then slips back into what was believed before or to ideas that were held in the past; however, it also encompasses that feeling one has when the mind starts to wander and you're in one place, thinking of yourself in another place or time and you momentarily become confused as to what reality is.
Stores tries to capture this feeling by not following a chronological order in her chapters. In one the reader is learning about Virge's past, then it slips forward to after the shooting, then back to the past or to one of those chapters where the reader is hearing Virge's thoughts about the shooting and its aftermath. The forward chapters have references to events that haven't been explained yet in the chapters of the past, but which will be. The reader begins to develop a feeling of floating in time, shifting backwards, forwards and sometimes sideways.
The book isn't difficult to follow, but it does require the reader to be alert and pay attention to the story. This isn't a simple romance or mystery that lays out its plot in a linear fashion and just takes the reader along with it. Backslide is more like a jigsaw puzzle where pieces are put into different areas of the puzzle in random order and then they come together to create the whole picture. The lessons it teaches are about growth, forgiveness for past injuries, learning to accept people who are different from you, and that there are people who will not achieve any of these realizations.
Backslide is a thought-provoking book for the reader who likes something a little more complex than the routine story. It can provide a good change of pace for a reading list.