A to Z Challenge 2013

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wednesday Wrant - Custer Is A Sex Fiend? Really?

Normally I try not to be too...grumpy...with regards to books.  Every author has their own style, and when I don't really like a particular style, I at least try to find something good, something to appreciate.

Currently I'm reading a book called Black Hills by Dan Simmons.  I've never read any of his books before, nor do I know really much about the author.  The premise however, sounded very interesting so I picked it up.  If you haven't read this book and/or are going to, you may wish to avoid the rest of this post since I will probably spoil parts of it for you.

This story (at least so far) is about an American Indian (or is it more PC to say Native American?) who was at Custer's Last Stand as a young brave.  He comes upon Custer's dead body and (after touching it) feels invaded by Custer's ghost.

From here, the story bounces back and forth from the character's young life to much later moments in his life as well as different points in between.  For the most part, the inclusion of Lakota (Sioux) culture, language, and background is well written.  While I can't vouch for the accuracy of the transliteration of the language, I assume it's correct - and there's plenty of it throughout the book.

What do I have to rant about then?  Well, for some reason the author portrays Custer (and his wife) as extreme sexual deviants, for one.  The story will break from time to time and become a letter from Custer to his wife, in which he talks about various things.  By today's standards (depending on who you are of course), their sexual proclivities might not be deviant at all.  But for a celebrated general just after the Civil War, the open discussion of oral sex (while his regiment marches by, no less) seems a bit of a stretch.  In fact, the author goes to great lengths to describe how often and varied Custer's sexual romps are with his spouse.

One thing I've said many times is no matter who you are or what genre you write in, you have to keep the writing real.  You have to keep it honest.  I'm also not naive enough to think that sexual discovery wasn't invented until the 1960's.  But I find it highly doubtful that such things were discussed openly during the "Wild West" among individuals who were at the higher end of the social scale.

The author has just about lost me as a reader, thanks to these sexual diversions that add nothing to the main story.  I've found myself skimming (or even skipping) whole sections where Custer's letters appear just because I have no interest in participating in such idiotic notions.  The worst part is that there is so many interesting things about Custer the author could have included rather than making up crap like this.  It's too bad really, because it's obvious that alot of effort was put into immersing the reader in the culture of the time from an American Indian's perspective.

I pose the question to you, my faithful followers.  I've kept from getting too descriptive about what's going on (mostly because it's rude and I don't wish to offend anyone), but what do you think about books that do this kind of thing?  If anyone knows more about Custer's personal life, am I wrong here?  Were people more open during this period of time than I am giving them credit for?  The comment box is now open.

7 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I doubt people were that open about sex, but then again, consider ancient Rome. I've struggled through one of Simmons' books before and will probably skip this one.

jjdebenedictis said...

Dan Simmons wrote Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion, which together comprise the best science fiction story I've ever read in my life. I can't endorse it enough.

However, he followed them up with the sequels Endymion and The Rise of Endymion, which frankly stunk. They were very self-indulgent, and the story and characters were weakly constructed.

It sounds like Black Hills also has the flaw of author-indulgence. Just because Mr. Simmons wants to write it doesn't mean we want to read it.

Shigune Matsui said...

"What do I have to rant about then? Well, for some reason the author portrays Custer (and his wife) as extreme sexual deviants, for one. The story will break from time to time and become a letter from Custer to his wife, in which he talks about various things. By today's standards (depending on who you are of course), their sexual proclivities might not be deviant at all. But for a celebrated general just after the Civil War, the open discussion of oral sex (while his regiment marches by, no less) seems a bit of a stretch. In fact, the author goes to great lengths to describe how often and varied Custer's sexual romps are with his spouse."


Haha, how out of the blue for a plot. And apparently this is distracting from the actual story. Well, it happens. It reminds me of the book Twilight (plus its series) which most females clamour over. However, some people say that some things are distracting in its books (like in New Moon). For example in New Moon, the character after her vampire lover goes away, she - for chapters on end - continues to mope on about him.

That reminds me of Black Hills. I've never heard of a sex fiend as a protagonist.

WindyA said...

I think the main point of your post is key, which is, is it relevant to the story? But maybe here, the letters and discussions within them are what make it "different" enough. Maybe that is what made an agent/publisher see it as a different spin on the topic, I guess we'll never truly know.

Personally, I'm like you about sections of books that aren't relevant to the story. It's about characterization and it appears that maybe in this case the author is trying to give us a different insight into Custer, who he was as a man instead of how all of history has portrayed him? Is this a historical fiction or non-fiction? I think that matters a lot too.

Eric said...

Alex - I've heard both good and bad about Simmons, but I doubt I will ever pick up another book of his thanks to this travesty.

Jj - I have heard of Hyperion (though never had the chance to read it) but I didn't know he was the author. You hit it on the head though - self indulgent writing, which is something I have no patience for.

Shigune - I completely agree with you about Twilight. I had to drag myself literally through those sections because I wanted the whiner to just shut up. Same thing here, though now I just skip the parts I find offensive, boring, or irrelevent.

Windy - Happy dance, Happy dance. I'm so glad to see you stopping by again. This is (I believe) historical fiction. The problem I have is that there was so many other sides to Custer that could have been chosen, like his impressive ability on the battlefield or his rise to stardom prior to his death. The author could have even chosen to take a speculative look into Custer's mindset at various times. Instead he chooses to focus on sex, which I found to be idiotic, boring, and probably historically inaccurate.

Glynis said...

I am afraid I would feel the same as you Eric. I would find it boring if irrelevant to the storyline.

seaellen said...

But Custer DID write such letters to his wife. Remember, as distracting from the story line as it is, sex sells.