Men and women, women and men. It will never work.—Erica Jong
A few months ago, I explored some of the differences between the parallel universes of men and women in this blog when I wrote:
Even though most men are raised by women, it sometimes seems they not only speak different languages but have evolved parallel cultures which make Miss Manners and the Missing Link look like the ideal couple. I decided to test this theory with a rigorously scientific survey of a group of women who happened to wander past my house. [full disclosure: white wine may have been involved. Lots.]
Question: where do men learn the little nuances of manhood?
[For answers to this and other burning questions, see rest of post here.]
The good news? It’s not completely hopeless. Here’s what my own little Wonder Woman (who grew up to be a Wonderful Woman and a human rights journalist at The New York Times) wrote recently in an Open Letter From Wonder Woman to Batman:
Dear Mr. Wayne,
While I appreciate your invitation to join the “Justice League,” your new club for superheroes and also yourself, I am afraid I must decline.
Don’t get me wrong; I certainly applaud your gumption. It’s rather sweet that you seem to think saving the world requires me to join a club run by you. I am a literal ageless goddess with more than a century of knowledge of the world who can fly and use an arsenal of magical weapons. You’re a rich orphan with a trick jalopy who can’t tell the difference between a supervillain and a boat. Yes, of course, it’s only natural that you should be in charge and I should do the grunt work of recruiting “others like me.”[see the rest of the letter here—]
So obviously, the coming-of-age journey from girl to woman is both epic and ongoing. Nothing new here. We’ve seen this play out from the earliest of creation myths, to Persephone, Jane Eyre, Laura of Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables, anything by Tamora Pierce, not to mention back-assward subversions [cough, Fifty Shades, cough, cough…].
Then I read Evelyn Dear Fender, author Rodney Jones’ quirky, funny, often annoying but oddly-compelling new experiment with this old, old topic. And—like Rodney—I want to invent a new language or at least a new rating system to talk about reviews.
At a minimum, I wanted to know more about the creator of Evelyn dear Fender.
What is your idea of heaven?
You hear, now and then, of people who have come back from death telling of their experience in heaven. I’ve actually had that experience. No, not a near death experience, but I’ve been to heaven. All it takes is a couple shots of Knob Creek, a box of assorted chocolate creams, a dark, cold winter’s night, a cozy bed, and a great book. That, my dear friend, is heaven!
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I can still vividly remember the first time I was ever asked that question. I was seven years old, and with my grandfather, out in his barnyard at the time. He asked, and I replied, “An artister.”
I suspect the memory stuck in my mind because of his reaction, his laughter.
I grew up and became a lot of things, including an artister, but then took it a step further and became an authorer, as well.
What’s the biggest challenge of creating a setting in your novels?
Don’t rush it. I have to slow down and study the setting. Start with the basics. I first want my readers to have a sense for the space. It’s a kitchen in an old farmhouse. So it’s large. It’s an eat-in kitchen, with enough room to square-dance in. The action and the setting unfold together. A crushed Cheerio comes into focus as I reach down to pick up the lawnmower carburetor I nearly tripped over. I’ll let the reader create the sink, the stove, the refrigerator, cabinets and counter-top and all the typical stuff one assumes you’d see in a kitchen. I’m looking for a detail my protagonist might identify with, or a detail that enhances the mood of the scene, such as the lighting, or something that builds on the personalities of the people who live there, perhaps a lewd picture of a squirrel and a duck tacked to the door of the refrigerator.
What are you working on now?
I’m writing a story about the last two survivors of a 64,000-year-old mission to resettle humans in another solar system. It’s a quirky story, filled with colorful characters, memories and fragments of characters, as the mission limps to its twisted conclusion.
[Note from Barb: Author Rodney Jones doesn’t just take liberties with language, he reinvents, mocks, and wrestles it into submission. For more about his approach and a link to his useful alien dictionary, see his blog post here. None of this, however, earns my forgiveness for referring to boats and ships as “he”…]
Evelyn Hatfield sets out to be the first to reach the mythological land of Methania. But before her epic journey can begin, she must first suffer high school jealousies, the apathy of conformity, and a pair of clueless parents–all while learning to sail.
Through chance, and a few innocent manipulations and half-truths, Evelyn finally sets sail for the distant horizon where she and her stowaway monkey, Bobo, do battle with their most fearsome enemy, the weather… and lose. Shipwrecked on a tiny island, 4,000 miles from home, she meets Fender Spigot, an equally shipwrecked explorer from Methania who, having never heard a language other than his own, gibber-jabbers his way into her heart.
Regardless of their communication handicap, they manage to help each other escape the island—Evelyn, sailing east, and Fender, west—only to discover that absence makes the heart grow insufferably fonder. But how can they, again, find each other with such a monstrous ocean and a thousand misunderstandings between them?
Book Title: Evelyn Dear Fender
Author: Rodney Jones
Genre: SciFi (Adult and mature YA) with humor and fantasy and romance. And commas…
Length: 324 pages
Publisher: Amazon (May 10, 2016)
Contact and Buy Links:
As I’m reviewing a book, I mentally start by giving it three stars, and then add/subtract as I read. That process really didn’t work for Evelyn dear Fender.
In Part One, as Evelyn grows up, I was absolutely enchanted. Not only does the young Evelyn have a funny, pragmatic, weirdly logical view of the world, but her unshakable belief in her own destiny lets the reader (well, this reader anyway) share in that feeling that fate and maybe something greater and more compelling than fate absolutely WILL yield to her dream and determination.
We realize, slowly, that wherever Evelyn lives, it’s not Kansas. She refers casually to two moons in the sky above. Words have different meanings, or items have strange names. There are hints that while the cautious land-hugging people around her might admire those who take a chance, or honor those who sail off across the horizon chasing the dream of another land and people, they don’t actually believe in them. After all, none of those dreamers ever returned. Certainly, there is a reason they call their own country Fraidland.
But Evelyn is absolutely certain that it’s her destiny to find Methania, the mysterious other land that’s more rumor than fact. She manages to learn to sail, and even to convince her skeptical family to help her buy a boat. And during the years that this takes, she’s growing up, occasionally sidetracked by boys and clothes and friendships. Not only does Evelyn’s character grow and develop, but there is a constantly expanding circle of three-dimensional characters filling her world.
I often wonder about people who step so far outside the expected paths and norms of those around them. From their childhood, does genius shape great scientists or artists driven to explore and create new things? At what point do they know they are truly different from the rest of us? Evelyn certainly knows that her dream won’t be understood by anyone she loves or meets. But her dream becomes her identity, and to abandon it is to give up who and what she is.
“I could never say this out loud, but, yes, the discovery of Methania is more important than friendship—more important than my own happiness. It may be a lonely journey…probably. I am already beginning to feel it.”
By the time Part One ends, Evelyn is poised on the edge of her coming-of-age journey, approaching the point where it’s too late to turn back. Behind her is her childhood and any chance for a future her friends and family would call normal. Ahead is the final step into accepting her adult destiny.
“I’ve reached a place where normal people do not go; a normal person would have recognized the gravity of the risk well before reaching the edge. I’m still not quite there, but I’m getting there, and at some point I’ll have to acknowledge my arrival. It was never a gamble for me, until now.”
As Part One ended, I was madly adding stars to my review score. Did I really have to stop at five stars?
I didn’t have to worry, because then came Part Two. Although the whole book is told in the first person, in Part Two that point of view alternates. The problem is that author Rodney Jones doesn’t tell us who has the mike. So I was constantly flipping back pages, getting pulled out of the narrative, or just plain confused. And even though I suspect that was deliberate on the part of the author, it was still darn annoying. [Curse you, Rodney Jones, for making me pay close attention and look for clues and all…]
In Part Two, we meet Fender, who is shipwrecked on the same island where Evelyn’s boat is sunk during a giant storm. The first thing we realize is that although both sailors know the same words, those words have completely different meanings. Despite that, they manage to communicate through pictures.
Slowly, Evelyn and Fender become friends and then more. But as they learn about each other even though the meaning of their words remains incomprehensible, we start to get hints that something inevitable is happening. They aren’t just two shipwrecked sailors brought together by chance. Both were born on the same day, and are exactly the same age. Both felt a lifelong compulsion drawing them toward each other. Both knew they had to learn to sail, had to set off for a destination those around them thought was a myth. Both had to find each other.
I particularly liked that their differences were so fundamental. They didn’t take the easy route of assigning traditional gender roles, and they didn’t gloss over each character’s individual flaws. Both of them sweated, failed at tasks, had bad breath. They weren’t stereotypes for The Girl and The Boy.
Anlong with the problems of figuring which head we’re hopping into, the other big problem for me is that alongside the tough, bright, resourceful Evelyn with her snarky dialogue and rampant insecurities, Fender seemed clueless and relatively flat. Frankly, I get that he was Evelyn’s soulmate and they travelled to the ends of the world to find each other—but honestly I wanted to tell her she could probably do better. (Or, as her mother later tells her, “You know, Honey, there are plenty of young men around here…who don’t have criminal records.”)
But even as the two young sailors fall in love while repairing their boats (which, Evelyn cheerfully reports, could have been finished in half the time without all the mutual distracting), they know they will part, each returning to their homes. Because the good part about being a dreamer driven to succeed despite all distractions and temptations is that it’s also the bad part. Evelyn and Fender’s dreams include returning home, triumphant with their success. A little thing like finding your soulmate doesn’t stand a chance. Part Two ends with the two repaired boats sailing in opposite directions and the melancholy “From there, we grow increasingly and forever apart.”
So at this point, my review score is hovering around three and a half stars for how dizzy I am after all the head-hopping without a scorecard and my generally “meh” reaction to Fender.
Part Three offers lots of action and heartbreak and humor and snark. It’s hard because while we’re in Fender’s head, other conversations that are completely meaningless to him are reported and fairly understandable. There are some screaming funny language issues as well as some annoying lapses. How does Fender recognize a pickup truck? Did his civilization develop the exact same technology at the same time? Why can’t Fender learn any of the language spoken around him? (I’ve got a bunch of other ‘and what about…” questions, but they are way too spoilery for this review.)
So as I got deeper and deeper into Part Three, I was subtracting stars right and left. And adding them back just as fast as I snorted at the hilarious conversations going on around the clueless Fender. There was a slapstick rescue scene followed by the heartwarming ending. And most of all, it was Fender whose character grew and developed, and who took the single pivotal paradigm-altering decision of the entire book. Go, Fender! (Back up go the stars…)
I still didn’t know what I thought of the book overall or what it meant, so I closed it and walked away. For weeks. But Evelyn wouldn’t let me alone. She kept poking me to figure out what her story means.
And then last week, I did it. Or more precisely, my husband did. We’d been having a (heated) difference of opinion, and he said, “Don’t yell at me.” Now, just between you, me, and Mr. Webster’s dictionary, I know all definitions of ‘yell’ include the word ‘loud’—but we’d been whispering because we were in a movie theater. But I also know that in my husband’s dictionary, ‘yell‘ means ‘Barb saying something I don’t want to hear‘.
And there you have it. Evelyn dear Fender is actually a funny, wise, and occasionally annoying relationship self-help book. It points out that people come from completely different countries, and can’t possibly hope to understand each other. They might use the same words, but they mean completely different things. BUT (and this is the important bit) if you really take some chances and get out there, you might just end up with your soulmate. You still won’t understand what s/he’s saying most of the time, but the really important stuff doesn’t need words anyway.
Five stars. Brilliant—if occasionally annoying—work Rodney Jones. (I still want a scorecard for those head-hopping point of view changes though…) Well done Evelyn and Fender. (I’m sure there’s a Part Four to your story, and we can all guess what that is.)
***I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.***
About the Author
Barely able to form a coherent sentence, Rodney began writing his first novel, The Other Mr. Bax, in September of 1999. Prior to that, he struggled to compose a grocery list, misspelling nearly every item on it, and returning from the store with, mostly, the wrong stuff.Right… not very encouraging. However, when The Hookerwood Times asked Rodney’s mother to comment on her son’s writing, she proudly stated, “He’s the most determined boy in the world.”
A resident of Indiana, Rodney Jones is an artist, novelist, naturalist, immoralist, and inventor of the Elastic Zukulian. He loves art, music, movies, camping, travel, all-natural Cheetos, Italian food, whisky, and chocolate. His inspirations and influences include Rod Serling, Jon Gnagy, Cormac McCarthy, Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, Valentina Lisitsa, Buster Keaton, Roman Polanski, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Frank Zappa, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, and Pucer D. Holflapper.