by Beth Wareham
What is more courageous than entering a world of powerless females and raising your gun at men who want to kill you? She is thrilling. She is relentless. As colleagues look askance at her pronouncements, afraid of her “mental issues,” there is only one problem: she is the only person in the room who will do what it takes.
She is also the one person in the room who is most always right. Always. (Let’s not explore the need for society to call women who are right “crazy.” Let’s reserve that for the next Presidential campaign.)
In Showtime’s Homeland last week, Carrie Mathison ascended to the ultimate throne of female fierceness when she screamed TAKE THE SHOT! over and over, ordering death by drone of the highest level of Middle Eastern terrorists and her favorite boss and mentor, former CIA Director Saul Berenson. Her male colleagues pulled her from the room, shot untaken, as she asserted her authority in between more screams of “Take the Shot!”
Some choices are bad no matter which one you make. This was one of them. But it seemed reasonable to eradicate these killers AND keep the CIA’s secrets intact. Cold, yes. But hey, boys, war is hell.
While none of the women below stared down a drone, each one was a fierce, clear-eyed witness in their pursuit of life above and beyond gender. Some went into the wilderness, others bedded evil men and slit their throats in the night. These women did not care what anyone thought of them, and had they been in that room with Carrie, their voices would have probably joined hers in a chorus of TAKE THE SHOT:
1. Alexandra Fuller’s Scribbling the Cat – She blasted into readers’ vision with Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, but this short read 90-minute read is a reality so vivid, you can almost smell the blood drying on the overalls of white Afrikaners in the Zimbabwe bush. Her search for the mercenaries that fought Zimbabwean rebels, scourge of her youth, bring her finally to a compound of drunken madness where she finds broken old white men, telling war stories and taunting an equally insane old lion, chained up on the lawn.
2. Sula by Toni Morrison – Toni Morrison’s took down slavery in a book of such power and poetry, it seems almost criminal to be American and not have read it. (It also earned Ms. Morrison a Nobel Prize in Literature.) But in Sula, Morrison goes way down into the belly of the individual, in this case two women, and shows the wheel of love and hate turning round and round inside of them. The women love each other. The women hate each other. The women don’t understand each other. The women want what the other has. The women destroy their bond and their love as so many other women have before them have done: over a man.
3. West with the Night by Beryl Markham: Every true reader has a book that falls into his or hand hands at an impressionable age and gives off a hint of what life might be. Until the grave, the reader never shakes this book off completely and, in the back of her or his mind, the dream never dies. For a young suburban teen, West with the Night seemed unimaginable; a woman pilot in 1900s Africa, soaring over that Continent at will, having affairs with the great white hunter Denys Finch-Hatton and writer-pilot, Antoine Saint-Exupery. Imagine those two ecstatic souls – Saint-Exupery and Markham – soaring over the volcanic East African landscape, shouting at each other over their biplanes’ engines as they dipped, circled and rose. Beryl raised racehorses and rarely paid a bill. Some would call her a sociopath.
A woman who knew how to live feels a more appropriate label.
4. Seven Gothic Tales by Isak Dinesen – Many fierce women blow through Africa, as can be seen in the entries above. Dinesen’s most famous work came out of that experience (may the young Robert Redford always be there to wash your hair), complete with lion-whippings and scenes of swollen bellies. When Dinesen returns to Denmark, she produces a lifetime of great writing which includes these creepy little short stories, rife with paranormal suggestion, mystery and dread. Seven Gothic Tales belongs on the shelf with Poe and proves that she whether confronting a Zulu or a ghost; Isak was up to it.
5. Lucky by Alice Sebold – In her freshman year at Syracuse, Alice Sebold walked home from campus one the evening. She passed through a tunnel and when she comes out the other side, all life as she knew it is gone. Inside, she was attacked and raped violently, an act of such viciousness the first cop on the scene is amazed she is alive. He calls her “lucky” because just last week, the cop tells the ripped bleeding Alice, a woman was murdered and dismembered in that very same tunnel. Sebold would go on to write The Lovely Bones several years later, a publication some compare to the success of Gone with the Wind.
“Save yourself or you remain unsaved.”
Now that’s fierce.
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