Being the second of the Women of Genesis series (the first is Sarah) by the otherwise sci-fi-minded Orson Scott Card (of Ender’s Game fame), Rebekah is a fictional rendering of a Biblical character. Easy enough, right?
I find these types of stories fascinating because we hear of these people so often—even in the growing secularism of the modern age, most people in the Western world have at least heard of Noah, Abraham, Moses. We tend to flatten them into characters of children’s stories, appearing for their handful of dramatic scenes to change the world and then shuffling offstage to make way for the next upheaval. But these were people—real people, I believe, though I know many would rather see them as archetypes or compilations. In being real, they made mistakes, were jealous, angry, sad, in love, in hate—they felt, which we tend to gloss over even when we’re given the stories of just that.
So this centers on Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, mother of Esau and Jacob. I’ve never liked her or Jacob because of their conniving regarding the birthright, and Jacob’s general conniving, but Card’s storytelling makes it a plausible thing. I really appreciated Card’s Preface to this, in which he explains his focus on the idea that often snafus come out of people just trying to do good for themselves or others but not being able to see the larger picture of impact. Yes, the whole thing comes from Card’s imagination—let no reader take this as Scripture, apocryphal or otherwise—but it is held by quite a bit of research so as to have a believable setting.
There are some definite moments of language error where hints of Christianity creep in ever-so-anachronistically, but otherwise this is a great tale of how incredibly screwed up families are even (and especially) when they’re trying to love each other. Card’s gift in this series isn’t necessarily his weaving of modern historical fiction with Biblical account but his focus on the human relationships that occupy the scriptural silences. Parents who argue with each other over how to raise kids? I can understand that. Women who snipe at each other while trying to please someone else? I know that place. Sibling relationships that are incredibly complicated and multi-layered in every interaction? Check. Kids who carry the scars of trying to be whoever for their parents even as they themselves are no longer kids? Seen that a hundred times. So when Card brings all of these out in his easy-flowing prose, he creates people who are totally logical and immensely frustrating and very real, in that sense of the unchangeable core of humanity; this, with these legends, is a wonderful thing.
There are some reviews of this that snipe at the Mormon moments embedded in the characters (Card is himself of the Latter Day Saints), but it seems I don’t know enough about all of that to have caught them. No, I wouldn’t have mistaken the author for a Roman Catholic, but it was never a moment of “ohmigoshthecrazy!” that seemed to accompany other people’s characterizations. Really, it’s a story about a messed-up family that is trying to survive all the damage each generation inflicts on the next as it tries to occupy the space of wounded and teacher at the same time. Family is rough, no doubt, and I really appreciate that Card’s fiction allowed me to remember that each of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs and VIPs had families that were rough. As I gear up to go on a giant family reunion tour centered around the interment of my grandparents, I totally embrace the reminder that this mess of family awkwardness and pain and hope and joy and frustration isn’t new, and I’m in good company trying to navigate it.
So there won’t be a post next week, Reader, as I go off to this familial shindig. I quite candidly ask for your prayers, as there will be not only the pressure of a hundred people (perhaps literally, as I think this is pulling in several generations from all over the country) which is hell for an introvert, but also there will be the weird small talk of them remembering me from when I was three or whenever they saw me last, which is some decades ago and is not an age I myself remember all that well. Trying to keep the relationships straight of who is whose brother or second cousin or favorite aunt or whatnot as well as trying to deal with the family I know quite well and who are currently making me want to tear my hair out is going to be…a bit much, so I do ask for your prayers. God knows family, too, and how sometimes they are just exasperating, and I will definitely need His patience and backbone. I’ll be back to tell you of my anecdotes on the 28th.