Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Furies: A Thriller by Mark Alpert

The Furies are a family who live on the very edges of society.  After centuries of being hunted and massacred as witches, they have pulled away and try to live peaceably. When John first meets Ariel, he is over come by her beauty.  What he doesn't know is this meeting will put him right into the middle of the Fury civil war. He finds himself almost in a world outside of time, where people use an older version of English and even dress in fashions made popular during the 1600's.  Will his love of Ariel  give him the courage to find a way to thrive in Fury society?  Now that the FBI are looking for John, in connection with a drug deal and terrorist acts, he can never go back to the life he had.

In many ways The Furies has elements of a typical discrimination flip.  The Fury society is matriarchal because the women are extremely long lived, while the men only live the normal human span. We are even told of a mother who tells her son that she simply cannot invest in him because of his short life.  All of the elders are women and the men have no seat on the high council, or right to vote on a course of action for their family. The difference in longevity leads to a gender imbalance causing the women greatly outnumber men. The men are used for physical strength to work the farm.  Fury men are also infertile, which means the women must leave the family compound to be able to breed.  The women meet paramours in the outside world and leave the moment they discover they are pregnant.  Women are almost revered and fear investing in men because of their short lifespans.  The men feel disgruntled because of the lack of power they possess and covet the women's long lives. This comes to head when a formula is discovered which could potentially make the Fury men as long lived as the women, but the council wants to proceed with caution given the difficulty processing the anti aging formula and the concern about potential side effects. In the end, Alpert casts the men as villains because they break their family's code of silence, kill several women and even involve the FBI in their mission to gain their supposed equality.

I don't believe that the FBI would be so gullible as to simply follow along with the directions of Basil. I don't believe that they would invest such huge resources on any informant without any real investigation. I further find the constant involvement in major historical events by this family to implausible and times wondered if I were reading a sci-fi version of Forest Gump.

The Furies is extremely action packed, including descriptions of weapons.  John finds himself on the run with no idea of who is actually chasing him or why and yet he is steadfast about protecting Ariel and staying by her side.  This makes absolutely no sense to me because there is nothing that really binds these two together. Alpert is forced to rely on insta-love to make his story work.  John's devotion continues though he learns that Ariel lied to him from the moment she met him and only interacted with him to use him as a sperm donation. He isn't even really a person, just an entity capable of making her pregnant.  For his part, John justifies his instant devotion of Ariel because he is divorced, his child is dead and he has no friends or family to speak of. Ariel continually justifies her ongoing usage of John by claiming to want to protect him and fear that the burning times will return Though it is genuine to believe that their secret of longevity would cause them to be imprisoned and experimented on by the government, it does not justify what she does to John and it reads as a denial of privilege and power.

Though a gender imbalance exists, Ariel has White privilege and she most certainly has class privilege where John is concerned  It is telling that the two men whom Ariel chooses to mate with are both men of colour. That they instantly fall in love with her speaks of covetous nature of men of colour for White women.

John is an African-American man and a former drug dealer who turned his life around.  Heaven forbid he be some sort of professional man.  There is very little discussion about the racism that he faces as a man of color in a White supremacist world; however, Alpert does include the following false equivalency.
"I'm sorry, but all of this sounds a little wacky.  Are you saying you come from a family of witches?"
Her reaction was instantaneous.  she leaned forward at the waist, nearly coming off the backseat, and pointed at him.  Her face reddened and her jaw muscles quivered "Don't use that word.  Do't ever say that word."
"What? Witches?"
"I'm serious, John.  It's like saying the word nigger.  You know what it feels like to hear that , don't you"
He nodded. Technically, he was multiracial, but he knew where he stood  He'd been called a nigger his whole life, Philadelphia had its share of racists, and his skin color was dark enough to make him a nigger in their eyes.  But he didn't see the connection with witches. "I don't get it. What -"
"It was genocide.  Tens of thousands or people killed in the sixteenth centuries.  Most of them killed women." She grasped a lock of her hair and held it out for John to see, "Red hair and green eyes run in our family, so the churchmen told their congregations to look for people with those signs, the signs of the Devil. But once the killing started, it went out of control.  Most of the victims had nothing to do with our family. The churchmen and the mobs, they killed anyone who was different - hermits, foreigners, simpletons." (pg 63-64)
Where do I even begin with how problematic this passage is?  Alpert has a White woman lecturing a man of colour on his marginalization and then invoking offensive language to make a false equivalency.  Yes, women were slaughtered in the witch hunts and it lead to a massive disempowerment of women. What happened was wrong but that does not justify the outright appropriation of the ongoing marginalization of marginalized people.  It is further problematic because neo-pagans exist today and embrace the label witch as part of their religious practices.  Who is Alpert to turn this term into a slur?

In a family as large as the Furies, it makes absolute sense that a certain percentage of them are GLBT. Unfortunately same sex pairings are done out of a sort of convenience rather than a natural attraction to someone of the same gender.
"Nay, you have to understand: no one is ever truly alone in Haven.  We're a tightly bound family.  We do everything together." Gower gestured at the pairs of women scattered across the dining room. "And some women are content to find partners of their own gender.  They usually choose someone born close to their own time.  It feels more comfortable that way, I suppose."
"What about the men? They partner with each other, too"
"Aye, certainly.  But not all of us." He took another swig of been and pointed at himself.  "Consider me, for example. I am a tragic figure. I pine hopelessly for a woman I've ever spoken to." (pg 168)
Not only do we not actively see a pairing between people of the same gender, such pairings are explained by the difference in longevity between men and women and not a natural desire.  Further, the Fury family is several thousand strong and yet somehow, they have no Trans* members whatsoever.  This is statistically impossible.

There are a lot of problems with this book.  I went into it expecting a strong paranormal theme, given the description of the book.  It is absolutely inaccurate and The Furies falls more into the realm of action/adventure with a sprinkling of sci-fi.  Witchcraft which is the hook that got me to read this book, is explained away as a genetic mutation.  I can accept this novel for what it is despite the misleading description; however, I have a problem with the gender discrimination flip, as well as the treatment of marginalized characters.  I could have done without all of the running, shooting and explosions, as this is not appealing personally to me, as well as the dependence on the insta-love to sell the devotion of John to Ariel. When all of that is stripped away, I must admit that the concept of The Furies is fascinating.  The problem is that it's surrounded by so much bunk that at times it gets lost.

Editor's Note: A copy of this book was received from Netgalley