This is the third and final of the series of reader responses, from Andrea. There is a new board available on the Interact forum, if you would like to discuss the book in more depth, or you are free to comment here.
If And Then Put Out the Light were a nursery room fairy tale, then the moral of it would be this: That, for good or ill, we create our own realities. Our practical choices in every day life, the important choices at big crossroads of life, the small habits of imagination that we choose, the deliberate delusions we use to cope rather than confront straight out the overwhelming pain of events out of our control, these are all tools we use to carve reality into the image we choose.
I am supposed to be addressing the question of what the story tells us about Emily in light of feminist ideas. But I am not sure enough of feminist theory to be able to put labels on Emily’s actions that way. I see her giving her innate power, her internal proper authority, over to others – and that certainly is a feminist issue – but I see her giving her power away not only to men, but to women. She seems to lurch along through life, mostly reacting to events rather than making deliberate, reasoned choices. Mind you, by use of the phrase “reasoned choices” I am not excluding the reason “because I want to”. A reasoned choice can include simple desire, but I also require it to be made while sufficiently aware of the risks and consequences. For a mountain climber, “Because it is there” is a good enough reason even with the risk of death. For someone who can barely get up a flight of stairs then cannot remember what was wanted from upstairs, lurching up Everest on impulse without equipment and guides is damned foolish. And it is the kind of choice that Emily seemed to be making all too often. She seems rarely in life to have made deliberate choices. That is something I see as the heart of feminism – that women must have the same freedoms men have, to choose their roles in life. Yet so many of the life events Emily spends her life reacting to, rather than putting energy into living her choices, are things that can happen to both men and women. These things can mess people up. She gave away her power to choose by clinging to her reactions. And it is easy for anyone to learn to deal by pretending they have only the power to react, rather than the power to make their own choices and get beyond the reaction to live their own lives. I have little patience with this form of weakness. I hate it in my mother. I hate it in the female characters in tv shows that are so often written with little or no agency of their own. I hate it when I see it in my friends. And I hate it in myself. We are supposed to be the heroes of our own stories, but we cast ourselves as the victims all too often. We give our power away, because it is easier than claiming it for ourselves.
This is my least favorite of Grabien’s books. That said, the story itself was compelling enough to draw me in. There were a number of very vivid supporting characters that I liked much better than I liked the protagonist. I could see and hear the scenes. And of course, it still is a more interesting tale than most of the goop that gets ink.