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Book Review: Salvage (Or what Jill Duggar should have read before her wedding)

I was looking for a good cleaning/renovation distraction story when I saw Salvage by Alexandra Duncan in the Editor’s Picks section of Audible.  It sounded like an interesting sci-fi story about a girl from space stranded on earth.  In this case, it’s less Ursula LeGuin and more Young Adult but intriguing in it’s own way.  In fact, it brought back some old memories but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Salvage is the story of Parastrata Ava, a “so-girl” on a deep space merchant ship who commits an unpardonable sin.  A so-girl is something like an assistant manager but in this case, Ava can only manage other women.  That’s because the deep space merchant ships have been in operation for so long that each one of them has become its own little polygamous tribe.  Think of it like a cross between the Taliban and the FLDS church traveling the Silk Roads of the galaxy.  Every now and again, two merchant ships will dock at a space station above Earth for some genetic swapping, er, marriages.  This involves sending some young 16 year old girl as a bride to the other ship.  She has no idea who she is going to marry or whether she will be a first, second or fifth wife of her husband.  There’s no choice in the matter and she’s not supposed to ask questions.  Virginity is highly prized and, as you can imagine, sometimes these weddings go disastrously wrong.  Without giving too much of the plot away, this is what happens to Ava and she is forced to flee the space station or face an honor killing via the airlock.

In spite of the fact that Ava has never been on earth before and has no cardiovascular conditioning, she manages to survive her abrupt introduction to gravity.  Ava’s story starts to resemble many hero narratives complete with a wise guide character who teaches her some basics and then dies tragically, leaving her to figure the rest out for herself.  Ava has been raised in a fundamentalist religious society but it’s remarkable how quickly she manages to discard all of that indoctrination.  I think it’s the fact that she is forced to survive on her own that makes it so easy for her to see how useless the religious dogma is to her new circumstances.

One such revelation occurs when she tells a young earth friend one of the foundation myths of her ship.  It’s about a ship on a voyage that was trying to hide from a marauding ship in the vicinity.  One of the women was singing and the men on the ship told her to shut up or she would attract the attention of the pirates.  But the woman said that was nonsense and kept singing.  Sure enough, the pirate ship found them and havoc ensued.  And that’s why women on deep space vessels were forbidden from singing on penalty of death!  Ava believes this story like it’s Eve’s curse until her young friend points out that her science book says that sound doesn’t carry in space.  Then it dawns on Ava that the myth was just another clever way to blame women for everything and keep them in their place.

It also dawned on me that there are a lot of silly myths that women are supposed to swallow without question even today that are intended to keep them in their place.  The Genesis creation story is just one.  The biblical obsession with virginity is another.  Maybe 3000 years ago it was important for inheritance rights, because, after all, you could only be sure of who your mother was back then and even up until blood typing, you could never be 100% sure who your father was.  But in the 21st century, we have genetic testing to keep everyone honest.  The notions that a woman must guard her virginity or be considered worthless coupled with all of the societal baggage that goes with being a female just seems antiquated in the light of new technology and contraceptives.  It does make you wonder who it is that fundamentalism is trying to protect. It also makes me cringe when I see even women on the left who claim to be feminists consistently deferring to men, ignoring their own concerns.  The indoctrination is very, very deep.

Anyway, I immediately thought of Jill Duggar, Duggar family valedictorian, now Jill Dillard, when I read this book.  As many of you may know, she is the first of the Duggar girls to get married.  She and her hubby tied the knot on that non-Christian holiday, Midsummer’s Night Eve, and they saved their first kiss for the altar.  A lot of people think that’s correct and virginal and special but I think that saving such an intimate thing as a kiss for a spectacle in a church full of a 1000 people who all but “hubba-hubba!” and cat-call in the pews, is a bit on the obscene side and looks like a violation of their privacy. Rather than looking uber Christian and sacred, it reminds me of something pagan, barbaric and tribal.

Yeah, I think the so-called Christians out there should know what some of us see during these Quiverfull weddings.  We have a completely different interpretation of what we are witnessing and it’s vaguely horrifying, not spiritual.  What did we miss?  The parading of the blood stained sheets the next morning?  Was there a contract to return the bride to Jim-Bob if Jill’s hymen turned out to be too easily ruptured?  Why not actually watch to make sure the marriage is consummated like royals did thousands of years ago?  These people are way too involved in their children’s private lives.  A Duggar wedding, while preceded by a chaste courtship that’s supposed to be all about getting to know your future spouse’s character, turns out to be focused almost entirely on sex and not companionship.  It seems strange and the reverse of what most everyone we know does these days.  We know that when it comes to relationships, the thrill is gone all too quickly and it’s only when you decide there are other things to keep you together that you get married.  That’s the sacred that the Duggars seem to miss.  And it’s not like the Quiverfull movement doesn’t have it’s share of miserable marriages and those that end in divorce.  Vyckie Garrison of No Longer Quivering is a testament to the failure of these unions and the destruction they wreck on the young people forced into them.

I remember when my Jehovah’s Witness friend H. got married at the tender age of 17.  She and her boyfriend B. abstained until their wedding night but we all knew that the reason they married so young was because they couldn’t be normal unmarried teenagers and do even a bit of snogging without getting disfellowshipped.  Two months later, she was sitting in my living room with her head in her mother’s lap, suffering from morning sickness.  She was a changed person in every way and no longer the happy, confident friend I knew.  It was shocking.  Her youth was spent in just a few weeks.

Parastrata Ava turns her back on all of that and focuses with laser like intensity on the future where she controls her own destiny and whether or not she even wants to have sex and with whom.  What I really regret was that Jill didn’t get a copy of this book smuggled to her before the wedding so that she knew there was something out there besides a life of never having a minute to herself and babies and men telling her to stop singing all the time (even if her hubby, Derick, does look like a reasonable guy who might even let her wear pants someday).

Recommended.  4 sponges.  There are some parts of the middle that drag a little bit and the ending, while satisfying, could have been more satisfying and ended all too soon.  Hoping for a sequel.  This character has earned one.