Gather The Daughters: A Novel by Jennie Melamed

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“This dream, the dark embodiment of blasphemy, is a shameful secret rooted strongly as a tooth or a fingernail.”

Still catching my breath, weeks after reading Gather The Daughters by Jennie Melamed. Let’s just talk about the gorgeous writing, the sentences that created this cult-like nightmare world. This is how a writer should reveal the inner turmoil, from describing mutton that tastes like dirt and yet father eats with gusto, to one child hating the marks on her body and how they give her inner secrets, shame away. There is no need to spell out anything here, it is bubbling all the time on the surface, it’s deadly hands are coming up out of the dirt and grabbing at the children. This novel is downright disturbing and I don’t pretend to know an author’s intentions, we read what will and let them play in our minds differently, we ponder the things that are said as much as unsaid. No one ever reads the same book!  This can simply be a disturbing cult, stuck at the end of the world on an island, cut off from the so-called wastelands, it can just be adults full of lies creating a utopia that benefits men alone, or you can scratch at the surface and see the abuse in the very world you live in now.

We are, all of us, little cults- aren’t we? If you really open your mind and think of your culture, country, city, family, circles then you can see it- those things that make us separate from the ‘wastelands’ in our own lives, the rules we create for the ‘better’ of our loved ones. The things we chose to believe, whether we act out on the account of religious beliefs or against believing in anything at all, we are still creating boundaries, truths, paths. I thought about the sickening world these girls, these daughters are gathered in (rounded up more like) and  how they feel the wrongness at their core, even when suppressing their rage, it’s still there, even if it is in the form of fear.  I pondered on the blind acceptance of the grown women, ‘oh well, it’s just the way things are.’  What is the purpose of the pungent drink mothers give their little girls? How could a mother be complicit, and what does it mean when you grow up in a world where it is expected, normal? Isn’t it always this way, maybe not as extreme- still… What is expected of women, what we’re meant to shuck in becoming mothers, or adults in this world, may not be as brutal and rotten as in this novel but there are parallels, my friends.

I am not trying to be harsh on humanity, certainly parents must guide their children, certainly we can’t throw up our hands and believe in nothing, nor let the children run around as a feral creature, we have to exist in society don’t we? Even if you escape humanity and live off the grid, there are still rules to teach your children for survival. But there is living and there is blind acceptance. In Gather The Girls, bad things seem to happen the girls, women who do not accept the way, the ones who dare to question or look to the horizon for something different. What a brutal place!  I tasted Lord Of The Flies in the children’s summers, dare I say I enjoyed far better the descriptions by Melamed as the children of her creation turn feral? Absolutely, that’s how gorgeous her writing is! What is going on here? What is this place? Is the rest of the world just a burning wasteland, if so- where in the hell do these newcomers hail from? Why do they have different clothing and shoes? Why won’t they talk of the outside world, much as the wanderers that salvage things from the wastelands won’t?

The daughters, all the poor daughters suffer and it’s a disgusting act that is a father’s right, with girls so young. First you belong to daddy, then one wild season of frolicking, exploring your sexuality, then you better match yourself up with a man that you will now belong to, have a family, there is no freedom there is no choice. Then when you are no longer of use to the island and it’s people, you drink a draught and die selflessly, so others may take your place. Make room for the young! “She loved him until they blew out the lanterns, and then she wanted to creep away on her belly like something boneless and primitive.”

There could days of discussions over this haunting novel. While most of our lives aren’t as torturous and full of abuse, the longing for running wild, climbing trees, rather than acting like a ‘proper woman’ isn’t lost on any of us. Who doesn’t want to taste the rain and enjoy the wildness of childhood? Shucking off freedom, behaving appropriately, accepting your due is a death unto itself we all go through. Luckily we have choices, at least the illusion of it. Our world can have limits we are blind to, much in the same way the people of this particular island follow in the footsteps of their forefathers. It’s not easy to see the wrongness of your world if you can never leave it, if there isn’t anything different to compare it to. I am reminded of those of us that travel, how we never come back the same, nothing has changed in our old haunts, our perception is altered. Mind you, one needn’t travel to other countries, look around you- the world is connected now and ignorance is never an excuse. God bless the misfits, the outcasts, those who deviate from the norm because through them we question everything we accept as truth, through them we can see past our smallness in this vast universe, and maybe question the self-appointed dictators in our lives.  Gather The Daughters has it’s own fiery haired misfit, Janey- who fights even nature to escape the ways of her people.

This novel is so good, and I wish I could write about the girls more but I hate ruining the pleasure for others. I am curious to probe others thoughts and opinions on this. I think I’ll be forcing it on a few friends so we can chew on one another’s insights. Oh my gosh, yes- read it. I went through so many emotions, anger, disgust, hope, excitement, and the end- the ending… oh….  Gorgeous summer reading!

Publication Date: July 25, 2017

Little, Brown and Company

 

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