Tuesday, December 15, 2015


So I'm putting down this book that I was pretty interested in reading: The Cage, by Audrey Schulman.  I even got the library to order it for me, but I'm not even 20% done and I think I have to put it down.  And that's feeling kind of fraught to me.

The Cage is about Beryl, a nature photographer who has mostly only taken photos near where she lives in New England, but who wins an opportunity to go on an Arctic expedition where she'll sit in a protective cage and take photos of polar bears from close up.  This is a huge deal; most photos of animals like bears are taken with telephoto lenses. So this is an enormous opportunity for Beryl, who got the job because she was pretty much the only applicant small enough to fit in the cage that they had already built.

This is a metaphor for how Beryl is a tiny, quiet woman who is full of fear in a world of big, loud men who barrel through life.  The world is full of threats--people who interrupt you at parties, men who walk behind you down a quiet path in the park and might have been meaning to assault you, other photographers who are loud and full of themselves.  Literally every man in this book is actively obnoxious.  Beryl's father is the least awful one, because he's mostly just overprotective and kind of distant, in a traditional dad of 30 years ago way.

There aren't many women in the book at all, except Beryl's mom, whose life is one long experience of anxiety, mostly about how you might get assaulted. 

Okay, so there is no sense here that anyone is just a flawed human being making their way through the world.  People range from thoughtlessly brutish to selfishly brutish.  But see, this is very much Beryl's point of view.  I mean, it has to be--it's so extreme that I can't believe it's the author blithely telling me that this is how she views the world. 

But even if it's Beryl's view of the world, I don't feel very sympathetic to her.  I feel put off.  When she meets the reporter, Butler, who will be writing the copy to go with her photos, before she even knows him, he's awful. Literally, the first moment: "He'd introduced himself only by his last name.  Beryl guessed that his frist  name must be something effeminate, like Ceciil or Francis.  He wore the practical outdoor clothes of someone who wished for a short and common name with hard consonants, like Nick or Ted."  She's judging a guy who wears rugged, outdoorsy clothes on an Arctic expedition as compensating for something?  Besides the cold? 

So yeah, I don't have a lot of respect for Beryl, and I don't think I can read a whole book on her point of view.  But this feels fraught, because I feel like I'm giving up on something that's trying to show me a certain lens of the world.  I mean, this is about how a small, shy, introverted woman gets kicked around for not being one of the guys.  That's a story worth telling, right?  And honestly, when I put it that way, yeah, that's a story that needs to be told--it's okay to be small and shy; the system will try to tell you that you don't matter, but you do. 

Except.  Except I don't admire Beryl, or like her, or sympathize with her.  I've developed a taste for unlikable characters who are more active, or who are just doing their own thing.  But Beryl isn't doing her own thing--or rather, when she is (photography), she's actually interesting and tolerable.  But as soon as she enters the world of people, she becomes completely inert, and seems to exist only as a lens through which to despise things.

I don't know.  I feel like there might be some important feminist point to the stuff I don't like about this story.  But I can't stomach it long enough to find out.  Which is a shame, because I was really curious to see what happened when she actually go into the cage.  Just not curious enough, I guess.

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