A Dab of Debate and a Couple of Questions: Ms Knox Responds to Miss Bates

Miss Bates had the privilege and good luck to be able to ask Ms Knox a niggling question about “Making It Last.” It focuses on one of Miss Bates’s favourite lines. The result is that Ms Knox’s answer serves as an interesting counterpoint to Miss Bates’s review and it’s much better written!

 The MissBatesian Question:

 One of my favourite lines in MAKING IT LAST was Amber’s caustic comment about what she takes on while Tony pursues “his single-minded notion of male responsibility.” Can you tell us how this single great little phrase drives the conflict of your novella? How it shapes Tony and Amber’s marriage?

 Ms Knox’s response:

Ha! Thank you for asking this question. Nobody ever asks me this. I think there is a way in which male prerogative — and this ubiquitous, unkillable notion about what it is men are supposed to do versus what it is women are supposed to do — can walk right into the romance novel unquestioned, and I will admit, it drives me crazy.

Making It Last is a story about a husband who deals with stress and anxiety by working too much (way, way too much) and has ceased to communicate with his wife because he’s pretty sure she can handle everything at home. She has so far, after all. It’s also a story about a wife who deals with stress and anxiety by keeping quiet, juggling what has to be juggled, handling what she thinks is hers to handle, and drowning in her own head. She does that because she’s pretty sure her husband is just her husband, and nothing will ever change.

They are both making bad choices. Both of them. And they both have good reasons for their bad choices. Both of them.

 What I see sometimes, in reader reactions to this novella and another novel I wrote in which the hero worked way too much (*cough* Along Came Trouble *cough*) is a refusal to put any share of the blame on the hero for this behavior. He has to do this, some readers say. She shouldn’t resent him for it. That’s the way the world is.

I don’t think that’s the way the world is. I think it’s the way we make the world, and in Making It Last, it’s the way Tony and Amber have allowed their world to be made. And if they were happy, that would be that, but they’re unhappy. This world they’ve created is not working for them. And so the action of the story becomes about what decisions they have to make — what realizations they need to get to — in order to reach a place where they are ready to interrogate their behavior and start taking steps toward different decisions, which will lead them into a different marriage, and one that works better for both of them.

And, here is a very interesting question that Ms Knox addresses to us:

What do you think about “male privilege” in romance? Are you harder on female than male characters?

5 thoughts on “A Dab of Debate and a Couple of Questions: Ms Knox Responds to Miss Bates

  1. Miss Bates, for one, is always much much harder on the male characters than the female, much tougher on the hero than the heroine. Her natural affinity and care and sympathy is always for the heroine. The hero has longer to go to win her approval.

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  2. I read this today, thanks to your review, Miss Bates, and it gave me a lot to chew on.

    In answer to your question, I am usually harder on the hero, but in this instance, Amber’s situation was much too close to my own for me to be very sympathetic to her. (Married, stay at home mom, three kids, all five and under. Her kids were at least school aged, which makes me even less sympathetic.)

    My first thought was, maybe Amber should get a job? She gets out of the house, she earns some money, she has an identity outside of wife and mother. But of course, that would end the conflict too soon. 🙂
    Secondly, Amber makes the mistake of assuming her husband is a mind reader. When my day is going badly and I’m ready to resurrect the ancient custom of infant exposure, I tell my husband. He can’t know you need a break if you don’t tell him.

    All that being said, I loved this novella and whole heartedly recommend it. Ms. Knox captures the frustrations of being a parent and part of a long term couple so beautifully. It gave me a lot to think about in terms of what keeps a marriage going, how economics keeps men and women trapped in these breadwinner/homemaker roles and grinds them to dust in them. And even though Amber frustrates me, I know women like her in my own life, women that have no plans to work, or volunteer, or do anything once their children are in school. Women that I fear are likely to end up like Amber.

    So, thank you, Miss Bates, for suggesting this, and thank you, Ms. Knox, for writing it.

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    • And thank YOU, not quite the indolent home-maker with all those lovely children (may they thrive and bring you joy!), for reading, and thinking, and writing back. Amber haunts me still, even though I think, as a woman who’s never stayed home, always worked, and doesn’t have children or a husband, I was harsh on her … and I am least able to understand where she’s coming from. I think, though, that Virginia Woolf said it best about a “room of one’s own,” and having read all her journals (eons ago, of course), she too felt such tremendous pressure to fulfill all those traditional expectations of being a wife and mother. I think that what Amber is doing, what you’re doing, is as important and sacred as what any woman in the working world is doing. It’s just that Amber doesn’t seem to think it is and she hasn’t built herself a room of her own: she wanders through Tony’s vast house, which he built for her, and has not been able to carve one small space for herself. I’ve also seen the “other side,” (as you can watch in Linklater’s film, Before Midnight, which I hope you do, along with the other two!) of the career woman who loses herself in the “doing it all” and is pulled in so many directions that she becomes a shrew, or bossy, or holier-than-thou, or … shudder … all three! The single woman, the spinster, the divorcée, and the widow, these are women alone that we all know as well. And they may, like Miss Bates, be able to ponder existential questions while gazing on sun-beamed-dust-motes while supine, but the gaping maw of the apartment can also be difficult. Ultimately, though, I think for women, no matter where you stand, single, married, divorced, widowed, Woolf had it right, you need to ground yourself, make a room of your own and live in it for yourself; you have to have a calling for yourself that you believe in and work for. You should also have something for yourself, a hobby, a reading group, something to take you out of yourself in a way that you are a part of a community, a circle of friends, like-minded people, not just a couple, or a single.

      I’ve gone on and on and you’ve been very patient for reading. In many ways, though, I think that men are having just as hard time as women: Tony is a character with a strong sense of identity, of who he is and what his purpose is. And frankly, I find that many men don’t: a lot of men I know are kinda shiftless and look diminished next to these superwomen. (There’s this great French film that treats this very subject so well; it’s called Trop Belle Pour Toi, Too Beautiful For You. I know, what a great title.) But that is a whole other can of worms, I guess.
      Hope your world treats you well today and that your garden flourishes with beautiful things!! 🙂

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  3. Thank you so much for your very kind words!
    I think that a room of one’s own is exactly what Amber needs. As you point out, it’s what we all need. But we have to carve out that space for ourselves; we can’t wait for someone to hand it to us. I think that is what Amber is beginning to realize at the end of the story.
    As for Tony, he is an example of that endangered species: the blue collar male who is the sole breadwinner. Ms. Knox’s point that Tony’s ideal of being a provider is just as toxic to their relationship as Amber’s ideal of being super mom is well taken. As for why people are harder on Amber, my own unsatisfying answer is that my criticism of Amber is personal, even as I recognize that Tony deserves his share of the blame.
    And your point that men today seem more shiftless rings very true for me. The statistics on women in higher education provide a great example of this: 51% female in med school, 75%(!) in vet school, my own grad program was over half female, and those are just the ones off the top of my head. Given this shift, I really wonder what gender dynamics will look like to my children’s generation. (Especially given the lack of shifts we see in many, many other aspects of employment and the culture at large.)

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    • 75% in vet school, now that just made my day! Go girls!

      I do know what you mean about the stalwart sole breadwinner; I grew up with men like that, circum-Mediterranean or Eastern European men who stoically and silently worked and worked and worked. They were really quite marvelous in their own way and I’ve probably been tainted by those early impressions. Hence, my love of Tony! Do you know the poem, “Those Winter Sundays,” by Robert Hayden, about his working-class father, with that beautiful line, “love’s austere and lonely offices”? If not, it’s here

      I work with young people and I find that they are more conservative than my generation (the baby sisters and brothers of the boomers, just a squeezed-in sliver of nothingness really) and more adaptable. They are more aware of the fragility of the planet and their security and more likely to proceed with caution and have a plan for their future, yet they’re still open to change; maybe it’s the constant alterations in technology that they’re so good at. Girls, in particular, understand the cost of being career-driven and the loss if they sacrifice family, so they have a more realistic, more balanced sense of what they can and want to do. Boys are lost, floundering, uncertain, but for those who aren’t (and they’re more rare than girls), there’s a core of strength and goodness there that makes me very hopeful. So, I’d say I’m cautiously hopeful!

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