I am no longer accepting people to participate in the Rosie's Riveters series. The participants I currently have on the list will all have their chance to share their favorite or most hated woman, and then we shall start the new With Reverent Hands series on this blog. More details on With Reverent Hands can be found in my Sunday Salon post here.
This week's post (the last one!) is by Paula Butturini, the author of Keeping the Feast, a book I reviewed yesterday. I thoroughly enjoyed Butturini's memoir about living with a loved one who suffers from depression, and the struggles that go along with it. She went up even higher in my estimation when she submitted the following Riveter, based on a book I really enjoyed reading!
The publishers are being so kind as to offer a FREE copy of Keeping the Feast to a lucky BookLust reader located in the US or Canada. To enter, leave a comment WITH YOUR E-MAIL ADDRESS and say what your ideal Italian destination would be. I'll draw a name on Sunday.
Who is your Riveter?
Penelope, wife of Odysseus, and the not-quite-beautiful cousin of Helen of Troy.
What book does she feature in?
The Penelopiad, by Margaret Atwood, in which Homer's The Odyssey is finally told -- just a few thousand years late -- from the female side, by Penelope, the faithful wife, instead of from the testosterone side (in which Odysseus managed to spend ten years away fighting the Trojan War and another ten wandering the Aegean Sea, supposedly trying his best to get home).
Do you love her or hate her?
I adore her, of course. What's not to love about a character who begins her tale: "Now that I'm dead I know everything. This is what I wished would happen, but like so many of my wishes it failed to come true. ... Since being dead -- since achieving this state of bonelessness, liplessness, breastlessness -- I've learned some things I'd rather not know, as one does when listening at windows or opening other people's letters. You think you'd like to read minds? Think again."
Describe her personality -- how would you compare her to a friend?
Penelope is clear-eyed and clever, droll, sardonic, and utterly elemental. She's seen everything, understood just about everything, and had the singular freedom to do as she pleased for twenty years while her husband was away. She's a rare bird, indeed, who ruled Odysseus' ancient kingdom, and who both tricked and stood up to the Suitors who pursued her, not for herself, of course, but for Odysseus' riches and power.
Can you compare her to a celebrity?
I would compare her to Meryl Streep, in all her power and glory today as a wise, well-seasoned woman, somewhat like the character she's playing now in the film, "It's Complicated."
What makes her riveting?
Penelope is trying to set the record straight about one of the Western world's most potent myths, and to tell it from the woman's side, in all its power and might. She takes command of the difficult life she was given, no small feat even thousands of years later, and uses her brains and skills to keep herself whole throughout the two decades she is on her own.
It was Penelope who devised the stratagem of holding off the Suitors who pursue her by declaring she cannot begin to think about choosing a new husband until she finishes weaving the finest burial shroud for her father-in-law; it was she who delays her decision indefinitely by undoing at night the work she accomplishes during the long days her husband is away.
What do you most admire about her?
Her determination and her loyalty, not just to Odysseus but to her twelve beloved maids, the youngest, most beautiful maids, her trusted eyes and ears, the ones whom the Suitors had raped, the ones Odysseus ordered killed upon his return. She never stopped trying to wrest control of the utterly complicated life the Fates had given her, and she remained loyal to him and to them, who paid the ultimate price for their loyalty to her.
Would you recommend reading the book in which she features?
A thousand times yes! It's short -- not two hundred pages -- and all the more potent and mesmerizing for its brevity. It sucks one in. I read it through the first time in one hypnotic sitting, and was so ensnared by its force that I turned back to the first page the instant I finished and started it all over again. Atwood beats Homer at his own game, hands down.
Do you have a quote by your Riveter you'd like to share?
During the years Odysseus is away, Penelope tells us that rumors of his whereabouts fly:
"Odysseus was the guest of a goddess on an enchanted isle, said some; she'd turned his men into pigs -- not a hard job in my view -- but had turned them back into men because she'd fallen in love with him and was feeding him unheard-of delicacies prepared by her own immortal hands, and the two of them made love deliriously every night; no, said others, it was just an expensive whorehouse, and he was sponging off the Madam."