Book Review: Kia Heavey’s “Night Machines”

Kia Heavey’s Night Machines is a difficult-to-classify novel (more or less paranormal suspense with strong romantic elements)  that asks the reader to really think about what marital fidelity is. Among the many surprising things in this novel is, despite its very Christian theme, it is not a Christian book at all. It is, instead, a very female book, one that takes the darkest and most private thoughts of a woman and lays them bare.

In Night Machines, Maggie Moore and her husband, police officer Rowan, are undergoing a transformation in their lives. Maggie, after devoting herself to her family as a stay-at-home mother for five years, is re-entering the workforce; Rowan has been presented with a difficult case, the murder of a little girl, that haunts him when he looks at their children,  Hazel, 5, and Charlie, 2. Maggie is additionally presented with a terrible temptation: her new boss, a wealthy, handsome, and charming man who desires nothing more than to put her at the center of his life. Both Maggie and Rowan turn inward to deal with these problems rather than to one another, a reaction that begins to tear them apart.

When Rowan begins to work double shifts in hopes of solving the murder, Maggie is left even more alone. She creates a rich fantasy life with her boss at the center of an imagined affair. Soon she begins dreaming about it, wonderful lush erotic dreams that fulfill her in ways her husband is currently unable to. This seems like an innocent solution to a complex problem – until her dreams begin to turn real.

Night Machines was a difficult book for me to read, largely because Kia Heavey manages to make the story both realistic and personal. Every woman has this dark fantasy life within her – heck, that’s why Fifty Shades of Gray is such an enormous success. It is uncomfortable to stand back and look at that fantasy, questioning whether it does more damage than good to your life and mental health. Kia shows us how that fantasy life can twist and turn against you, warping into a monster that controls you. While Night Machines‘ monster turned out to be quite real, it did not have to be. Maggie’s fantasy pulled her away from her husband and family simply because it was more attractive to her than the daily grind. Our fantasies do the same for us, whether it’s the wonderful dream of hitting the lottery or imagining the road not taken. When our fantasy lives take root and shape our waking thoughts, we are no longer living in the present real world, but instead are a step removed from ourselves, cheating us and those we love by weakening the ties we have and sapping our desires for real things.

Night Machines is set primarily in modern Connecticut, largely in a big pharmaceutical company, and Ms. Heavey does a remarkable job of evoking the unique atmosphere of this world (I once worked at Pfizer in Connecticut – she captured it perfectly.)

I highly recommend this book to women who want to understand themselves better and to men who are brave enough to look at a darker side of women. Unlike many self-published novels, Night Machines is not only well-written but carefully crafted to evoke some very specific feelings. I found it to be not particularly frightening, but haunting, leaving behind questions about me that I’m not certain I can ever answer. I very much hope that this is only the first of many books from Kia Heavey.

(Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book but no other compensation.)

Fiction Books for Conservatives

I was trolling the web on a search for great conservative fiction books – or rather, lists of conservative fiction books that have been compiled by people more knowledgeable than me – and came across a gem. It’s an older list, dating back to 2009, curated from reader suggestions by author John J. Miller (The First Assassin, The Big Scrum). It was later published in NRO.

If Mr. Miller gives me permission, I’ll reproduce the list here in a later edit (that way it won’t be lost to the 404 monster); for now, check out the list, and the post that gave birth to it.

Michael Isenberg Asks, “Who Is Henry Galt?”

Over on his Full Asylum website, author Michael Isenberg posted an interesting review of Garet Garrett’s The Driver, published in 1922. He does a great job of linking the history recounted in this book with what we can all see happening around us today. An excerpt:

The Driver begins amid the economic Panic of 1893. While everyone else is convinced the country is bankrupt, Wall Street speculator Henry Galt is certain it’s rich. He takes advantage of the crisis to buy up shares of the Great Midwestern Railroad at bargain prices. Making himself chairman, he cuts costs, reforms a corrupt procurement system, and takes over other railroads. The resulting powerhouse makes Galt spectacularly wealthy and breathes new life into the American economy. But the pugnacious Galt makes enemies along the way. Unable to defeat him on the level playing field of the market, they turn to the government to take him down.

Sounds familiar, no? Go read it – he makes some very interesting points. History does repeat itself, but it’s amazing how plain this truism is in the circumstances we find ourselves in today.

Michael Isenberg is the author of  Full Asylum, a novel about politics, freedom, and hospital gowns. Check it out on Amazon.com.

Romance Novels as Conservative Fiction

Romance novels are commonly dismissed as trash, housewife porn, formula fiction, or bodice rippers. They are accused of committing purple prose, engendering female dissatisfaction, debasing literary values, and forcing men to live up to an impossible ideal. I, however, see most modern romance as positive conservative fiction.

Consider this: most modern romance novels feature a strong female protagonist and an equally strong male protagonist. They generally end in marriage or a commitment to marry; in most cases, the characters plan to have children within the confines of that marriage. I don’t think I’ve seen a single romance novel talk about abortion, let alone promote it as a reasonable alternative; in fact, a common plot device is the “secret baby,” in which the heroine gives birth to the hero’s child despite financial and social penalties, only to have her secret revealed to him later.

Let’s take social conservatism out of the bedroom and into the world at large: workers’ rights, women’s rights, and other large social movements are rarely topics in romance fiction, and in most cases where they are topics, they’re found in historicals. For the most part, though, while romance novels frequently have protagonists who express concern about groups in trouble (orphans, farmers, prostitutes, etc.), most of their solutions are not finding ways for the government to help but rather to find positive, creative ways for those people to move themselves forward (education, lowered taxes, work as seamstresses, etc.) Only a few lean on government solutions, possibly because that is less than heroic.

How about financial conservatism? Well, I’ve never seen a female protagonist on welfare, at least not as an adult. They nearly always fulfill Christopher Vogler’s heroic imperative of being good at their jobs. Common plot devices include saving the ranch or the family business, while others struggle with the problems of paying inheritance taxes. While you’re not going to see rants about paying taxes in romances, neither will you see rants about the proles deserving power over the evil landlords – well, not in most romances.

War. Lots of soldiers fill out romance novels, and you find quite a number of romance novels with wars as their backdrop (most prominently, Gone with the Wind). Most of these soldier-protagonists were heroic on the battlefield as well as off; none were cowards or draft-dodgers. They are nearly always patriotic, and even if they bear visible or emotional scars, they rarely rant about how wicked their countries were to make them fight.

Religion is rarely prominent in romance fiction except as a central element of the Christian romance – but it’s never discounted or bashed either. Even in paranormal romance using witches as protagonists, you won’t see a lot of criticism of Christians.

There are, of course, some problems with the wholesale classification of romance novels as conservative fiction. There’s the victim-as-female-protagonist problem, for instance. Conservative ideology is never about the victim, but rather about the hero, the person who rises above everything; there is a distressing amount of rape fiction still in romance, possibly because modern Western society has a tendency to fetishize victims, mistaking them for martyrs and raising them up as heroes. There’s a lot of sex in the steamier romances, which many conservatives (not me!) are uncomfortable with. Still, from the strong masculine hero to the committed relationship goals to the subtexts about saving the ranch and keeping the baby, there may be more conservatism in romance novels than either liberals or conservatives would like to admit.

Now, I don’t know if I’m right or wrong; I do know this is a question I’d like to see discussed. What do you folks think?

Bask in the glow of my new theme!

Author Kia Heavey was kind enough to put together the lovely banner (though I’m still working out how to fit it in a bit better) and the WordPress theme is Mantra, which is amazingly flexible. The background came from Fuzzimo.com. I’ll be changing quite a few things around over the next couple of days. If anyone wants to be added to the blogroll, just contact me.

NOW I can get this party started.

Andrew Klavan and the Search for Truth

I stumbled across this fantastic presentation by Andrew Klavan today. Klavan is perhaps one of the most prominent voices in conservative fiction today, though it is hard to tell since such voices are largely ignored by the media. Anyway, he makes a number of points defining the difference between American fiction and European fiction. At about 17 minutes, he gets to the core of the right/left matter: leftist literature, he says, is about ceasing the search for truth (because, you know, the debate is over and all that), while conservative fiction recognizes that the search for truth is never, ever over. Right now, he goes on to say, is the first time being both conservative and a writer really sets one apart from the rest of the literary world.

Anyway, watch the video. It’s long but enlightening.

Andrew Klavan – Conservative Fiction in American Literary Culture

What Is Conservative Fiction?

This is a difficult question to answer. Conservative fiction hails back to when quality fiction told stories with admirable heroes and identifiable villains. It reinforces traditional moral values, instead of trying to define a new morality. It values tradition, religion, and history. Its readers are varied, from all races and creeds and ethnicities, and men are as likely to read it as women.

Once upon a time, all fiction was like this. It did not try to create new forms, or jam identity politics into a story’s theme. It simply told good stories.

This form of fiction slipped from us like melting ice from a riverbank, softly and quickly. We did not notice until we suddenly could not find it.

I aim to get some of it back. Look forward to the introduction of a new fiction magazine here in the future, as well as regular book reviews and eventually a small-press publisher.