This novel, a literary exploration of the inroads of the pharmaceutical industry and of a marriage after one of its foundations has been knocked asunder, has strong and intentional overtones resonating of Nathaniel Hawthorne' s classic tale "The Scarlet Letter" (the minister's wife commits a crime, is jailed, then shunned and ostracized; the CEO' s surname is Dimsdale; the community is small and insular). Yet throughout I was constantly reminded of the Old Testament Book of Hosea, in which a humble, godly prophet is commanded by God to forgive and forgive and forgive his philandering wife, demonstrating mercy. In SHUNNED, Baptist minister Amos experiences the call to prophet role following the suicide of his son John due to an overdose of antidepressant medication. Simultaneously his wife Carrie experiences a call to activism, vandalizing the local pharmaceutical plant, being jailed instead of receiving community service. The "A" on her jail uniform, for her surname, symbolizes the immediacy and extent of her ostracism from a community which ignores her very present grief and labels it insanity.
SHUNNED is a very thought-provoking tale, not easily overlooked, nor forgotten.
Pandas at the Zoo Can Kill, Too
Earl Grey tea has a subtle flavor of bergamot, a little lemony and a little minty. It's tang against the sweetness is a bit like life. Maybe that is why I like it.
I don’t know if Amos in my book Shunned: Outcasts in the Land had thought deeply about why he preferred this tea over other choices. He wasn’t one to ponder on the trivialities of life. I am pretty sure that he had no idea that it had the power to kill him; if so, he didn’t tell me. Its very uniqueness, that special smell, could disguise a poisonous substance hidden within it. I wonder what the Medici family used to disguise their poisons. It still strikes me as odd, that Amos’s great comfort in times of troubles and cold weather turned on him and abetted his murder.
It is the same with drugs that are meant to disperse our anxieties can turn the tables on us and cause far more harm than we could ever expect. That was exactly what had happened to Amos’s son and why Amos’s wife Carrie, the wife of a Baptist minister, ended up in jail.
That is the way it is with pandas, too. We so often see the cuddly fur, the stumbly, baby-like steps, and the cute big black rings around their eyes, while we ignore the fact that they could kill us if they chose to do so. The reality is that they are bears. It is the same with all kinds of brain-altering medications that can stop us from smoking and cure our grief after our spouse dies. Just as there can be a price to pay for getting close to bears, there can be a price to pay for altering our brain chemistry, for trying to cover up our hurting feelings.
The only price a pure little cup of tea can exact from us is a trip to the bathroom during the middle of the night or an inability to close our eyes at 2:00 a.m. That is, of course, that someone doesn’t try to kill us by using tea as a disguise.
But, what about brain-changing medications? What price do we pay for using them? Is it lethargy, violent thoughts, or maybe more depression that calls for more antidepressants? Would you take a brick and throw it at the pharmaceutical company’s window like Amos’s wife Carrie did? She wasn’t on antidepressants. Of course you wouldn’t, but maybe you would if your son died from a drug overdose. Maybe you might think that wearing an orange jail suit was worth it in order to defy a society that didn’t care if your son lived or died. Maybe you wouldn’t care if you got shunned by you community.
So, what should we do? Give up the comforts that come loaded with blessings and promises of peace, yet make us pay by extracting a high toll from us? Should we laugh at Carrie Amelia Moore Nation for breaking the bottles of saloon whiskey that incapacitated so many men and starved so many families a century and a half ago? She is ridiculed today, she with her ax and her unattractive face. But, I know for a fact that her descendant today is Amos’s wife Carrie. What do you think of her?
Does freedom call us to leave open Pandora’s box so we can have a taste of all the ills in the world? Is that the price we must pay for free will? What should we do? What would you do? If you choose to leave the box open, should we punish the ones who open the box? Of course not, you say. Perhaps it’s better to ignore the problem. Isn’t that a lot quieter and more civilized?
Cynthia Hearne Darling