[Pat Murphy] Ü The Falling Woman [crime PDF] Ebook Epub Download Ã return return This is a very good book, one of those rare but welcome moments when the Nebula process picked up on a real gem of a novel that had been overlooked elsewhere, even though it is only barely a genre novel, if anything of a ghost story than sf or fantasy The plot concerns an estranged mother and daughter, the former a famous archaeologist working on a Mayan site in the Yucatan, the latter escaping from a set of bad relationships to track down her mother, and the mother s ability to see the ghosts of the past which has incidentally helped her get lucky with spectacular finds during her career The writing alternates between first person POV s of the two women The third character is a Mayan priestess buried on the site who attempts to project her own life experiences onto the modern women The writing is gripping and convincing, and although several of the layers of significance are pretty explicit, it worked for me I m glad it worked for the 1987 Nebula voters too.
Perhaps I m just optimistic, but I expected from an award winning book Then again, maybe I should have known better one of the comments on the back of the book was that the writing is generally above average If that s the best thing you can find to put on a book cover, watch out.
I don t have a lot of bad things to say about the book But neither do I have a lot of good things to say about it The characters were strong, but I just didn t quite care about them The details of an archaeological dig were interesting, but not fully believable or compelling full disclosure I m an archaeology junkie who reads archaeology periodicals regularly The main character s psychological issues were well drawn, but difficult to believe in, or sympathize with The prose includes descriptions of settings that evoke mental images, but which fail to fully evoke emotions of awe, or satisfaction, or loneliness, or danger that would transform those images into art.
It never descends to the depths of bad writing, but it never climbs to the level of great writing, either It floats along in that space where you have to keep reading because the story has potential , but never fully realizes the potential and so, is ultimately disappointing.
I keep coming back to that comment about the generally above average writing That comment fits it is generally, but not consistently, above average And that s not good enough my expectations for winners of big awards run high In the end, all I could think of was that the competition for Nebulas must have been pretty weak in 1986.
Elizabeth Waters, An Archaeologist Who Abandoned Her Husband And Daughter Years Ago To Pursue Her Career, Can See The Shadows Of The Past It S A Gift She Keeps Secret From Her Colleagues And Students, One That Often Leads Her To Incredible Archaeological Discoveries And The Realization That She Might Be Going Mad Then On A Dig In The Yucatan, The Shadow Of A Mayan Priestess Speaks To Her Suddenly Elizabeth S Daughter Diane Arrives, Hoping To Reconnect With Her Mother As Mother, Daughter And Priestess Fall Into The Mysterious World Of Mayan Magic, It Is Clear One Will Be Asked To Make The Ultimate Sacrifice The Book Won The Nebula Award I wanted to love this mother daughter story, but somehow I never quite connected with it emotionally I liked the structure and the changing POVs, but the story itself left me wanting.
Archaeologist Elizabeth Butler has a secret she can see the shades of people from the past, going about their daily activities This talent has led to plenty of lucky hunches in her career but also to questions about her sanity Normally she just sees the past scenes playing out in front of her but cannot affect them in any way But while excavating the Maya city of Dzibilchalt n, she encounters a shade who can speak to her Zuhuy kak, a priestess of the Maya moon goddess The Maya believed that time is cyclic, and Zuhuy kak sees in Liz a chance to bring certain events in her own life full circle.
At the same time, Liz s daughter Diane has come to Dzibilchalt n to see her mother, from whom she has been estranged for many years The two women try warily to build a relationship even as strange occurrences mount up and Liz begins to fear for Diane s safety You will find here only what you bring, Liz tells us at the beginning of The Falling Woman, and Liz and Diane have brought a complex tangle of love, hatred, fear, and guilt.
Both women keep their emotional distance from the reader, though, for most of the book This is consistent with the characters personalities and histories, and this reserve is skillfully evoked in Pat Murphy s prose Sentences are often clipped, and until late in the novel there s little internal monologue about emotions Instead the narration focuses on gestures, dialogue, and the external sights that the women see at least until emotion breaks through the metaphorical dam at the intense climax The Falling Woman is an insightful novel about mother daughter relationships and about culturally relative definitions of sanity Another issue, that of conquest or colonialism, is not explicitly discussed yet is ever present The conquest of the Maya by the Toltecs loomed large in Zuhuy kak s life, and in the present day, it s hard to miss that the Maya still live in the area and that Maya laborers are doing most of the unsung physical work at Dzibilchalt n.
The ending is satisfactory, if slightly open ended, and through my own lenses I can t help but see it as perfectly fitting The ending Murphy wrote, to me, is the resolution of the mistake Zuhuy kak really made as opposed to the mistake she thinks she made.
As I write this, it s 2011 and there s a great deal of buzz about the Maya, due to the persistent legend that the Maya calendar predicts the end of the world in 2012 In fact, when I walked into my workplace cafeteria to read some of The Falling Woman during lunch, a television was playing a History Channel special about the Maya I couldn t hear a word of it, but it provided some stunning visuals to go with my reading In the spirit of everything coming around again, perhaps now is a good time to rediscover this thought provoking book.
Look aliveSee these bonesWhat you are nowWe were onceAnd just like we areYou ll be dust Nada Surf, See These Bones, from the album Lucky 2008 I must ve first read The Falling Woman shortly after it came out, than thirty years ago but I m afraid I didn t remember much about it when I picked up this handsome trade paperback reissue from Open Road That s entirely my fault upon this rereading, I found myself thoroughly amazed by Pat Murphy s Nebula Award winning novel, and how adroitly she managed to upend genre conventions while weaving such a coherent and compelling story.
To begin with, there s Murphy s protagonist Elizabeth Butler calls herself old though these days she doesn t seem so old to me she s only fifty one.
My hands tell of my history than my face They are tanned and wrinkled and I can trace the paths of veins along their backs The nails are short and hard, like the claws of some digging animal, and the wrists are marked with vertical white scars, a permanent record of my attempt to escape my former husband and the world in the most drastic way possible p.
9Butler is, it seems to me, the sort of protagonist we need of in SF she s worldly and wise, talented and experienced and strong, but she s by no means flawless, and she got where she is by going through a lot of pain, not by finding any magic plot token Even so, there s plenty of magic afoot in The Falling Woman Elizabeth is a skilled archaeologist, but she also has an edge when it comes to knowing where to dig she sees the bygone people whose buried traces she s seeking, and if her contemporaries will just keep quiet she can hear them, too She has to be very careful about sharing the information she gets from this extraordinary channel, of course, but no one can argue with her success in the field.
As The Falling Woman commences, Elizabeth is on a dig in the Yucat n, working alongside colleagues and students from the University of New Mexico and a crew of laborers led by the experienced local worker Salvador, unearthing part of the ancient Mayan city of Dzibilchalt n It is sweaty, dusty field work, just the kind she loves and when the crew get done for the day, they can swim in the nearby cenote called Xlacah, the deep stone well from which the Mayans drew their water.
Elizabeth is surrounded by her customary visions of living historyThe sun was setting The hollow wailing of conch shell trumpets blown by Mayan priests rose over the trilling of the crickets and echoed across the plaza I alone listened to the sweet mournful sound neither Tony nor Salvador could hear the echoes of the past p.
11But something is different about this expedition Elizabeth s shadows seem insistent in Dzibilchalt n, immediate aware of her.
I wondered, in the lily scented night, if the rules were changing p.
18So much of this book isn t SF at all, though.
I was an only child My father was a dour straight backed man who earned his living as a plumber and believed in a dour straight backed Christian God He did not believe that women needed a college education He disapproved of my passion for collecting Indian arrowheads, stone tools, and fragments of pots My mother, like the female birds of many species, had developed a drab protective coloration that let her blend into the background, invisible as long as she remained silent p.
69Elizabeth Butler was, and is, unable to be drab.
Pat Murphy isn t drab, either While the prose in The Falling Woman is always clear and never overly flowery, it s also full of poetry and sly humor, sometimes in unexpected places amid a discussion of the Mayan calendar, for example Somewhere across the square a guitarist played a ballad, doubtlessly for lovers who would rather have been left in peace p.
151Or when talking about the city of fallen falling angelsI dreamed of Los Angeles, the tacky battered crackerbox of a city that I left so long ago p.
158Murphy s novel felt fresh and timeless to me looking back over millennia, the gap between the 1980s and today doesn t seem quite so vast A few details in The Falling Woman do seem dated, though one of Elizabeth s favorite tools is a portable typewriter, which can be heard clacking through the night from her tent and the novel is definitely culturally bound to a Norteamericano s perspective These archaeologists and archaeologists to be are very much outsiders, swooping in to dig up someone else s past and this is even apparent when they take a break, venturing into the city of M rida for hot showers, shopping and possible companionship, playing typical tourists rather than scientists on a mission.
On the other hand, the way The Falling Woman focuses on and centers women was enormously refreshing and a reminder of how much hasn t changed Elizabeth Butler is Murphy s protagonist, so of course we see things through her eyes but Butler s daughter Diane and her colleague Barbara are also centered in this narrative The guys are around, of course, like Elizabeth s old friend Tony, and Salvador, and Marcos and Emilio in M rida, but they come across as distinctly secondary.
I can see this book being made into a great movie, actually it s not all potsherds and trowels there s also sex and violence well, historical human sacrifice, anyway and tons of dramatic tension, spiraling up to an intense climax but I think any good film version would have to preserve this essential female perspective.
Unearthing this one well, picking it off the shelf felt as if I d made an amazing archaeological find myself The Falling Woman is a brilliant and underrated work that well deserves its new showcase.
Elizabeth Butler is an archaeologist working a dig at a Mayan site in the Yucatan In her mid fifties now, she has a painful personal history of a failed marriage, a failed suicide attempt, and lost custody of and limited contact with her daughter, Diane.
Diane Butler has lost her father, her boyfriend, and her job over the course of a couple of weeks, and for reasons she doesn t herself entirely understand, seeks out her famous and long absent mother.
Diane has been having disturbing dreams, in which she is falling from a great height into a dark void.
Barbara has always seen shadows of the past, watched the long dead inhabitants of the sites she studies going about their daily lives It has given her a reputation for remarkably accurate and valuable hunches, but also a reputation for being very eccentric Now one of the shadows, a priestess of the Mayan moon goddess from just before the disappearance of Maya civilization, has started speaking to her.
I knew when I began reading that I was taking up a very well regarded but older novel, not just set but written in the mid eighties, a time with in some respects a very different sensibility Especially given its then contemporary setting, I had some reservations, thinking that it might come off as a period piece It didn t.
The writing drew me in and built a Yucatan that, whether real or not, felt real as I was reading it The heat, the powerful sun, and the buried, ancient city all seemed palpable The core of the novel, the relationship between Elizabeth and Diane, and the slowly revealed agenda of the Mayan priestess, is rich and intricate and beautifully developed.
I really could not put this one down Highly recommended.
I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.
When one of the local workers on a Yucatan archeological site breaks his ankle, the local hospital fixes him up but his mother, the cook for the archeological team, insists that the local curandera be brought in to check him out as well This old woman also wants to meet Elizabeth Butler, the middle aged and well known leader of the team She identifies Butler as a witch.
Butler is not bothered by this opinion She can even appreciate it All her life she has lived with shadows of the past inhabiting her world This has made her an excellent archeologist, although on this dig for the first time one of these shadows has begun to speak to her But Butler knows that a witch has power, which is better than being crazy, a diagnosis that removes your power and puts you under the power of others She has been considered crazy in her life as well Years before, when she saw no way out of a marriage that was suffocating her, she slit her wrists This suicide attempt got her institutionalized When she got out, she abandoned her husband and small daughter, went back to school, and began the life she has now The unannounced arrival of Diane Butler, the daughter she abandoned twenty years before, initiates the action of Falling Woman Diane s father has died and her married lover has called an end to their affair She has come to Dzibilchaltun to reconnect with her mother, for reasons she cannot clearly articulate even to herself She finds an awkward place among the graduate students and other faculty who work the site, and she too begins to see shadows of the past.
There are a few ways out of the fantastic elements of the plot for readers resistant to the reality of what Diane and Elizabeth experience Bad luck can be just that and have nothing to do with the fact that a particular day is under the sign of the jaguar in his night aspect Diane s earliest visions come after smoking some of the very good local weed Elizabeth Butler has developed a serious fever with the oncoming of the rains and she could also be crazy She admits as much and insanity could be genetic But Murphy s story is not a game with the reader over what really happens Elizabeth Butler is in communication with a priestess of the moon goddess who survived a sacrificial plunge into the deep cenote at Chichen Itza 900 years ago This vision has a message, or like an demand, to pass on to Elizabeth about blood sacrifice Elizabeth understands the agony of this being, but should her allegiance be to the living or the dead Murphy uses this question to build a suspenseful story that is also a realistic depiction of the back breaking work of archeology and the experience of young Americans in Mexico in the 1980 s.
The Falling Woman is a slowish, atmospheric read which got hooks into me and wouldn t let go I love the setting the archaeological dig, the tensions of the excavation team, even the awkwardness between the long estranged mother and daughter It feels like the kind of site it is laden with history, meaning, and maybe even ghosts It s hard to describe, and to do so would be a disservice if you want to read the book, I think the whole point is the slow unwinding, the building of tension and uncanniness, even threat.
What s also awesome is that this is a book populated with women not all female characters, but still, a good proportion And they talk to each other about things other than men , and work and get dirty and bitten by bugs and tired till they ache They like or dislike each other, find it difficult to relate, enjoy one another s company or avoid it, and it feels real No tokenism here though perhaps a bit of racial stereotyping around the boyfriends the younger women pick up during their time off , and no false utopia either Things are complicated, sometimes things aren t even solved, and Murphy handles it well.
Definitely don t read introductions or summaries, for this one Give it time to reveal itself to you I think you ll be glad if you do.
originally posted here.
This novel, which won the Nebula Award in 1988, has a lot of promise that never quite coheres into a satisfying whole Among its strengths is an impeccably crafted sense of place I was always vividly immersed in every locale, especially the archeological dig of Mayan ruins at which most of the action occurs Another is a clear eyed, intimate portrait of two women a reluctant mother and her long ago abandoned daughter as they navigate their way past their own inner demons and the gaps that keep them from understanding and connecting to one another However, the disparate elements of the narrative which also flirts with an undercooked supernatural subplot that winds up feeling both a bit too derivative and a bit too murkily imagined ultimately remain at too much of a remove from one another, and therefore kept me from ever really connecting to the themes that Murphy is working very hard to coalesce.