Review: The Brides' Fair by Hal Fleming (PC/W Staff 1966-68)
Monica Mills (PC/W Staff 1995–01) was the Associate Director at the Peace Corps overseeing recruitment; she also ran the Recruiting Office for the Mid-Atlantic region from 1995 to 1999. At Bread for the World since 2006, Monica has led major efforts on reform of the farm bill and the way the U.S. delivers foreign assistance. Here she reviews another PC/W staff member Hal Fleming’s novel The Brides’ Fair.
The Brides’ Fair
by Hal Fleming (PC/W Staff 1966-68)
Reviewed by Monica Mills (PC/W Staff 1995–01)
A strong sense of foreboding permeates the book The Brides’ Fair by Hal Fleming.
A wonderful premise, Fleming chooses a local, annual event where women are chosen as brides in the Mid-Atlas Mountains for his story. Disparate characters come together at the fair from Americans around the U.S. embassy, to women from a tribal village, to Arab police officers-even an Arab rebel group. Yet, while we find out early that the book is set in the Atlas Mountains, the reader would have been helped with a map of North Africa and one of Morrocco. As it was, the reader was forced to guess the country described until page 46 where we are finally informed the setting is Morrocco.
Fleming has come up with a good story but only with moments of a good book. The tension during a long drive through the mountains is palpable. Yet what was it with the car that didn’t stop? The confusion at the fair during the climax of the story made me nervous and confused but happened so quickly I had to reread it to see if I had missed something. The intent of the four people in the rebel group seemed real but their background leading to their mission was unclear. The feeling of being watched while in the forest alone stayed with me for days but I never quite figured it out.
Yet even bigger problems for a reader followed. For example, during a graphic and scary scene with gunfire overhead and the feeling that the characters are in serious trouble and they are crawling to safety, is it necessary to write, “Some of [his]colleagues back in the Department would find the humor in it. ‘Groveling on your belly again…an appropriate diplomatic gesture.'”
Or when describing Monique, a career woman who taught French at the embassy, through her father’s eyes: “You deserve better, Babe. You’ve got looks, you’ve got a Masters; you’re trilingual so you must have some brains. Come home, do the marriage thing, and give me some grand children before it’s too late for both of us.”
Come on. Does anyone really talk like this?
Fleming needed a tougher editor to help him create people a reader wants to relate to who are more fully formed and not such gross generalizations of these stereotypes:
- The hard-working, dedicated foreign service officer whose wife divorced him when she realized work came first;
- The clueless and bombastic Ambassador who only got his job because of his political ties;
- The trophy wife of the Ambassador who only thinks of her perfect body and sex;
- The good, dedicated, non-corrupt police officer;
- The village girl who is uneducated and impoverished but is headstrong and determined not to marry the much older and rich man she was promised to as a child.
- The group of radicals intent on causing havoc and death;
a. One of whom is the intense leader who will do anything to carry out the mission;
b. One, a woman masquerading as a man;
c. One, a soft man who has fallen in love with the woman.
In the end, this was a frustrating read. A great premise that wasn’t executed.
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I haven’t read the book, but found the critique interesting. the reviewer questions the stereotypes. I can say, however, that I have seen all those characters (stereotypes, yes… but real life stereotypes) in foreign posts — in the foreign service, among radical insurgents, in the villages, etc… the works. Every one of them. If I wrote a novel describing them, I’d probably be sued!