The Terror Dream

By Susan Faludi

I am partway through this book and full of things to say about it, and the thought of sitting down to type them all out exhausts me. I am a Susan Faludi fan, to the extent that someone can be a fan who has read only books by her. In fact, I have read only three books by her and I’m not even sure if there are more. The cover of the book promotes her as the author of Backlash and Stiffed, and those are–fancy this!–the very two books I’ve read!

I hardly remember Backlash and I only remember reading it as a follow-up to Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, which a friend gave to me in college. I was riled up and indignant after reading Wolf, but all I can remember about it is that she wrote about liking to wear cowboy boots and lipstick. I remember even less of Backlash. I read those two authors again in succession with Wolf’s Mis-Conceptions and Faludi’s Stiffed and still have much stronger memories of both books. I wasn’t pregnant then, but Wolf had me riled up again, this time about the medical industrial complex and the pathologizing of pregnancy and the benefits of going au natural in the delivery room, if I was such a coward as to resort to a delivery room in the first place. I am sure I am overstating the contents of the book, but it did influence me to the point that when I was actually pregnant I established from the outset a contrary relationship with my doctor, arguing over everything from conception dates to induction of labor. I even spent four hours of my life in horrible pain because I waved off the epidural when it was offered to me (and when I finally demanded it they took their sweet time about hooking it up–yeah, the stuff that romcoms are made of). Second time around, I let the doctors do whatever they wanted and there were a lot more smiles and air kisses. Dude. They invented medicine for a reason! Should I get pregnant again, I’ll provide a full-length diatribe, but until then it is just a digression.

So after reading Mis-Conceptions I read Faludi’s Stiffed; they must have been published relatively close together, because I remember pulling them from the “New” shelf at the new (at the time) library. This memory is highly fallible and I welcome publication date corrections. Anyway, Stiffed just struck me as eloquent and sad, and left me with a real appreciation of how men’s status has changed, for better and for worse, throughout the decades, too. I don’t remember that the book was particularly the “male answer” to the feminism movement, and it wasn’t a call for pity for men, but it hit some real emotional moments and described real pain and confusion. What I remember the most were the interviews with Sylvester Stallone (of all people!). He talked about himself, his father, his career, the characters he portrayed… the interview was excerpted throughout the book, but getting him into it was a real bonus. I mean, what other persona encapsulates so many masculine ideals and failures? The other guys I remember are the laid-off aeronautical engineers and the Vietnam vets being harangued by World War II vets. It’s a dense book, it’s a hard book to read, and it is so not bitter, angry, or resentful.

I am appreciating these qualities again in the new book, The Terror Dream. Talk about 9/11 annoys me because I am heartless and cold; I even hate the phrase “9/11.” Not as much as I hate “9-11” or the word “kinnygarden,” but it’s up there. 1) I prefer to refer to events with actual references to events and 2) I dislike cutesy shorthand. But it’s in the subtitle of the book, so I roll with it. And it actually did occur on that date, so I can’t fault the term entirely. And thus I arrive at this interesting observation. Sort of interesting.

This is the copy of the hardcover book I am in possession of:

Note the subtitle: “Fear and Fantasy” and “9/11.” Note the art. It’s a sunset, or a sunny day obscured by smoke, with a cityscape far in the distance. I hadn’t paid attention to the cover at all. And then a chain of events arose with these links:

1. I was reading the book last night before going to sleep.
2. I was impressed with the book.
3. I reported first thing to my online friends at Northern Attack how much I was enjoying the book so far.
4. I looked up reviews at Amazon so I could learn what to think about the book.
5. I noticed that a paperback version of the book was going to be released in two months, with the following subtitle and cover art:

Of course, the book isn’t available yet, but I don’t think I am naive to assume that the actual book will be the same. Look at those silhouettes–it’s obviously the World Trade Center. But the subtitle is so different! “Myth” and “Misogyny”? “Insecure”? I really wonder whose idea it was to change it? I worked for a tiny while in a tiny corner of book publishing, and learned just enough to find changes like these interesting although not nearly enough to qualify for ever making changes like that myself at real book publishing company in a position of real responsibility. I also don’t know enough about Faludi’s clout or Holt’s attitudes to do more than speculate about the source of the change. Did the book fail to sell enough copies? Was “9/11” off-putting? Is it a dated term? Does “Misogyny” more completely encompass the author’s ideas? I can tell you right now, based on the assumption that the text is not changing in any meaningful way, that I hate the new cover. It looks like retrofiction, or the opening credits of “Bewitched.” Was there a conversation between editors and the designers about it? Was that the point? I also don’t like the change from “Post-9/11” to “Insecure.” It’s so vague. When has “America” ever been more or less confident than it is now? Not to go all postmodern, if that’s the right term, but “Americans” are “Americans” just like they have always been. Militarily, we are probably more secure than “before.” It’s such a weak word.

Of course, the first cover conveys absolutely no information. For that matter, the title conveys no real information. I am currently reading books on gender roles for my next work project. I never would have selected this book based on the title if I hadn’t seen a review of the book that popped up in my database search on “gender roles.” The second cover certainly shows men acting and women victiming, but the title is just an odd one. Perhaps it’s aiming for some artful juxtaposition that I am too dense to see.

But none of that was what I really meant to talk about. Last night, after I turned the light out, my head was filled with amazement at how different reading this Faludi book is from reading that stupid Maureen Dowd book. That Dowd book was scatterbrained, vague, oddly arranged, and written so the author and her unnamed friends–who comprise the bulk of information “sources” for the “research”–could laugh about their private jokes later. But the Faludi book (which I would normally refer to by name, especially in a Word document, but I am not now doing so because I am sick of typing the codes and because actually leaving off typing to go click the format button provided is an interruption of my thought that would be far more disruptive than this parenthetical aside is) hits newspaper headlines, interviews, press conferences, letters to the editors, blog comments, chat room transcripts, magazine articles, movie dialogue… you name it. She either has a staff of ten people or she spends more time online than I do! I wish I was her. My admiration for her seemingly thorough coverage of pop-culture and journalism sources is countered by my embarrassment that I let all these horrible turns of events slip by my notice. Of course, my out is that when I’m online I’m watching old SciFi at Hulu.com, I’m posting up a storm on online message boards, I’m shopping, or I’m trying to figure out what new ailment is affecting my tomato harvest that will never be. (It appears to be fungus, this time. Damn you, unusual semi-tropical weather!) Plus she manages to absorb and remember all this sad testaments to the state of the union without becoming angry or hostile. At least, she never seems angry or hostile to me. She lays it out, and then I get riled up. It’s not the same as the Naomi Wolf approach, who is angry for you and then you collude in rage. But I can’t remember everything that I was thinking about and I am not that sorry that I didn’t get up and type it out. You’ll have to trust me that it was articulate, insightful, well-formatted, and full of key words and phrases that would have driven traffic to this blog like a mofo.

For purposes of full disclosure, I am only partway through the book. I reserve the right to take it all back, undermine what I’ve said today, and retract my initial impressions. Still, if nothing else, it was fun to remember those crazy days when the 9/11 Widows were in the news! Those crazy kids. It takes all kinds, right? And now that I have loosely corralled my thoughts, I can return to my BSG podcast listening. I’m on the part where they are discussing the script for the Razor movie. I haven’t seen all the way through season 4 yet, though, so don’t tell me what happens after Callie gets sucked out the airlock. But am I the only person in the world who thought she was killing herself after finding herself pregnant with a second Cylon baby? And why the hell are Helo AND Athena on the garbage scow with Starbuck instead of with Hera. If ever there was a couple in the known universe who is less likely to leave their baby again it is that one, but I can’t believe they would have brought her along, and we certainly didn’t see her on the ship.

It’s a mystery.

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