Sunday, October 25, 2009

Guest Fic Rec: SleepyValentina & The Cannabean Bethothal


I have to admit, the title The Cannabean Betrothal confused me. I avoided reading it for weeks, convinced it was about an arranged marriage in which the dowry consisted entirely of marijuana. I nearly passed on it altogether, but then I remembered how much I love ItzMegan73's other stories, A Rough Start and The Tutor, both of which are tender and warm without sacrificing necessary realism.

About to take the plunge, I closed my eyes and tried to imagine what pot-smoking Rastaward would look like. It was a bit of a stretch, but then again, so were Tattward and Piercedpeenward. I pressed forward, thinking I'd read the prologue and decide then if I wanted to continue. From the very first sentence, it was not what I expected:

Cannabean. A clannish society, often compared to Amish or Mennonite communities. Although more accepting of modern conveniences such as electricity, technology and the like, Cannabeans do not subscribe to the mainstream ideals that plague modern marriage, nor do they believe in the dissolution of marriage. Their daily living is centered on their faith, family and a firm foundation in the Cannabean Way.

I quickly read through the available chapters (during which not a single character smoked a doobie) and realized Cannabeans are completely unrelated to cannabis. Even more surprising, I found myself ravenous for the next chapter--a reaction which, based on the prologue, I did not anticipate I would have.

In the opening chapters, we meet Carlisle and Esme Cullen and their three adult sons, Emmett, Jasper, and Edward. The (fictitious) religious communiity to which they belong is dwindling, and finding an apropriately pious Cannabean wife for Edward is far more easily said than done. When Bella arrives in Forks with her parents, Edward takes interest in her immediately. Educated yet dutiful, she is the physical manifestation of all of Edward's ideals. He asks for an introduction, and their courtship begins.

Told in third person, each chapter opens with a fact about Cannabean marriage practices making the story almost feel like a documentary. As details are revealed, we learn that underneath the carefully cultivated exterior of the ideal Canneban family, the Cullens are not what they seem. The three brothers barely speak with one another because of a mysterious rift that occurred a few years in the past. Edward did not always ascribe to Cannabean teachings, but changed his mind during a dark period in his life. For reasons as of yet undisclosed, Edward seems to want Bella to have nothing to do with Alice.

As a person who largely detests both organized religion and patriarchy, I was prepared to pity the lot of them. Instead, I'm starting to recognize the appeal of insular faith-based comunities. When religious doctrine dictates life choices, non-believers often focus on the experiences its followers will never have. It's hard to imagine never going out on an unchaperoned date or not being able to wear a sleeveless dress. The Cannabean Betrothal presents us with the other side. Yes, the religion itself is strict but so far, every person we have seen practicing it is doing so by choice. Cannabeans undoubtedly miss out on some of what life has to offer, but conversely, they are spared a great deal of heartache. Ignorance can indeed be bliss.

The first time I read Twilight, I remember feeling blown away by its not-so-subtle religious subtext, but because of its genre I didn't think too much about it. Young adult novels are often thinly veiled cautionary tales extolling the benefits of chastity, integrity and hard work, sometimes without aknowledging the existence of an alternative. The Twilight Saga was not an exception. Bella wants to have premarital sex with Edward, but (Eclipse notwithstanding) she relinquishes the decision to him. Truth be told, she relinquinshes the majority of her decisions to him. They marry, and after she reiterates the novel's abstinence message in her internal monolgue, the narrative fades to black. From that moment until the very end, Bella's life becomes the penultimate happily ever after. We're so distracted by her dreams coming true, we never ask what happens next. We never know if Bella's complete faith in person, seemingly worthy though he may be, ever fails her. We fade to black a final time, resulting in an idealized fairy-tale with an obvious message--be good, dress modestly, stay chaste, and listen to your man. It's so... Dare I say it?... Cannabean.

And this is what makes The Cannabean Betrothal so compelling. It takes the subtext of the original and makes it overt, and the result is every bit as fascinating. Will Cannabean Bella reap all the rewards given to canon Bella? Only time will tell. Regardless of the outcome, I have sneaking suspicion there will be no fade to black.

Sleepyvalentina is a retired actress for whom the fandom is the latest in a series of diversions she has used to avoid actual productivity. While not working on Art After 5, Counterpoint, and My Life to Be, she can be found in Philadelphia, fake smoking and drunk tweeting.


  1. Well Sleepyval, although I am a big fan of everything ItzMegan writes I must confess to not having recognised this aspect of the story and it makes me look at it anew.

    It seems to me that in everything she writes the subplot is characters coping with whatever hand life has dealt them in a realistic and internally consistent way. This is no exception, just a bit more extreme.

    I know a few readers are annoyed by the seemingly anti feminist message but one reviewer put it quite succinctly when she said it had the fascination of watching a National Geographic documentary about the mating practices of some obscure tribe.

    I suspect the dictates of the religion are not quite as straightforward as they seem though. It already feels like they are the skewed viewpoint of a white middle aged man who may have sexual hang ups. Chaporoned sexual intimacy? Ewww.

    Srsly though, I would read anything she wrote (and for the record anything you wrote too) and heartily concur with your recommendation.

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  3. Very interesting review, and an interesting fic for sure. I think the comparison to Twilight themes was particularly thought-provoking and something I hadn't considered at all before.

    I do take a little bit of issue with the idea that what feminist critics don't like is that Bella will miss out on wearing a sleaveless dress or going on an unchaperoned date. Those are surface issues of little consequence and it trivializes the actual larger issues of the systemic patronization and commodification of females in this religion. What bothers me is that Bella seems to have absolutely no choice in her betrothal to Edward, and if at any point she could say no without being shunned by the entire community she's been raised in, that hasn't been addressed yet. She wasn't even clued in to the fact that her father was setting them up until after it was a done deal. That she seems to sometimes be attracted to him, and that they may very well fall in love, does not ultimately change the underlying power structure that eternally keeps women in the same place as children or property to be traded amongst men. It isn't that she can't wear a sleeveless dress; it's that she doesn't get a say in who becomes her next owner-- the man who will take over her care like she is cattle and set her rules like she is a child incapable of advanced cognitive activity.

    She may very well be happy. She was indoctrinated to be so from birth, after all. That doesn't mean the system isn't misogynist at heart.

    It also doesn't mean it isn't a good fic written in a thoughtful manner. This is just another viewpoint, or another lense through which this fic can be read.


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