Dictator In Pantyhose

I’ve never been able to resist inserting politics into my stories. I know I’m not unusual in that respect. Political apocalypses have always been popular in fiction, and the farther out they get, the better. But I sometimes ask myself how far authors can reasonably take their nightmare scenarios. For example, how evil can a leader be and still remain plausible?

Try to imagine a President of the United States who exemplifies everything the founding fathers tried to prevent when they established the emoluments clause to the Constitution and other safeguards. In their eighteenth-century wisdom, they foresaw that a sociopath might someday attain the highest office in the land, and turn it into a private fiefdom for his own political and financial benefit. Such a scenario would only be possible if that person corralled a once-respected political party to elevate him, whitewash his flaws, and do his bidding.

Such a president would treat the rule of law as an inconvenience, resist any efforts by the other branches of government to conduct oversight, and fire anybody who dared to tell him anything he didn’t want to hear. He would sell out allies and coddle dictators according to his whims. He would be a pathological liar, given to childish tantrums. Worst of all, when faced with a genuine emergency, he would continue to lie to cover up his own incompetence and inadequacy, even if his lies endangered the health and safety of the citizenry. Pretty wild, right? Couldn’t possibly happen here, could it?

Oh, wait …

An alarming realization has struck. There are limits to the effectiveness of speculative fiction if the worst has already happened, or is about to happen. What will possibly be left for us amateur politicos to cook up? Luckily, brave people who resist authoritarianism have always made good heroes and heroines. In the present circumstances, things could definitely get worse, and soon. If Trump is re-elected, he’ll anoint himself dictator, if not emperor of the universe. His corruption will become even more unapologetic than it is now. If he’s defeated, he may well scream “false news” and refuse to leave. His implacable base, many of whom have guns and nothing much to lose, will support him no matter what, perhaps even to the point of civil war.

I’m currently trying to draft yet another novel that features corrupt leaders. Tentatively entitled Gilded Prisons, this one is a sequel to Let’s Play Ball (2010). The first story featured a monstrous president, Jeremiah Smith, who facilitates the kidnapping of a major league ballplayer for his own benefit. His actions are covered up by his enablers, enough to maintain plausible deniability, although almost every thinking person knows or suspects that he’s guiltier than sin. He foregoes running for reelection, citing health concerns. He and his supporters are fine with this because his daughter, Deirdre Smith Gordon, is prepared to succeed him.

In Gilded Prisons, Deirdre proves not only as corrupt and venal as her father, but much smarter, which increases the danger. (Think Ivanka in a few years). Deirdre is a lawyer who never practiced law, having chosen to please her father’s conservative base by representing herself as a stay-at-home mom while her children were young. That was always a bit of a ruse, since she has been the driving force behind her husband’s rise to leadership posts in Congress. And now that she has attained the highest office herself, thanks to daddy’s legacy, she plans to change everything about the government that doesn’t directly serve her and her family. As if to prove that no one ever learns from past mistakes or pays for them, the baseball kidnapping caper is repeated. Did she instigate the crime, or merely exploit it after the fact? That has yet to be determined.

I picture Deirdre as a woman with a sweet, flirtatious veneer, who looks especially good in short skirts. This enables her to hoodwink people more efficiently than an equally evil man would. In some ways, she’s Trump in pantyhose. It doesn’t seem so long ago that Trump was an obnoxious but fairly benign reality-show host. Despite his long previous history of business fraud and con-artistry, he didn’t seem that threatening. He lacked a firm ideology when it came to politics, bending whichever way best served his purposes. Had it suited his ego and ambition to come down to the left of Bernie Sanders, he would have done so without a second thought.

My presidential anti-heroine has a similar lack of true convictions apart from her own self-interest. Accordingly, she forms unholy alliances with odd political bedfellows, including right-wing militias at home and Communists abroad, and anyone in between who has the potential to serve her goals. Inevitably, a movement to resist this soulless form of government takes shape. I’m not sure yet whether to plunge my fictional United States into a second civil war, this time perhaps leading to permanent division. Sometimes I feel that the old Confederacy might just as well have won the first Civil War, and saved us all the trouble of trying to build a democracy based at least on the ideals of freedom.

Is this a reasonably original plot, or merely a prediction? What if it really happens, and soon? What’s a writer of political fiction to do?

My Novels Are Comics (Part 2)

With the world so out of whack at the moment, it’s difficult to know what to say to friends, much less strangers, other than “Stay safe.” At a time like this, the normal author-like pursuits of writing and blogging seem irrelevant on one level, although comforting on another. I’ve been trying to draft a new novel, a sequel to a previous one, but conjuring up the comparatively normal world where they unfold feels disorienting, if not a tad self-indulgent.

Accordingly, this could be an ideal time to revisit old stories instead. The problems and traumas we wrote about months and years ago were comparatively normal and recognizable, even if our characters were weeping and moaning over them as if the world had ended. Who doesn’t yearn for the good old overwrought themes of unreliable boyfriends, love triangles, jealousy and revenge, bad bosses and soul-sucking jobs, social awkwardness, and all the rest of it?

I’m also renewing my ongoing effort to envision a few of those old stories as movies. Obviously, there are no production companies or crews available right now to make them spring to life on video, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be envisioned graphically. If my novels aren’t yet movies, at least they can be comics. Trying to encapsulate them in one panel proved to be a challenging exercise, like trying to spit out one of those hyper-streamlined elevator pitches. Of course they don’t look terribly professional, and melding them into social media is a skill I don’t yet have. Enlarging them for better readability tends to make them too humongous. But what does it matter if they’re comical-looking? I guess you could say they are comedies.

 

 

 

 

In The Rock Star’s Homecoming, college senior Imogene has hit on a unique topic for her English honors thesis. Ignoring her advisor’s advice to choose a more traditional subject, she is determined to concoct a theory about the influence of poetry on rock music. Her research will consist of critiquing her favorite band and its lead singer, Jake, who have returned to the campus where they originated for a special Homecoming weekend. She lures the musician to her father’s nearby farm, where the inevitable seduction occurs. Will this help or hurt her academic efforts?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Play Ball features fraternal twin sisters Miranda and Jessica, always close but competitive. They are pursuing opposite theories about who plotted the kidnapping of Jessica’s fiancé, Major League ballplayer Manny Chavez. The crime took place just prior to Manny’s scheduled Congressional testimony about steroid use in baseball, which would have implicated several teammates of his. Jessica’s main suspect is Petie Jansen, Manny’s fiercest rival on the team, and inconveniently, a close friend of Miranda’s. Miranda is determined to clear Petie, and to pursue her own suspect. Choosing the most public place available, she confronts Madeline, the daughter of the team’s owner, with the incriminating evidence she’s compiled. Incidentally, she also confirms her suspicion that Madeline has been sleeping with her husband, Tommy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Handmaidens of Rock unfolds during the wild early 1970s. Aspiring college journalist Candy has attached herself to a campus rock band. Not caring to be regarded as a mere groupie, she has fulfilled her wildest dream by marrying the flashy guitarist who fronts the group. Then, shortly after discovering she’s pregnant, she catches her roommate in bed with her husband. She vows to take revenge by writing investigative articles that will implicate her former best friend in a plot to fire-bomb the campus theater, and her husband’s band for inciting a riot at a festival.

There Is Crying In Baseball

Now that the world has fallen off its axis, and we’re whirling into some unknown void, it’s time to take stock. Most of us, barring the experts who are paid to anticipate disasters, have been shaken out of the complacency of our daily lives. I suppose everyone has a moment when something like this hits home. If we’re lucky, it’s not that we’re actually sick with the virus, or know someone who is, or are faced with job or wage loss because of it. The absence of some of our favorite pastimes doesn’t compare in importance, yet it produces a punch in the gut just the same. It’s that moment when you realize this is going to be more than a temporary glitch.

I guess we all have selfish moments when it’s all about us and our loss. On March 12, I had casually tuned in a spring training match-up between the New York Yankees and my world champion Washington Nationals. The game meant nothing in terms of results, but afforded an opportunity to glimpse the sport after the winter layoff and watch the players prepare for the upcoming season. It’s a rite of spring as dependable as the crocuses coming out. Gradually, I realized that I might be watching the last game that would be played before a silent spring set in. Then confirmation came from Major League Baseball’s front office, like a lightning bolt, that all baseball operations would be suspended as of 4 p.m. that afternoon. It was 3:55 p.m. when the game I was watching finished. I couldn’t help letting out a sob.

The greatest thing about the 2019 Washington Nationals was their joyfulness. The dancing, the silly shark song, the champagne and beer flying during five clubhouse celebrations, each more raucous than the last. As often happens to teams that hit the pinnacle of success, there would likely have been a “World Series hangover.” That might have undercut the hunger and intensity of their play, but would have allowed the joy to continue. Now, that feeling is only a memory. I remember hugging strangers at the ballpark watch party on the night they won it all. On the subway train afterward, there was a communal rendering of “We Are The Champions.” I wonder how much longer it will be before anyone is comfortable with hugging friends, much less strangers. Close contact and shared emotions are an essential part of the ballpark experience. There is no way for us to get our sport back until the crisis has passed.

The Nats proved you can win it all without having the most talent, or intensity, or fire in your belly. You can do it with pure love of the sport and camaraderie with your teammates. That feeling would have lingered well into the new season, even if they didn’t repeat their championship run. Now, during what should be Opening Week, I can’t help letting out another private sob. I long for the time when comparatively trivial things like baseball begin to matter again. When that happens, we’ll have overcome the disaster.

Such Devoted Sisters

I’ve always been intrigued by catfights. Maybe I don’t have a great opinion of my own sex? My stories seem to be populated with mean girls, their collaborators, and their victims. That has led to a corresponding interest in the dynamics between sisters. My 2010 novel Let’s Play Ball dealt with fraternal twins who were close but competitive. I made some assumptions about sister relationships based on no real world experience, not having a sister of my own. I was guessing that even twin siblings can be very different.

Miranda and Jessica, the fraternal twins in my story, pursue wildly divergent career paths and love lives. While Miranda establishes a relatively sedate career as a budget analyst in the Department of Homeland Security, and marries a young lawyer, Jessica becomes a freelance journalist and starts her own sports magazine. Her endeavor takes off when she publishes a story about a local baseball star, Cuban-born Manny Chavez, who has pulled off a daring rescue of his young son from his unstable ex-wife. Jessica and Manny become engaged, and then he is kidnapped. Miranda, whose own life is not as picture-perfect as it seems, becomes embroiled in the investigation alongside her sister. In the course of the story, Miranda and Jessica fight and make up a lot, criticize each other’s personal choices, and pursue wholly different suspects.

Speaking of sisters, I’ve streamed the first three seasons of the Netflix series “The Crown,” which chronicles the endlessly melodramatic British royal family. Among many other themes, the series has something to say about sibling relationships, particularly between the Windsor sisters, Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. That was a love-hate relationship for the ages. This portrayal of Elizabeth shows her wearing the crown rather uneasily, while Margaret subjects her to frequent jabs about how much better she could have done the job if she’d been the older sister. Since she isn’t, she pursues a rather wild life, giving the sovereign numerous headaches. But that is arguably what Big Sister deserves for all the slights and criticisms she delivers herself, not to mention the constant interference with Margaret’s love life and marriage prospects. Being single longer only keeps Margaret’s dissolute habits going longer, thereby creating even more sovereign headaches. Margaret does take on occasional diplomatic missions for the Crown, although her style of diplomacy is best illustrated by the occasion when she regaled guests at a White House state dinner with dirty jokes. Still, she got the job done.

It’s undeniable that catfights provide some of the best entertainment in the news, as well as in the  history books. Those of us who keep tabs on the current British royal family are aware of a falling out between the princes William and Harry … and few of us doubt that the real source of that tiff is their respective wives. Thankfully, catfights don’t usually lead to murder, but it has been known to happen. The feud between royal cousins Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots ended rather badly. When two such powerful ladies are both determined to have their most dangerous rival silenced, it’s likely that one of them will lose her head.

As I’ve confessed before, I can’t resist the various “Real Housewives” franchises on Bravo TV, even when they make me cringe. The catfights featured on these shows tend to develop between wealthy women over mostly petty differences and first-world issues. The husbands of these “housewives” are a rather henpecked group, often berated by their wives for spending too many hours at work and not enough with them. Once in a while one of these husbands works up the courage to point out that the long hours he puts in earning a living are necessary to sustain his wife’s lifestyle. That usually leads to a full-scale tantrum.

All in all, It’s a little discouraging to realize that no one seems to go broke by underestimating the intelligence of women. Maybe if we started fighting back against the usual female stereotypes, they wouldn’t be so pervasive. In the meantime, we have to face the fact that white woman (largely from the South, admittedly) played a significant role in electing an incompetent moron to the presidency in 2016. Why couldn’t they vote for one of their own, if only because it’s more than time to prove a woman can do the job? Could we really do any worse? Hillary might not have been the most likable candidate ever, but she had intelligence, relevant experience, and competence. I suspect those are the very qualities that seem unwomanly to some women, especially the descendants of southern belles. Is it that they’re jealous?

Back before the 2016 election debacle, I couldn’t help thinking that if only Hillary Clinton, Theresa May, and Angela Merkel could all be heads of state at the same time, it might make for one of the most entertaining catfights ever. But who knows? Maybe if those three had actually put their heads together, something would have clicked. After seeing the depths that masculine leadership can bring us to, it seems to me that government by sisterhood is worth a try.

Baseball Is Unreal

The baseball off-season has flown by, and soon it will be time for my Washington Nationals to begin defending their 2019 World Series title. I’ve enjoyed my past few months of resting on their laurels. Defending a title is a difficult task, even when the victory is less of a surprise (actually, a shock) than theirs was. Some pundits are even calling that recent triumph something of a fluke. If so, that’s a good thing. Without the high expectations of previous seasons, it seemed there was less pressure to choke them in the stretch run. Instead of taking “fluke” as an insult, why not revel in the magic of it?

Since my early childhood, the local ballpark has been a special place. Going there always felt like crossing the threshold to a different world. The stadium was part of its surrounding community, yet the dissension that wracked the city seemed to be left at the door. It was a safe space where fantasy could flourish. That happened in spite of, or maybe because of, the constant losing of my teams in years past. Both joy and sorrow were amplified.

Baseball is the greatest of the outdoor games, intimately entwined with all kinds of weather. The sport seems to embrace the changing seasons. There’s the promise of an often cold, early springtime Opening Day; the dog days of summer, a  sweaty grind that tests the mettle of players and fans alike; the crisp air and renewed excitement that a fall pennant race brings. Patience is needed to sit through rain delays that can last for hours, in some cases only to have the game postponed. The comparatively slow pace of the sport requires patient fans. It’s no longer the most popular pastime in the country, but it’s the most enduring. It has been providing metaphors for life for close to 170 years.

Looking back on the Nats’ World Series triumph, the culmination of many unlikely, come-from-behind victories, I wonder how a team in such an angry, polarized country came to be so joyous. It seemed they were always singing and dancing, celebrating individual as well as team triumphs. Some players were more demonstrative than others, but the spirit caught on. It was hilarious to see non-dancers, such as the rather straight-laced pitcher Stephen Strasburg, forced to join the communal dance because he’d just hit a rare home run. The young Dominican stars Juan Soto and Victor Robles must have relished demonstrating native dances such as the merengue. With a team as diverse as these Nationals, many different types of dance moves got air time. The crowds watching them provided a similar mix. How can things go so swimmingly in a ballpark, when the country’s political life is in the gutter? Maybe it’s because baseball is unreal.

Thomas Boswell wrote an in-season article about the team’s turnaround from a dispiriting first third of the season. Ultimate success was not yet in sight when his article appeared, but he recognized that a new spirit had come about when Gerardo Parra, a live wire from Venezuela but a mere journeyman let loose from his previous team, not only rejuvenated his career with the Nats, but introduced line-dancing to the dugout. Boswell wrote,  “Right now, from his role as team dance maestro and source of joy to his infrequent but valuable time on the field, Parra is the off-the-junk-heap symbol of a Nats team that thinks baseball is the jubilant, carefree, jump-up-and-dance game in the world … Yes, the worry-fee, high-flying, giddy-happy Nats.” Just as importantly, Parra introduced the Shark Song as the team’s unofficial theme song. It was his two-year-old daughter’s favorite, and a tune that inspired us all to act that age for a while.

The only sour note, in my eyes, occurred shortly after the season, when the World Series winners were invited to  hobnob with the president. To those few who declined the invitation, and especially to relief pitcher Sean Doolittle, who explained his reasons so eloquently, I say: Bravo! To those who partied at the White House, I say: I forgive you. Nobody hired you to be political pundits. Nobody expected you to be on the lookout for poison in high places. You demonstrated, by your own example, that a better spirit can prevail.

Reality-Based Characters Too Real?

To be honest … how many of us authors are willing to admit that much of our fiction is thinly disguised autobiography? And are there times when it’s so thinly disguised that it’s barely fiction at all? I suspect this is particularly true of debut novels, and I’ll cop to it myself. My first two, Secretarial Wars (2003) and The Rock Star’s Homecoming (2007) feature, respectively, a working girl version of me and a college student version of me. Later, I tried to branch out from myself a little more, since I don’t find my own life endlessly fascinating and I doubt that many readers would either. I suspect that most authors, if they keep at it, become more skilled and imaginative at altering reality.

This topic occurred to me recently while I was immersing myself, yet again, in the recently published letters of Sylvia Plath. During her lifetime, Plath enjoyed her greatest publication success as a poet. When asked about her poetic process in interviews, she described it as highly personal, derived from physical and emotional experiences she’d had.

The same technique of utilizing true-life situations for fictional purposes seems more problematic. A narrative is much more likely to evoke real people, who are sure to recognize themselves and might react badly. Plath encountered this phenomenon once she completed her only novel, The Bell Jar. Her British publisher expressed concerns about possible lawsuits, and Plath wrote a detailed letter in an attempt to address the issue.

There’s no denying that The Bell Jar is an angry novel. The central event of the story, the nervous breakdown suffered by a bright college girl, was based on her own breakdown in the summer of 1953. As described in the story, many people contributed to the girl’s troubles, or at least failed to give her the help she needed. These characters are easily recognizable to anyone who knows her history, and to deny their connections to real people seems disingenuous.

Still, Plath wrote to her publisher: “I’ve gone through the book with great care and have prepared a list of links of fiction to fact, and a list of minor corrections which should alter most specific factual references.” Accordingly, she changed many names that were in the original manuscript. She went on to explain that the setting for the first half of the book was based on the Mademoiselle College Board Program for Guest Editors, in which she participated during June 1953. She changed the number of participants from 20 to 12, and claimed that all twelve were fictitious. But in later years, researchers were able to locate the prototypes for all of these young women, and they all admitted to recognizing themselves.

Plath also claims that her heroine’s supervisory editor at the magazine is fictitious, and at any rate there were dozens of editors at Mademoiselle that summer. The only unfavorable thing about her in the story, according to Plath, was that one of the girls described her as “ugly as sin.” If I were the editor in question, I would probably consider that insulting enough, even if my professional skills were never called into question. Likewise, Plath insists that the initial psychiatrist whom the girl consulted about her deteriorating mental state, and who failed to adequately supervise a shock treatment, could be based on any psychiatrist in the Boston area. But that appalling instance of malpractice actually happened to Plath, and I would think the real doctor deserved to be exposed.

Some of the portrayals of people closest to her proved most painful. Plath admits in her letter to the publisher that the mother in the book is based on her own mother, and is a “dutiful, hard-working woman whose beastly daughter is ungrateful to her.” True, but that mother also comes off as an uncomprehending, platitude-spouting dimwit. Aurelia Plath didn’t read the book until after Sylvia’s death, since her daughter purposely kept it from her. But the portrayal reportedly struck her to the core. Similarly, Plath transformed the novelist Olive Higgins Prouty, a major financial and emotional benefactor to her during her college years and beyond, into a comically bad romance novelist called Philomena Guinea. This was a rather stunning act of ingratitude, since Prouty was the one who paid for Sylvia’s psychiatric treatment at a high-quality hospital, which effectively saved her life at that time.

There was also the clueless boyfriend, a medical student who denigrates the girl’s poetic interests because they aren’t science, and therefore not as important as what he’s doing. Is he really sufficiently disguised, as Plath insists, because there were many blond, blue-eyed boys who went to Yale and became doctors? And then there was Jane Anderson, a fellow inmate at the hospital where Sylvia spent six months, whose name was changed to “Joan” in the novel. Many years later, she actually sued the Plath estate, because the character based on her committed suicide in place of the heroine. Anderson, who in real life went on to become a psychiatrist, contended that the portrayal harmed her professionally.

It may seem mean-spirited to criticize Plath at this late date, for writing the novel she evidently needed to write. But it can’t be denied that she published it under a pseudonym, and tried to keep it under wraps as best she could. If she admitted to family and friends that it existed at all, she describing it as a “potboiler, and just practice. Nobody should read it!” Clearly, she feared the reactions of real people.

Maybe if Sylvia Plath had lived long enough to write her own autobiography, she would have explored the roots of these characters, much as the late novelist Pat Conroy did in a couple of autobiographies toward the end of his life. For Conroy, the process of making fiction from reality seemed to work in reverse: rather than pummeling those who had failed him, he tried in some ways to make his harrowing childhood more palatable. For example, he used his own father as the inspiration for the tyrannical military father in The Great Santini, but made him nicer than he actually was, giving him credit for acts of kindness that never happened. Donald Conroy apparently chose to embrace the sanitized version of himself. He even accompanied his son on some of the promotional book tours, posing as the original Great Santini.

So it appears that reality-based fiction can address our emotional needs in many ways … to satirize or to humanize or to exaggerate the traits of our friends and enemies and everyone in between. Can any of us claim that our stories are totally made up? If so, they’re fantasies … and I suspect there are some grains of truth to be found even in that genre.

Lady Macbeth As Heroine

My 2010 novel, Let’s Play Ball, features a villainess named Guadalupe. She’s an American-born woman of Cuban descent, who throws away a marriage to a Cuban-born major league ballplayer that could have ensured a prosperous life in the United States. She believes she was meant for greater things on a wider stage. She grabs at that more meaningful life by catching the eye of the heir apparent to the presidency of Cuba during a rare state visit. She follows him back to the island to assume the role of first-lady-in-waiting, taking her young son without his father’s permission.

My villainess is not the type to sit back and watch from afar as her ex-husband, Manny, finds happiness with his second wife, Jessica, a glamorous sportswriter, and maneuvers to get his son back. She suffers international humiliation when the child is snatched from his nanny in a daring raid, and returned to the U.S. In revenge, she plots Manny’s kidnapping, bringing in a wide range of accomplices.

Guadalupe is far from the only evil character in the story, since it takes a rather large conspiracy to pull off the kidnapping of a major league ballplayer from his own ballpark. Is she worse than all the others, being the ultimate instigator of a crime against the man she once professed to love? Is she not only un-womanly but un-maternal, since the revenge factor seems to play a bigger role in her plotting than the custody issue?

Certain critics have pointed out that my other female characters don’t come off so great, either. Jessica and her fraternal twin sister Miranda, a homeland security bureaucrat, are the ostensible heroines as they set out to investigate the kidnapping. Although they make progress, their contentious relationship threatens to derail their efforts. They disagree, argue, and snipe at each other a lot along the way. In fact, catfights are a motif in this story. Certain powerful women come to the twins’ attention as suspects, and they, in turn, are fighting with each other. Come to think of it, catfights pop up fairly often in all of my stories. Don’t I like my own sex?

Guadalupe proves to be the lead villainess, the undeniable catalyst of all the mischief. Now I’m writing a sequel in which she becomes something of a heroine, at least in her own mind. Her evil ways continue as she instigates yet another kidnapping of a ballplayer, with less personal justification than before. Yet she feels driven by a higher purpose, a long-range goal that even she can’t define at first. She may be delusional, but she may be onto something.

Can an unapologetic villain possibly be sympathetic? And can people who seem to entertain grandiose ideas make themselves understood by rational minds? For that matter, is it necessary as authors to root for our viewpoint characters every minute?

While researching the subject of sympathetic villainesses, I came across an alternative take on Lady Macbeth. In Susan Fraser King’s Lady Macbeth: A Novel (2009), Shakespeare’s most wicked woman is given a rich backstory that helps to explain, if not justify, her wickedness. She was widowed while pregnant, and forced to marry the Scottish warlord Macbeth, her husband’s murderer. Although she initially despises this unnatural partner, the brutal world she inhabits forces her to join with him and share his plans. There are threats coming at the uneasy couple from all directions, including Vikings, Saxons, and competing warlords. Her own royal blood has given Lady Macbeth an imperious bearing and an awareness of her special destiny. Her twin goals of advancing her son and forging a united Scotland are not for the weak-hearted.

To find a more modern villain-hero, we can turn to the Star Wars universe. It seems that Kylo Ren, son of the original icons Hans Solo and Leia Organa, somehow turned evil. Given his parentage, he must have felt pressured from childhood to become the very embodiment of Jedi righteousness. Instead, in an extreme case of adolescent rebellion, he ends up leading an army against his heroic parents, even killing his dad. A analysis in Rolling Stone of the final Star Wars installment seems to relate this angst to modern times: “A confused, angry man-boy radicalized by powerful forces whispering in his ear, an heir to generational trauma raised in an era of endless war, is an all-too-believable threat.”

Adam Driver, who portrays Kylo Ren, explains the nuances of his role: “There’s something in having an antagonist who is a little more vulnerable That seems to be more relatable and human than just someone who is a psychopath.” He goes on to explain further that although his character is the villain “in some ways,” his actions can also be seen as heroic. This is one mixed-up universe, where a mass murderer is deemed “vulnerable” because he hesitated a moment, with pain in his eyes, before he wiped out an entire regiment of righteous warriors.

I haven’t seen “The Rise of Skywalker,” but it was widely speculated in advance that Ren must be headed toward some sort of redemption. That would seem to be necessary if the chemistry between him and Rey, his warrior-heroine opponent, is ever to develop. That would be the most predictable plot arc, although writers of sagas have been known to surprise us.

So that brings me back to my own Guadalupe, who will not live “happily ever after,” no matter where she ends up. She has never found contentment, either as a baseball wife in the U.S. or in her “Cuban first lady” pose. Nor will she ever settle for being a mere decoration, when she “knows” she’s destined to make her own unique mark on history. Is she a little bit crazy? No doubt, but she may just prove to be a little bit right.