July 8th, 2003

rivka as ww

If my eyes don't deceive me

I have book reviews, but first I want to talk SV fic. I just reread Lanning's excellent Agenda. I love the Identical series, I love Eli (though I doubt he'd call a man a yenta as he did Jonathan, but maybe that's just the way my family uses the term), I love the twists and turns and the way Lionel loves Lex, after his fashion. Yet I discovered that I have a characterization issue, with a character who isn't even present. When I was thinking about the story, and the characterization it shares with many others, I labelled it the "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" problem.

Lillian.

If she was that good, what the fuck was she doing with Lionel? Now, Eli is easy to read as an unreliable narrator with respect to Lillian and therefore Lionel, but I don't get any alternate version of Lillian from Pamela or Lex in "Agenda," and thus it's hard to imagine Eli being wrong about Lillian. So why would she marry such a man? Was she just stupid? I think that's actually possible; Lex must get his hopeless romanticism from somewhere, so I could accept a Lillian who deliberately blinded herself to her husband's flaws (more flaw than husband, I'd say), though I'd still want to know why she fell in love in the first place.

Alternatively, since Eli tells us she wasn't stupid, she wasn't the angel of the house that Lex remembers. She stayed with Lionel for reasons other than love, maybe even married him for reasons other than love. That Napoleon watch was not the gift of a Harriet Nelson to her good son. If she was not like Lionel, it was only a matter of degree, not kind – a little more than kin, and less than kind, you might say – and Lex is deluding himself, understandably, when he thinks otherwise. Maybe she got in over her head; maybe she thought Lionel was only a little bent, like her. But any plausible Lillian has to be somewhere between calculating and miscalculating.

In the case of "Agenda," that means I judge Lillian Edouard more harshly than Eli, Lex, and possibly Lanning do. There's some suggestion in the story that she was running from some nebulous threat when she cast her lot with Lionel. Okay, but why did she need a man to save her? Then, when illness forcibly took her from her son, freeing Lionel to do his worst to Lex, why was she so insistent that Lex retain his "birthright"? Was the money that important? Or, if it was the principle of the thing, why was the principle more important than the prince? Certainly in light of the events of the Identical series it would have been better for Eli and Pamela to disregard her wishes and whisk Lex away. Lillian made a big mistake with Lionel, and Lex is the consequence of that mistake. Don't get me wrong – I'm glad he's the fucked-up danger-bunny he is, but Lex has a legitimate beef with her if he'd only see it.

So, with "Agenda" at least, my dissatisfaction is not truly about characterization, but about the fact that none of the characters are willing to mar Lillian's sacred memory, even though her ethics were clearly incompatible with Clark's insistence on making one's own destiny. If Clark is right, Lillian was wrong, and neither "Eduoard" nor "Luthor" should be conjuring words for Lex. (My own view is that both Clark and Lillian have points in their favor, but then I'm a Marxist that way.)

My Lillian was something of a bitch, with enough larceny in her heart to love Lionel at the same time as she hated his infidelities. If she'd survived, she wouldn't have indulged Lex's self-pity nearly as much as Lex thinks. She cried and threw things and was frightened of dying and, to her great embarrassment, once wore white pants to a garden party the day she got her period. I don't see enough of her in fan fiction. Lex2Excess's Blind Prophecy comes closest to what I want. I shouldn’t like this story; it’s nearly too cute. But the beginning especially has a very good tone and it actually lets Lex be angry at his sainted mother, which is unusual – in fact, I’m not sure I’ve seen it done anywhere else – and very right. There are other strong Lillian stories, though I can't think of any others that also have a good role for Lex. Recommendations?

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