Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Book Review: Sweet Revenge

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Sweet Revenge
Author: Regina Barreca

Author's web page:
Date: 1995 (hardcover), 1997 (paperback)
Publisher: Crown (1995), Berkley (1997)
ISBN: 0-425-15766-0 (1997)
Length: 292 pages
Quote: “A little revenge, we should remember, goes a long way.”
Regina Barreca painted herself into an unusual corner before writing this book. She belongs to the “Women Are ‘Relational,’ Therefore Nicer” school of feminism. Despite the statistical fact that underlies this cultural myth (before Prozac, violent crime was a male thing), the problem with the myth is that it makes women who own up to angry, vindictive feelings seem somehow like (ick!) guys. Hence the selfconscious tightrope-walking quality of Barreca’s connective writing in this book. Revenge isn’t Nice, she seems to be saying, and I have to pay lip service to Niceness but...
It’s easier to enjoy this book if you abandon the ideal of Niceness and reclaim a belief in Justice,. Then you can acknowledge that personal revenge, although obviously less desirable than formal justice, is what’s supposed to happen if formal justice fails. Forgiveness is a process in which members of most religions participate, but forgiveness begins with repentance.
If you have trespassed against somebody and not repented, confessed, and made some effort to compensate for what you did, you can’t be forgiven. Whatever the offended person does will qualify as revenge. The person might choose to ignore you; in that case you’d never know how long it would last, and you’d have to spend the rest of your life looking out behind you. The person might choose to be kind to you; in that case you’d have to spend the rest of your life knowing yourself to have been morally inferior to him/her. I recently read a book in which a minister described how he was unable to collect payment on a loan for years, until he wrote to the borrower that he had decided to repay the debt to himself in an attempt to forgive the borrower’s trespass just as God had forgiven him; the borrower made several efforts to repay the loan, but the minister refused to take the money...and he seemed to think that he wasn’t exacting revenge.,
Revenge, we see, is not a social problem but a fact of life. Trespassing in the first place is the problem of concern to society. And impenitence.
But why argue about the philosophy of revenge? What readers want to know, before deciding to read 292 pages on the subject, is whether the revenge stories in this book are good ones. Yes, there are several previously unpublished stories of creative, proportionate, even legal revenge.
Also a few stories of revenge that was disproportionate and unethical. A vindictive younger sibling sneaks into a boy’s room and turns all his pet turtles over on their backs. For me this act is out of bounds, because who knows how much or how long those inoffensive turtles have to suffer? Now, if the guy had been a few years older, and the younger sibling had managed to turn his car upside down, that would have been cool.
I’ll leave readers to pass their own judgments on the ethics of accidentally-on-purpose burning (a) the offender’s food or (b) the offender’s favorite record. I’ll even leave readers to pass their own judgments on whether printing a man’s description of how viciously he mutilated an ex-boyfriend’s teddy bear qualifies as defamation of  homosexual men. I will offer this subjective judgment: when dissatisfied employees walk out and start a competing business that submarines their former employer’s business, I think that’s absolutely splendid.
Sweet Revenge is recommended to anyone sane enough to recognize that the Poe character in “The Cask of Amontillado,” whose revenge for a minor offense is to bury a trusting friend alive, is pure fiction.

If you buy Sweet Revenge from salolianigodagewi @, it will cost you $5 for this book + $5 for shipping (Sweet Revenge and as many other books as fit into one package), out of which we will send Dr. Barreca or any charity of her choice $1. You might find a better price for the book online, but, so far as I know, this is the only web site that pays royalties on secondhand books, so buy it here if you want to encourage a living author.