The Falling Woman (1986)
Author: Pat Murphy
Genre: Fantasy (Mythology)
This is an award winning story about Elizabeth Butler is an archeologist obsessed with knowing the secrets of the Mayan and who is haunted by her past. Many years ago she left her daughter with her ex-husband and then spent some time in a mental facility after attempting to commit suicide. Elizabeth’s daughter, Diane, is haunted by the present. After her father dies, Diane breaks up with her boyfriend and quits her job and heads to Merida, Mexico to visit her mother on a dig in Mayan ruins. One of Elizabeth’s “hallucinations” is Zuhuy-kak, a Mayan high-priestess who demands Elizabeth make a sacrifice in order to share the secrets of the Mayan. SPOILER: Elizabeth struggles with the sacrifice that Zuhuy-kak demands: Diane. Elizabeth discovers that Zuhuy-kak killed herself after she prophesied that the Mayan culture would fall to enemies causing the Mayans to flee. Elizabeth, in a haze, attempts to escape the shadows of the past that haunt her. Diane follows her into a cave where Elizabeth falls and breaks her leg. In a delirium, Diane drags her injured mother to the road where she flags down a car gets to the hospital. Elizabeth is able to come to terms with the past and let her daughter into her life. Elizabeth and Diane plan on going to the Mayan dig together the following year.
Geographical Setting: outside Merida, Mexico in the surrounding Mayan ruins
Time Period: 1980s
This is not a typical sci-fi/fantasy because there is a great deal of characterization and character development. Elizabeth and Diane are very well developed and their life stories are described in great detail. Because of the characterization the pace is somewhat slower as the world in which Elizabeth lives in and her insanity is described in great detail. The writing is well done and the descriptions of the Mexican countryside are gorgeous; the author is knowledgeable of the ruins, landscape, and culture. Several of the themes are death and insanity which lends itself to a darker tone. Also, there sections in the book which describe the mother/daughter relationship. It is a very female centered novel, as the protagonist and antagonist are seeking to do the right thing for themselves as well as for the world but are conflicted by motherhood and womanhood.
Read-alikes: First off, if you liked this novel, you might want to try Pat Murphy’s other novels. She writes Science Fiction and Non-fiction but does not discuss ancient civilizations or discuss the same themes in all of her works. Some of her novels are set in the future, some are set in the past. If you are interested in more of her work go to http://www.brazenhussies.net/murphy/ for a full listing of her works.
If you liked the myths and use of mythical history, you might like The Snow Queen by Eileen Kernaghan. This is the short reworking of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, "The Snow Queen". The protagonist, Gerda, is a middle class, sheltered daughter in the Victorian era. When the mysterious Lady Aurore kidnaps her boyfriend, Kai, Gerda runs away from home to save him. Kernaghan combines Andersen’s fairy tales with Saami shamanic lore and the Finnish epic of The Kalevala. It is a dark tale which has an exciting plot with unexpected twists and turns and also develops the character.
If you liked the feminist angle and discussion of motherhood, you might like Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Three scientists, all men, stumble upon a society which is completely inhabited by women. The author, of famed "The Yellow Wallpaper" glory, depicts the woman as independent, smart, and beautiful. This is a short, fast paced, sci-fi work of feminism and has similar themes of motherhood, and identity within a culture.
If you liked the discussion of insanity and the feminist setting, you might like Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy. Consuelo Ramos, an ex-prostitute, is imprisoned in a mental institute where she is tortured with neuroelectric experimentation after beating up her pimp. Using her mind she is able to visit a utopic society. There is discussion as to whether she is really insane, as well as the depiction of how the “insane” are treated. Sexuality, insanity, race, and freedom, are discussed as Piercy writes an in-depth character analysis about Consuelo which brings the reader to question if Consuelo is really crazy and deserving of such torture.
If you liked the mythical discussion of ancient civilization you might like Return of Isis by Jean Stewart. This lesbian novel, the first in the series Isis Rising, is set in 2093, where an Amazon warrior, Whit, rescues Amelia from her world in which women are forced to either be breeders or mentally escape. While Whit and Amelia journey in this fast paced adventure/sci-fi novel they experience romance, mystery, and adventure.
If you liked the exploration of motherhood, and dark tone then you might like Kinship Theory: A Novel by Hester Kaplan. In this novel Maggie Crown agrees to carry the child that her infertile daughter, Dale, cannot carry. But complications in her life and pregnancy and pregnancy cause great difficulty in Maggie’s life as she then has to watch her daughter be a careless mother. This is a dark toned, character centered story about sacrifice and the mother’s love for her daughter. It is slower paced as it really delves into the lives of Maggie and Dale.
Red Flags: Brief Sexual Encounters, Depiction of Human Sacrifice