In defense of Meghan

In my interview with Merry Gangemi on Woman-Stirred Radio, one of the most interesting discussions is about the character of Meghan. Merry Gangemi, an astute and fascinating interviewer, held the perspective that Meghan is irritating and doesn’t know her self. I’ve spent the week considering this, and I’d like to take a moment to talk about why Meghan is important. Why her character is valuable despite the fact that for much of the book she behaves like a shithead.

Meghan has chosen a career at odds with her values. She’s working to get into West Point, sponsored by a chaplain’s family that she admires, aware of the military’s (and the sponsoring family’s) stance on homosexuality. She knows these things and attempts to navigate what is expected of her, despite her desire. She’s young, 18, and ambitious, the ideal role model for Cole’s parents to foist on Cole, except that Meghan is a lesbian.

And this is what I like best about Meghan. She really is all these things. A role model. A person with honor. A cadet. An overachiever. But none of that matters if she’s gay. In the time of the novel — 1990-1991 — if she’s gay, she gets kicked out of the military, she gets dumped by her sponsor family, she compromises her potential because she wants a girl rather than a boy.

If you understood that, and realized how arbitrary and nonsensical that is, how would you behave?

I have such affinity for Meghan. For the honorable person of whom dishonorable things are demanded. It’s her choice though, right? Nobody is forcing her to go into the military. Right. But it’s an absurd requirement. You don’t need to be straight to sacrifice for your country. Now we admit as much; Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is dead, and the military is the better for it, as the Pentagon reported earlier this year.

Meghan is weak, which is to say human. I love her because she struggles and gets it wrong and is determined to self correct. I love her because externally she’s the golden girl for whom life should be lemon meringue pie. Except that she loves this girl. And determines to do something about her love: to make herself worthy of it. I love her because she found a way to make vocabulary lists love letters.

6 thoughts on “In defense of Meghan”

  1. Who really knows their self at the age of 18? I didn’t find Meghan irritating. I actually liked her, and liked how she tried. I understood she was in a tough place, and I felt she understood she was as well. I thought she was completely believable. I mean, she’s 18, not 35.

  2. I loved Meaghan, for the very reasons you listed. Because she is all those things, honorable, over-achieving, all of them, and a person who wants to serve her country, and she is eighteen, a beautiful, aching, eighteen years old.
    I see some of those same qualities in Cole, an over-achiever of whom much is expected, but she is sixteen. She likes the grunge boy and the perfect boy, she likes basketball and she likes making music, and she likes Meaghan.

    Since that war, that time, we have learned a lot, as have Meaghan and Cole.

  3. I appreciate these comments, thank you both. Merry and I also discussed the part of Cole & Meghan’s dynamic I find most compelling: power. Merry wondered if the power differential rendered their relationship inappropriate. I think Meghan struggles with that very question, and it’s a fascinating one to me. At the end of the day, they’re both teenagers, but Meghan is not in high school, and she has been given the authority of a chaperone at her own request.

  4. There’s a power differential, for sure, but I thought that was a big part of Cole’s attraction. Sure you can make a case for it being inappropriate. Meghan knows that before it even begins, but perhaps that’s part of the attraction for her, as well? Meghan clearly likes power; she seeks it at every turn.

    From a storytelling perspective, I think Meghan is important for Cole to grow towards. She’s a kind of foil. We see how Cole contrasts them, how she admires Meghan. If I recall, Cole’s doubts about their relationship, about whether Meghan is taking advantage, come much later. After Meghan has hurt her, and wants to be forgiven.

    I love Meghan. I love the vocabulary lists. I’m not sure what the story would be, without her. But, full disclosure: I have a thing for slightly inappropriate relationships, for figures in power who are humbled by their own weakness. That’s just interesting to me. But there’s also a firm distaste for that sort of thing, particularly for women, which is understandable. I suppose if that puts you off, Meghan might seem predatory, irredeemable. But I think for Cole, she’s simply a revelation.

    1. I think Meghan teaches Cole that she doesn’t have to be all of what is expected of her: that she can get good grades, make music, excel at sports, etc. She can be the band girl and the photography student and the girl who is vicious and gifted on the soccer field. She can be the person who sits with the “good” girl in church on Sunday, after staying up until 2 or 3 am the night before with her band.

      I also think it’s human to want things that, ostensibly (because of some human-made rule), you can’t have, or to make sacrifices of self toward a goal, especially if something is expected of you.

      I loved the vocabulary lists as well: love letters, indeed.

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Jill Malone

Jill Malone grew up in a military family, went to German kindergarten, and lived across from a bakery that made gummi bears the size of mice. She has lived on the East Coast and in Hawaii, and for the last seventeen years in Spokane with her son, two dogs, a hedgehog, and a lot of outdoor gear. She looks for any excuse to play guitar. Jill is married to a performance artist and addiction counselor who makes the best risotto on the planet.

Giraffe People is her third novel. Her first novel, Red Audrey and the Roping, was a Lambda finalist and won the third annual Bywater Prize for Fiction. A Field Guide to Deception, her second novel, was a finalist for the Ferro-Grumley, and won the Lambda Literary Award and the Great Northwest Book Festival.

Giraffe People

Giraffe People

Between God and the army, fifteen-year-old Cole Peters has more than enough to rebel against. But this Chaplain’s daughter isn’t resorting to drugs or craziness. Truth to tell, she’s content with her soccer team and her band and her white bread boyfriend.

And then, of course, there’s Meghan.

Meghan is eighteen years old and preparing for entry into West Point. For this she has sponsors: Cole’s parents. They’re delighted their daughter is finally looking up to someone. Someone who can tutor her and be a friend.

But one night that relationship changes and Cole’s world flips.

Giraffe People is a potent reminder of the rites of passage and passion that we all endure on our road to growing up and growing strong. Award-winning author Jill Malone tells a story of coming out and coming of age, giving us a take that is both subtle and fresh.

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A Field Guide to Deception

A Field Guide to Deception

In Jill Malone’s second novel, A Field Guide to Deception, nothing is as simple as it appears: community, notions of motherhood, the nature of goodness, nor even compelling love. Revelations are punctured and then revisited with deeper insight, alliances shift, and heroes turn anti-hero—and vice versa.

With her aunt’s death Claire Bernard loses her best companion, her livelihood, and her son’s co-parent. Malone’s smart, intriguing writing beguiles the reader into this taut, compelling story of a makeshift family and the reawakening of a past they’d hoped to outrun. Claire’s journey is the unifying tension in this book of layered and shifting alliances.

A Field Guide to Deception is a serious novel filled with snappy dialogue, quick-moving and funny incidents, compelling characterizations, mysterious plot twists, and an unexpected climax. It is a rich, complex tale for literary readers.

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Red Audrey and the Roping

Red Audrey and the Roping

Occasionally a debut novel comes along that rocks its readers back on their heels. Red Audrey and the Roping is one of that rare and remarkable breed. With storytelling as accomplished as successful literary novelists like Margaret Atwood and Sarah Waters, Jill Malone takes us on a journey through the heart of Latin professor Jane Elliot.

Set against the dramatic landscapes and seascapes of Hawaii, this is the deeply moving story of a young woman traumatized by her mother’s death. Scarred by guilt, she struggles to find the nerve to let love into her life again. Afraid to love herself or anyone else, Jane falls in love with risk, pitting herself against the world with dogged, destructive courage. But finally she reaches a point where there is only one danger left worth facing. The sole remaining question for Jane is whether she is willing to accept her history, embrace her damage, and take a chance on love.

As well as a gripping and emotional story, Red Audrey and the Roping is a remarkable literary achievement. The breathtaking prose evokes setting, characters, and relationships with equal grace. The dialogue sparks and sparkles. Splintered fragments of narrative come together to form a seamless suspenseful story that flows effortlessly to its dramatic conclusion.

Winner of the Bywater Prize for Fiction, Red Audrey and the Roping is one of the most memorable first novels you will ever read.

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