Book Review: Carly’s Buck
Author: Carole S. Adler
Publisher: Clarion Books
Length: 167 pages
Idealistic adolescent Carly goes to stay with other relatives because she thinks her father behaved callously during the long illness that preceded her mother’s death. She becomes interested in an old buck deer and in a young deer hunter, whom she persuades to protect the deer. Despite his protective efforts, others shoot the deer. Carly feels that she has betrayed both the deer and her mother because she was not present when they died. Had she been present, she thinks, they might have survived. Grieving over the deer, she discusses this sense of false guilt with adults and lets herself be persuaded that she is somehow obliged to “accept” her father’s behavior.
I’m not convinced. Carly, we are told, left her mother’s side only when her mother urged her to do so. Carly’s father consistently avoided his wife because he was one of those people who can’t bear hospitals. I feel that Carly’s inability to work miracles is not at all the same thing as her father’s cowardice. It may be convenient for families like Carly’s to pretend that such different things are the same—for now. It will be less convenient for them thirty years later. Carly’s father will be sorry about his daughter’s confusion when he finds the quality of his life dependent on someone who’s been taught that there is no difference between human limitations and inhuman negligence.
This novel might have had real social value if it had gone on to become a grown-up novel, showing us the last days of the father who has successfully helped his daughter to “accept” his death, feel no need to visit him, encourage the doctors to hasten his demise (after all, he’s only a burden to the Welfare State now), and perhaps even sign him up for experimental treatments in order to reduce his medical expenses…
Books like Carly’s Buck get past the usual kind of criticism from church groups, since they contain no sex, no profanity, and no murders…but they shouldn’t. Religious people have allowed the ideals of love and forgiveness to be confused with a sort of dazed toleration, mislabelled “acceptance,” of evil. A situation like the one portrayed in Carly’s Buck helps us understand how such a mistake is possible. Nobody would be satisfied if this story ended with the half-grown girl hating and blaming her father, permanently estranged from him and training herself to despise all men, because she can’t forgive her father’s failure. To whatever extent we grant that people like Carly and her father exist, we want them reconciled quickly. “Accepting” cowardice seems quicker than developing a mature ability to loathe cowardice and feel compassion toward a coward—is compassion what children should feel toward their fathers?
Anyway, it’s only a novel, a novel aimed primarily at middle school readers at that, and we’re grown-ups who have more pressing business than criticizing novels…and so our silence gives implicit “acceptance” to this idea that we should all resolve our difficult emotional feelings by giving up moral and ethical standards.
Christians aren’t the only people who should object to the false psychology in Carly’s Buck. One can imagine the rhetoric to which this book’s “sentimental” bow to a loss of “honor” might have inspired Ayn Rand, or the belligerence such ideas might have aroused in Muhammad. But it doesn’t really take a coherent ethical philosophy to make normal humans feel that cowardice is a bad thing. Nor does it take an advanced degree in psychology to show that Carly’s false guilt has its roots in her real shame over her father’s real guilt, or that the real repair of Carly’s self-esteem will come from behaving with courage and fortitude (whenever she gets another opportunity) rather than pretending that cowardice is “okay.”
This is another review from the pre-computer archives. The purpose of writing this review was not to sell a book that was new at the time; it was to describe an example of a book that was bought for many school libraries in its day and does not, in my opinion, belong in a Christian school library. Well, few things are completely useless. Moral confusion apart, Carly’s Buck is at least a well written and engaging story. If anybody out there wants to buy a copy of this book in order to discuss the difference between forgiveness and compassion and confusion, I’ll sell it.
C.S. Adler is still alive, as of the time of writing; she’s eighty-three, but she has a web site. So, if anyone does want to buy a copy of Carly’s Buck from me, it’ll be a Fair Trade Book: $5 per copy, $5 per package, for a total of $10, of which I’ll send $1 to Adler or a charity of her choice. She wrote many other books that are less confused and are more often available secondhand than new these days; if you want half a dozen different ones, send $35 to either address in the lower left-hand corner of the screen, list the titles you want, and Adler or her charity will receive $6.
Buck deer image from Binks at Morguefile, www.morguefile.com/archive/display/850751/