Title: They: A Biblical Tale of Secret Genders
Author: Janet Mason
Publisher: Adelaide Books
Publisher’s Blurb: In this novel we met Tamar from the Hebrew Bible. Tamar lives as a hermit in the desert, is content with her life and is happily barren. She is attached to her pet camel. Her aversion to goat sacrifices becomes so strong that it prompts her to become a vegetarian. Tamar has a twin sister Tabitha who becomes pregnant after seducing a young muscular shepherd. Tamar plots with Tabitha to trick Judah (a patriarch from the Bible) into believing that the baby is his so that she can have status in society rather than being burnt at the stake. Tabitha gives birth to twins. Tamar becomes attached to the children (born intersex), who call her auntie, and follows their line of intersex twins.
They has a promising premise, a long line of intersex twins come from the fictional twin sister of biblical Tamar. Tweaking Judeo- Christian mores is one of my favorite topics, and the thought of secret genders in the Bible pleased me.
Janet Mason has a unique spin on many of the familiar Old and New Testament stories. While fictional Tabitha is the one who has children with Judah by deceiving him, her twin sister Tamar is the character with the most interesting discussions about the “old tales.”
My favorite is Tamar telling her sister’s twins about Adam and Eve and the Snake in the Garden of Eden. She asks questions I’ve always had. Why spend centuries blaming Eve when Adam was the one who could have, but didn’t, say, “No.” Which is the root of a lot of the sexist and misogynistic bullshit we experience today.
Then there’s the interesting, if difficult to take serious, story about Tamar reincarnating in Mary’s belly as Jesus’ twin, both of whom are born intersex. And both whom have different fathers.
Structurally They has problems. There’s a lot of telling, not showing. The showdown between Tabitha and Judah is told to a gathering of women instead of shown. The same goes for Joseph leaving the house every time David arrives to visit Mary. Her trying to explain why the twins have different fathers and how she’s not going marry either of them would have been so much more interesting.
Another problem is chapters which end abruptly, the next picking up years later with little or no connective tissues.
For instance, Tamar and Judith gossip about the news from Egypt where Joseph (Judah’s brother) has saved Pharaoh from starvation with his dream interpretations. The baby they made and Judith gave birth to cries …. end of chapter. The next chapter is set 20 years in the future and Tamar is dying. No explanation for what’s happened in that time or how Tamar is dying.
The very last chapter uses the preferred pronouns for intersex people, ze, hir, zir. At no time before in this book, have these been used. The change is jolting and disruptive, drawing attention away from the journey Yeshua and his family take away from Jerusalem.
I wanted to love Tree, I really did. There are many interesting twists and stories that give a different interpretation to the stories I grew up on. Some parts of Tree nearly glow. But the parts that don’t glow bring the entirety to a medium well done novel.
As far as I can tell, this was Mason’s first published book (she has since published another, which I have not read). It is my hope that with practice and dedication her writing will become more consistent and structurally sound. There’s a lot of good ideas in They, but the execution just isn’t strong enough to bear the weight.