Title: Choose: Snakes or Ladders
Author: Sally Forest
Genre: Literary Fiction
This rich, sensually-driven literary novel takes readers back to the 1950s, when women were just starting to enter the work-force alongside men on a more regular basis. The story follows Mitty Bedford, a typist who recently graduated with her certificate and has landed a job in the real world. Living on her own for the first time, she embarks on a journey of self-exploration in life, love, and her own sexuality.
The challenges of her work and daily commute force Mitty to navigate through the advances, interest, and internal reactions cause by the proximity she now shares with men—young, old, and married.
And Mitty’s difficulties are increased by the fact that this is her first regular encounter with men. Her father was absent from much of her life, though she has loving memories of him, and she grew up suffocated by her officious aunt, who forced her mother and grandmother to strictly adhere to the “the Rule of the Assembly,” a puritanical group of Christians who destroy the lives of any who fall into sin.
Accordingly, Mitty’s life is one of repressed sexuality. The sight of a man’s damp armpit, the way he pulls his jacket on, and the feel of his leather chair all strongly affect her, and the story chronicles her growth from a sexually-sensitive young woman who struggles with her perceived sin, shame, and guilt, to becoming one who is aware of her own abilities and determined to follow her own path.
The story does feature repeated sexual assaults as part of Mitty’s journey of discovery, but it also includes a variety of characters who support her in her growth: her landlady, other women she meets on the train, and a clerk at her workplace all become friends and encouragers along the way.
And the story includes a balanced romance, to where the narration is still devoted to Mitty’s thoughts, feelings, prayers and desires. The setting was enjoyable, though the American South seems a bit predictable for the location of a cult-like Christian group, and one could appreciate the fact that Christianity wasn’t wholly blamed for her repression, as other, more permissive characters are Christian as well.
The climax felt rushed, given to the characters rather than earned, but overall, the pacing was very believable. Mitty doesn’t change her beliefs overnight but slowly begins to see that life, love, and feelings could be a gift from God and not a sin.
Overall, the narration was delightful, immersing readers in the world of the 1950s with references to the films, fashions, and social challenges of the day. Though one could wish for her to be a stronger, more independent woman, Mitty was born before the days of Feminism and as such, her outlook seemed appropriate.
The sensuality was tasteful and believable, with Mitty’s fascination balanced by her ignorance and fears, and the character development was insightful. Rather than reading like a melodrama, Choose: Snakes or Ladders is a well-plotted tale of human growth, sexuality, and self-discovery which will be enjoyed by readers of women’s fiction and literary fiction alike.
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