When readers meet Opal, the first of three narrators in J. Jill Robinson’s More in Anger, she is stitching her wedding dress and veil.
“Every once in a while one of the ring’s claws caught on the veil’s netting, and Opal carefully released it.”
It is her engagement ring that is snagging. It’s got teeth, just as the yellowjacket — on the pretty cover with a rose on it — has a stinger.
It is 1915, on the Canadian Prairie, and a series of public announcements are reprinted amidst the text, chronicling Opal’s shift from eligible young woman of means to fiancée to young wife.
Opal is wholly thrilled about the idea of her marriage. She has jumped through all the social hoops and she has embroidered her linens; she is ready to be a beloved wife.
But there, too, is a snag.
“If becoming a married woman weren’t strange enough in and of itself – filled with the struggle to form a new identity first as wife and then as wife and mother, her own family left behind in Winnipeg – she had struggled also, struggled hard, and alone, and unappreciated, with living in an environment defined almost completely by a stranger’s belongings.”
Just halfway through the segment of the work that Opal narrates, she is filled with struggle: a lonely and burdened woman.
You can see where the anger begins to bloom.
When the narrative shifts later, to first Pearl and then Vivian, the themes intersect.
So, it might just as easily have been Opal who felt this:
“Never mind all that. She was setting out on an adventure. She was setting out on her life and she was leaving all that had hobbled her behind.”
But it wasn’t. And she could have been the one who felt this:
“How she hated having to depend upon him for her happiness. It wasn’t fair. Or right. She couldn’t make him write to her. She couldn’t make him want to. When she thought about her helplessness, anger rose in her life lava, burning her heart, her throat, her words.”
But that’s not Opal either.
Within the narrative, each of the women remains confined in her own struggle. But the reader recognizes the similarities in their circumstances.
Because the narrative presents three perspectives on the same family, the reader perceives a pattern that is visible from without. But each woman is overwhelmed by her own personal experiences.
“As though when Pearl was a child Opal herself hadn’t locked her in her room, and she was the one wailing and crying. Opal never said, ‘Oh, the poor little thing’ then, did she? The hypocrite.”
Opal can be sympathetic to her granddaughter. Pearl can see the cruelty of locking a child in a room. But Opal does not recognize her own cruelty in the past, and Pearl only recognizes the cruelty when it was perpetrated against her, overlooks it when she is the perpetrator.
You can see where the anger begins to rot.
“There would be no progress for women as long as there were women like her mother around.”
Any one of the three women might have said this, their relationships sketched across three generations: joinings and mendings, fractures and collisions.
J. Jill Robinson’s character development is precise, her construction and use of language exact, her thematic work relentless.
More in Anger straddles delicacy and brutality in such a way that it almost hurts to read, for although the crafting is fine, the story feels true.
Have you read this novel? Do you want to? Have you read another of her works?