Monday, August 3, 2015

Class matters in Off Course by Michelle Huneven

UU World Summer 2015 says, “[Michelle Huneven] writes real literature about characters who believe that spirituality matters.”   Hoping to meet characters who exemplified UU spirituality, I borrowed Off Course from the library and found spirituality barely mentioned.  Instead, I found Cress Hartley the most amoral protagonist I’ve spent time with since mobster Tony Soprano, who was at least aware that he had moral failings.  Not only does Cress justify her affair with another woman’s husband, “Her sympathies were definitely with the mistress [in Fatal Attraction] who was up against the bland and blameless wife,” she’s lazy, she lies, she judges, she steals, and she’s a snob.
However, maybe Off Course was never meant to be about spirituality or morality at all.  On my second reading I saw the book in another light, namely, that the book can be interpreted as an allegory about class.   Cress, a graduate student, is slated to be an heiress.  In the mountain community where she is supposed to be writing her dissertation, she interacts with working people: waitresses, cleaners, as well as the married carpenter she has an affair with.  She faults his past participles, “Have you wrote much lately?” and sneers at his wife’s taste in decor. “As if [Cress would] sit on the cheap ugly couch with the ever-flowing mill wheel!”   Later, Cress’ perceptive best friend Tillie asks her, “Don’t you think its high time you ended your little love affair with the working class?”  By the end of the novel, our heroine gets back on course by marrying an internist turned hospital director and dedicating herself to environmentalism.

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