Saturday, February 24, 2024

A Perspective Shift for Joel H. Morris’s All Our Yesterdays

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All Our Yesterdays is the dual perspective debut novel from Joel H. Morris. Arriving March 12, 2024 from G.P. Putnam’s Sons, Morris aims to show a different side of Lady Macbeth. To do so, he takes us back ten years before the events of Shakespeare’s play. He also based his narrative on more than the woman seen in the play. He looked past the character to the historical inspiration for the Scottish noblewoman. It is for that reason that we follow both “The Lady” and “The Boy” through the seasons of this tale.

So, I didn’t know Lady Macbeth had a son. And that’s because–she didn’t. Macbeth is my favorite Shakespeare play, so I was pretty confident, but I checked and confirmed: no kids. But the woman she was based on did have a son from a previous marriage. That child, unnamed, has an entire point-of-view through All Our Yesterdays. When the subheading of your book is “a novel of Lady Macbeth”, I expect a story about that character. Instead, for the first 60% of this book, I had the story of a young boy and his timid mother. But we’ll get to her later.

I didn’t care for The Boy’s story. I had no reason to be invested in his character at all. To me, he just did not matter. He played no role in the events I knew were on the horizon. Why did it matter to me if he made a friend and she moved away? If he befriended his late father’s dog? If he couldn’t learn anything from multiple tutors? It was all just so much filler, passing the time until interesting things could happen. The only time I was grateful for his point of view was much later in the tale, when he gets to accompany Macbeth into Birnam Wood. Because look, Birnam Wood! Rebels! The banter of thanes! This is the Shakespeare I was looking for.

Cover of All Our Yesterdays by Joel H. Morris

Worse, though, is what his existence did to Lady Macbeth. I think I saw the character I love on the page… maybe twice. And because that number is so small, it just wasn’t believable. Morris stripped her of her most defining trait–ambition–and replaced it with fear. And what was she afraid of? Losing her son. So much of her perspective, even before the child was born, was focused entirely on her body as a mother. Her blood passing to her child, her milk feeding him. How she formed every bone. And it was poetic, I’ll give him that. But it was also repetitive and one-note. And her fear clouded all of it.

Why was she so afraid? Because in All Our Yesterdays Lady Macbeth also receives a prophecy. From one witch, though, not three. And this detail… bothered me. Because if she is so plagued by prophecy, so riddled with fear, why then would she be so invested in seeing the prophecies given to Macbeth carried out? I don’t see how The Lady in these pages becomes Lady Macbeth. She rejects the notion of being queen, she doesn’t want to play political games. All she wanted was a father for her son who wasn’t a monster. Macbeth also loses his fangs in this retelling. It is, ironically, Macduff with the most bite here.

Now, having said all this, I didn’t hate the book. It just wasn’t the story I expected, or the story I wanted. If you’re the type of person who wants to see a softer side to villainous characters, you’ll probably love this. Or, maybe you like historical family dramas and actually are invested in her son’s journey. I do think this book will find an audience. Just not amongst anyone wanting to see a conniving young woman turn into an ambitious would-be-queen.

Image courtesy of Penguin Random House

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