The Scarlet Thread is an adultery story with a sort of blame-the-victim twist. Sierra and Alejandro (Alex) Madrid, once high school sweethearts, have now been married – with two small children – for about ten years. They are very happy living the American dream in a small California town when Alex decides he’s got to take a chance at making his ambition happen. He’s a computer programmer and he’s got a shot at more money and having more prestige if he takes a job in Los Angeles. So without even consulting Sierra, he accepts the position and puts their house on the market. They move.
Sierra is extremely (and understandably) angry about this. With one high-handed decision, Alex deprived her of her family, her friends, and her life. So when they’re all moved, she gives Alex the freeze and does the “sleep on the couch” routine. In the throes of her resentment, she doesn’t see even one good thing about living in Los Angeles – and she isn’t about to try. Alex, rather than understanding, apologizing, or trying to make it up to Sierra, continues his arrogant behavior, doing about a hundred little things to show his power in the relationship and demean her. As a topper, he buys a house Sierra doesn’t like and then hires an interior decorator because he thinks (and says) Sierra’s taste isn’t sophisticated enough for their new big-city image.
A year passes, and their marriage disintegrates. Eventually, and predictably, Alex fesses up to having a new lover, a career woman he met at work, and he tells Sierra he wants a divorce. Sierra is left struggling with two kids who are angry and resentful and Alex is really nasty about the terms of the divorce. Her life is in the toilet. She’s lost everything.
Then, about two-thirds of the way into the book, Sierra having hit rock bottom, has a religious experience. She begins going to church (perhaps not surprisingly, the church members are all remarkably supportive of her), she gets a new job, and a new attactive, eligible, and Christian man starts sniffing around. Up until this point, the book has been a hard read, but an interesting one, but then Rivers throws something new into the mix – Sierra, because of her new religious convictions, decides that the reason that her marriage broke up was because she wasn’t understanding enough about the move to L.A.
She should have been more forgiving. She shouldn’t have sulked. She should have been a more Christian wife to her husband.
Most Christian women would not support Rivers’s assertion that men are allowed to do whatever they want in a marriage without even consulting their wives. And, after all, Alex was the one who decided he needed some action on the side. That’s a decision he made all by himself. But Sierra feels responsible. She wasn’t loving enough. She didn’t mouth “Whither thou goest” frequently enough. She didn’t flip her doormat self over so he could wipe his feet on the back too. Her pride cost her her marriage.
Since this is essentially a Christian romance – although Sierra has two loves (Alex and Jesus) – it ends on a positive note. Sierra works through her trust issues, and she and Alex try again. Most romance readers would expect and require the grovel of all grovels from Alex, but they will be disappointed. His apology is remarkably low key, not nearly as dramatic or emotive as his betrayals were. On the other hand, can you grovel near enough when you’ve put your wife through this kind of grief? I don’t know. I don’t think so.
And the final kicker? Before they reunite, Sierra tells Alex that she doesn’t know if she can get back with him because he’s not a Christian and they would be unequally yoked. At this point I wanted to scream, I’m so het up. Unequally yoked! Lady, you’re already yoked. You’ve got two kids together. And then Alex tells Sierra that she doesn’t need to worry about that. Because he’s a believer. He was raised Catholic, and since all of this happened, he’s gone back to confession. No problem.
Okay, Alex, so where were your wonderful Catholic scruples when you were banging your new honey? Huh?
In a way, Rivers deserves kudos for the Catholic thing because it’s very ecumenical of her to acknowledge that Catholics are Christians (and it’s very possible that acknowledgement alienated parts of her audience). But, c’mon. Everything isn’t going to be hunky dory between Sierra and Alex socially, maritally, and religiously, just because he went to confession. Once.
The book also contains a rather uninteresting sub-plot involving a ancestor of Sierra’s named Mary Katherine who came West on the wagon train. Her story told in journal format mirrors Sierra’s own journey to forgiveness and redemption.
Francine Rivers is a skillful writer who knows how to characterize and write emotions. She has plenty of loyal readers in the Christian book market. But her take on who should bear the blame and responsibility for Alex’s cheating is offensive, and the couple’s eventual reunion unrealistic. Frankly, I wanted better for Sierra than Alex. And that’s not a good sign in a romance.
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