Tam Lin

Rating: 0

Pamela Dean

I'd heard a lot of very positive things about this book from various people and seen it spark some extensive conversations (which I didn't follow as I hadn't read the book), so I was curious to read this book. I was disappointed that I was unable to really enjoy it and in fact had some difficulty continuing to read it at times. Overall, it rates a '0' from me.

Tam Lin is based on a ballad, but knowing that isn't essential to following the story. It describes three young women during their years as college roommates at a liberal arts college in the Midwest and their relationships with three very odd young men. The story is told from the point of view of Janet, one of the three women, whose father teaches at the college and who plans to be an English major. The three girls discover poetry, theater, and sex and work to fit sharing these extracurricular activities with their three boyfriends into their busy academic schedule.

However, on top of this fairly conventional setting is added a variety of mysterious elements. The dorm the girls live in their first year is haunted by the ghost of a young women who killed herself after discovering that she was pregnant. And the classics students have a tendency to behave in a very odd manner - playing the bagpipes and partaking in midnight rides across campus in the company of the mysterious Professor Medeous. The three young men are clearly involved in whatever mystery the classics department is hiding, but they are not forthcoming with details.

My problem with this book is that I felt it was unconvincing on a variety of levels. From early in the book, I didn't think that the main characters were realistic college students. The girls seemed on one level too immature, with Janet continually chiming in with her father's opinions on every issue and their unsophisticated conversation. At the same time, their single-minded focus on their studies and certainty about their career interests seemed more appropriate for people graduating from college, rather than beginning college. Furthermore, there was no shift between being more immature to being more mature as the characters went through four years of college, which I found very unrealistic.

Another break with reality was the style of conversation. I found the high proportion of quotes to original text in the conversations to be very unrealistic. Many of the quotes seemed to be only tangentially related to the text and not the type of thing that a person would really come up with in the midst of a discussion. It came off, to me, as an attempt to show deep, intelligent conversation between intense college students, but that attempt failed and instead made the characters seem phony and pseudo-intellectual.

As a very minor complaint, but one that reflects on the general style of the book, I found it painful that every time a character crossed campus I had to read about the exact path that the character took. It didn't add anything to the book, for me.

Finally, I thought that the book didn't do a very good job handling the mixture of college-age-women issues and the fantasy/mystery aspects of the book. The three women found themselves in interesting relationships and situations - ones that many college women have experienced and struggled to deal with. But I felt that, ultimately, rather than the fantasy aspects of the story reflecting and commenting on those issues, they explained the problems away into something that normal women will never encounter and allowed the young women in the book to employ solutions that would not be open to the population at large. Conversely, the fantasy plot suffered from being pushed into the background for most of the book and being short on detail when it was included in the book. Rather than the two aspects of the book complimenting each other, they hampered each other.


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