Just asking for a friend.
(Because I am my own friend.)
I grew up entrenched in the Southern Baptist, evangelical, fundamentalist environment, though through my teenage years I realized just how fucked-up a lot of their stances are, especially on social issues. I used to daydream a lot about being a witch from the Harry Potter world, sent to America to get out of the way of Voldemort’s war, and who is assigned to a pastor’s family for some complex undercover reasons. It brought me a great deal of pleasure to imagine her standoffs against the family, how she’d insist on doing her homework and dressing according to her own standards, and their hopeless attempts to convert her.
I learned about PFOX (the anti-PFLAG) a few years ago, and though my first response was rage, I soon dealt with it by beginning to write a parody of them, featuring a happily (and unlikely, I admit) well-adjusted teen boy who came out as gay and handed his dumbstruck parents the appropriate literature and asked if he can bring his boyfriend around for dinner. (The story remains unfinished because I didn’t have any plans for an actual plot.)
I recently reread a book from those Baptist years — a virtuous, acceptable sort of romance novel, one of many written by Grace Livingston Hill. This one is called Stranger within the Gates, and it brings me special delight in part because it features a set of orange dragon pajamas. Dragons, of course, are in every case a representation and celebration of the devil.
I genuinely, whole-heartedly love this story, which was written in the 1930s, because the plot embodies all my favorite (non-sexual) fantasies: the poor innocent Christian boy is swept away by a “hard, flashy girl” (that is now my one and only goal in life) who manipulates the hell out of him to get to his family’s fortune. They elope and then there’s no escape, because of course annulment is just as bad as divorce and divorce, needless to say, is not something good Christians do.
And then the entire wholesome Christian family has to suffer the “stranger within the gates,” and I am eating this up with a spoon.
Best of all, there’s no sappy conversion at the end! That’s how the story should properly end nowadays, but no, for Hill there is no possible redemption for this remorseless gold-digger (I love her and wish her every success in life, including with all her cons). True, there’s an unpleasant bit where she ends up engulfed in flames after a failed bit of spite, but hey, that’s only because her husband locked her in their room just for showing off her dancing! And they were having a talent show, it wasn’t even like she danced on the table during dinner.
Point is, the book ends with her flight from the wholesome Christian family, back to her outlaw lover and their adventurous con life, and she generously informs her not-husband that their minister was fake, so the marriage was never real anyway. (The issue of consummation is never even alluded to, much to my disappointment. It’s okay, I’ve mentally filled in all the filthy, shocking things she did to him.) They are both free to resume much happier lives. This is a great story.
And it makes me itch to write something similar — where the vixen (her name, by the way, is Florimel, because of course it is) doesn’t suffer a sudden drop in intelligence after she arrives to her in-laws’ house. How much better would the story have been if she had made them all her playthings, slyly corrupted the morals of the younger siblings, tormented her mother-in-law with hints about pregnancy and how she plans to raise their children? Of course I’m imagining an over-the-top comedy where such emotional manipulation wouldn’t be gross, and of course (I say with a sigh) I’m not really making fun of Christians. Just fundamentalists. Which cannot be made fun of enough. And I’m only interested in making fun of the fundamentalists from my own background.
It seems to me that you could do a lot with this premise! A whole series of short novellas of people in all stages of life (but especially the more vulnerable ones without power who suffer most in the real world, like kids) holding out and getting the better of their demented, overbearing relatives. Surely I’m not the only one who would find such stories nearly priceless? Especially for those still stuck in those environments.