“Synchronicity: Kate Douglas’s Wolf Tales/ Joan Borysenko’s A Woman’s Journey to God”
by Erin O'Riordan
This essay is a romance. It’s the story of one woman in search of her soul and the two books she loved,
even though they were from opposite sides of the literary tracks.
Synchronicity, Carl Jung said, is the appearance of inner archetypes in the outer world. I wonder if Jung
ever considered the appearance of inner books in the outside world.
I’m a woman with issues. A few months ago, I decided to tackle those issues head-on and embark upon a
Twelve-Step journey. Step One, admitting I was powerless over alcohol (among other things) and that my
life had become unmanageable, was easy enough. Step Two, coming to believe that a Power greater than
me could restore me to sanity, was a problem. I dropped out of organized religion at seventeen. The twelve
years subsequent to that hadn’t changed anything. I’m still too feminist and not literal-minded enough to
swallow any of the traditional patriarchal religions whole. Clearly I had issues, though, and at the moment,
the Twelve-Step program was the only thing offering me serenity in my life. Which meant that I had to try to
accept the program on its own spiritual terms.
Searching for some spiritual guidance, I browsed the religious book section of my local library. I wasn’t
looking to be converted. I just wanted something that would help me reach out to that Power who could
restore me to sanity. At the same time, I needed a book that would embrace all of my multiethnic,
polyreligious heritage: Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Pagan.
Maybe I thought such a book into being. Either way, there it sat on my library’s shelf: Joan Borysenko’s A
Woman’s Journey to God: Finding the Feminine Path. A woman’s journey, not a man’s religion. Not
patriarchy, but a feminine path. I don’t know what else to call it but synchronicity.
I already admired Joan Borysenko, having read her A Woman’s Book of Life (The Biology, Psychology, and
Spirituality of the Feminine Life Cycle) in college. But this isn’t a review of A Woman’s Journey to God. I can
never stick to reading one book at a time, anyway.
My second book at the time was something I’d picked up purely for pleasure reading. As a general rule, I’m
not a reader of romance novels. In fact, I think I’ve avoided them most of my life because they reminded me
of my mother. And frankly, Mom and I have issues. But, as I followed my Twelve Step path, Mom and I
slowly started to resolve some of our differences. For the first time in my life, I let her recommend books to
me. Reading the same books at the same time gave us something fun to talk about and created a bond
between us. She started me off with The Da Vinci Code. Then we were on to romance novels.
Mom, it turned out, wasn’t into your garden-variety boy-meets-girl story. She was immersed in the
paranormal romance genre. According to Meg Chittenden, a novelist who wrote on the subject of
paranormal romance for The Writer, books with “woo woo” elements have been gaining popularity since the
rise of films like The Sixth Sense and the Harry Potter series. My mother prefers novels in which the male
protagonist is a vampire. She’s particularly fond of Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series.
After reading six volumes of Sookie’s vampire/maenad/werewolf/witch/fairy troubles, I departed from Mom’s
reading list and branched out on my own. Book addict that I am, I belong to several mail-order book clubs,
including Doubleday. In one of their many mailings I came across a flyer for several supernatural
romances, including one called Wolf Tales by Kate Douglas. It came with an “explicit sex” warning,
something for which Charlaine Harris’s books don’t quite qualify. Intrigued, I logged on to Doubleday’s
member website to see what other readers were saying.
“I bought this book thinking it would be a good paranormal romance,” wrote a Doubleday reader named
Donna S. “I did not expect male/male action and female/female action. I wanted the hero and heroine to be
with each other, not every other character in the book.”
Donna S. was disappointed. I, on the other hand, do expect male/male and female/female action from my
fictional characters. I took Donna’s review as a glowing endorsement and ordered the book.
When I got down to reading Wolf Tales, I enjoyed it as an interesting piece of pornography, sexually
arousing but not morally edifying. Then I happened across A Woman’s Journey to God.
I can’t say I’d never been exposed to the intersection of religion and sexuality before. I did, after all, minor in
women’s studies at a Catholic women’s college. I’ve read Luce Irigaray and Carol Christ. But I don’t think
I’ve ever read the case for the sacredness of sexuality expressed as eloquently as in this statement from
“Sex is the life force. It is the creative power. What better place to find an intimate relationship with God?
Perhaps sex can be a kind of centering prayer, a commitment to waiting for God by making ourselves totally
present to the body, mind and soul of another person.”
As I read Borysenko’s chapter titled “Developing a Relationship to God: Friendship and Intimacy, Sensuality
and Sex,” I thought about ways I could apply the idea of holy, passionate sex. Not just to my sex life with my
partner, but also to reading (and writing) erotica.
The woo-woo element in Wolf Tales, as one might guess from the title, is that the characters are able to
transform into wolves at will. The heroine, Alexandria “Xandi” Olanet, is an otherwise typical red-headed,
upper-middle-class white American woman, the kind that romance writers love so well. The first ten
chapters detail her relationship with her polyamorous lovers, Stefan and Anton. In chapter eleven, however,
Kate Douglas introduces a fourth character:
“Keisha Rialto stared at her clasped hands and tried desperately to believe her therapist. The woman’s
soft voice, trained to soothe and comfort, rolled across her tense shoulders without any of the desired effect.
“‘The dreams are a manifestation of your anger, your fear. . .and your pain. You’ve blotted out the worst of
the attack. That’s how the mind protects us. You didn’t kill those men, Keisha, no matter what your
subconscious wants you to believe.’”
Douglas has placed Keisha in the ultimate position of vulnerability. Keisha is the triple victim of rape by
multiple attackers, survivor’s guilt after the rapists are murdered, and post-traumatic stress disorder. If ever
there was a romance-novel heroine in need of psychological, sexual and spiritual healing, it’s Keisha Rialto.
This wasn’t my first thought, of course. First I rolled my eyes and thought, “Oh please. If I didn’t buy Geena
Davis cavorting with Brad Pitt right after her attempted rape in Thelma and Louise, I’m not going to buy the
‘sexual healing’ scenario unfolding here.” I’m always wary of fictional-rape-as-entertainment anyway, the
reason I find an excuse to be busy in another room every time Law and Order: SVU comes on.
Then I thought back to A Woman’s Journey to God. Joan Borysenko asserts that a woman’s “deepest
sense of self” is formed in relationship with others, and that this psychological growth is, for any woman,
one and the same with her spiritual growth. Our relationship with God can be measured by our mental
health. If parts of our psyche have been wounded, then our relationship with God suffers in that area in
which we have been wounded.
I take some of Joan Borysenko’s assertions about the psychology of women with a grain of salt. She tends
to come down hard on the “nature” rather than “nurture” side of the argument when it comes to behavioral
differences between men and women. But her claim that we can’t separate our minds from our bodies and
souls rings true to me. When I internalized Borysenko’s message, that sex is a sacred call to be fully one’s
self, I began to understand Keisha Rialto in a whole new light.
Keisha, like all of us, is a sexual being. The sexual part of her has been wounded and disowned, and she
needs desperately to reclaim it. “Before her attack, she’d always thought of herself as a sensual woman,”
Douglas writes of Keisha. “She liked sex. Always had. She wanted to want someone again, wanted to
know that rush of sexual excitement, the tingling awareness of her own sexuality.” Keisha needs to become
sexual again so that she can be fully herself, spiritually whole.
Douglas doesn’t rush Keisha into a sexual relationship, although in the grand romance novel tradition, she
is destined to be with Anton. We can be fairly certain that in the end, she’ll be able to give him her body,
mind and soul. Over the course of months, she begins as a voyeur, observing the 3-way relationship
between Xandi, Anton and Stefan. When she feels secure watching, Xandi approaches Keisha sexually.
Being with a woman allows Keisha to express her sexuality while bypassing her fear of men. Keisha also
explores power and dominance by acting out the S role in S & M play with Xandi.
Months later, Keisha is able to fully reclaim her sexual power and give herself fully to Anton. No one, not
even a fictional character, ever “fully recovers” from rape. But by re-establishing her link to her lost sexuality,
Keisha is free again. Although the concept of God or a Higher Power never comes up in Wolf Tales, I can
imagine that now Keisha is free to re-establish a relationship with her Higher Power. Her spiritual wound
has been healed.
Kate Douglas has written a great story about psychological healing. Perhaps without meaning to, she’s
written a novel of a woman’s spiritual healing as well. Personally, I’d love to live in a world where all of the
forms of women’s sexual expression, whether hetero-partner sex, lesbian S&M, or jumping in the middle of
a polyamorous foursome, can get her closer to God.
I need to know this, not just for Keisha’s sake, but for my own as well. If I want to get anywhere along my
Twelve-Step journey, I have to able to take the second step. That means believing that a Power greater than
me can restore me to sanity. I want that relationship, but only if I can bring my whole self. Including the
Borysenko, Joan. A Woman’s Journey to God: Finding the Feminine Path. New York, NY: Riverhead Books
(Penguin Putnam Inc.), 1999. Pages 203, 141, and 143.
Chittenden, Meg. “Stir up potent brew by adding bizarre events to your love story.” Writer April 2003: 34-35.
Douglas, Kate. Wolf Tales. New York, NY: Kensington Publishing Corp., 2006. Pages 116 and 139.
S., Donna. Untitled commentary on Wolf Tales, October 22, 2006. Doubleday Book Club website, http:www.
“The Twelve Steps and Traditions.” Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. 2006.
This essay was first published at The Erotic Woman, June 2007