I kind of suspect Sherman Alexie didn't read the WHOLE thing before recommending it on Colbert. The last two-thirds don't really live up to the beginnI kind of suspect Sherman Alexie didn't read the WHOLE thing before recommending it on Colbert. The last two-thirds don't really live up to the beginning. It's at its best when it dwells in Frida and Cal's claustrophic, grudge-filled, sporadically affectionate, smelly, sexually charged world of two. It's at its worst when it's telling us about (but not showing) the charisma and untrustworthiness of the cult leader figure.
The hints as to how civilization unraveled are intriguing and believable, but don't really go anywhere ... and the fact that "Plank" is a completely literal portrait of eep Springs College feels very uninventive in a genre (near-futurism) that's all about inventiveness.
One gets the sense that Lepucki could have written what she knew and produced a fascinating portrait of marriage--that constant push-pull between irritation and closeness.
Instead she wrote about something that she doesn't know, because it's not actually true: how movements like Occupy inevitably turn to violence....more
What can I say, I read Native Tongue at 12 and it made me who I am. If I could go back in time I might have chosen something subtler. But who can resiWhat can I say, I read Native Tongue at 12 and it made me who I am. If I could go back in time I might have chosen something subtler. But who can resist a book in which an oppressed group invents a language that frees them by articulating their experiences of oppression? Not I....more
A good, well-paced, workmanlike dystopic YA romance. Nothing's more romantic than forbidden love, especially when ALL LOVE is forbidden by ALL ADULTS.A good, well-paced, workmanlike dystopic YA romance. Nothing's more romantic than forbidden love, especially when ALL LOVE is forbidden by ALL ADULTS. Suddenly teen love sheds its anxieties and banalities and becomes a religious experience. (The book makes you realize that repressive religions might be on to something). But the lack of moral ambiguity made the story a bit flat. The government is bad, Lena and her friends are good. The book gets most interesting when we see the reasonable aspects of the ban on love—as when the protagonist muses that in a love-driven world she would have to compete with other girls for male attention. Her un-self-conscious appreciation of her best friend’s beauty feels like a product of the complete lack of romantic competition between them. (Girls’ schools might also be on to something). The "symptoms" of love--loss of appetite, mood swings—make quite a good case that it could be classified as a disease, of mind if not of body (and are the two really separable?) But most compelling is the idea that the lonely and grieving might welcome a procedure that amounts to lobotomy. ...more
This is short story writing at its finest AND sci-fi at its finest (yes, I said it--literary and sci-fi are not mutually exclusive, durnit!) It's no cThis is short story writing at its finest AND sci-fi at its finest (yes, I said it--literary and sci-fi are not mutually exclusive, durnit!) It's no coincidence that "The Semplica-Girl Diaries" and "Escape from the Spiderhead," which are sci-fi cut-and-dry, are two of the most-talked-about stories in this obsessively-talked-about collection. Their chilling premises--immigrant girls used as living paper dolls, and prisoners used in drug experiments--are examples of speculative fiction done exactly right: reality turned up to 11. George Saunders is today's unrivaled master of taking late-stage capitalism to its logical extremes.
His anti-capitalism takes a subtler bent as well, when he quietly fills a walloping empathy gap in the American cultural imagination--the vast lacuna where the poor who never become rich dwell, chronicled only within certain rigid agendas. Many storytellers who dip into this territory veer away at the last minute, focusing their lens on those who, miraculously, "get out." Most, be they reality shows or The Wire or documentaries, have a not-so-subtle agenda: to find out "why," what systemic problem (if they have left-leaning sympathies) or moral one (if they tend to the right) renders this person or this class of people poor. Saunders, by contrast, enters in this territory without a map out, presenting his characters' poverty or edge-of-poverty precarity as simply a given--which, in our current economic system, they are.
His question is not "Why can't they succeed?" but "How do they endure?"--precisely the humanizing question that we the more comfortable cannot seem to ask about the poor, because we have built our tiny castles and staked our self-esteem on them, and we assume that to lack the creature comforts and the relative status that money buys would indeed be unendurable. We may not say so outwardly, but we shudder inwardly and believe (silently on the Left, vocally on the Right) that surely the poor must be lazy, otherwise they would get out or die trying.
But Saunders reminds us of how people endure poverty, with its daily slights (a common thread in these stories is a man withered by the sight of the Joneses' McMansions) and deprivations, without dying: because of those they love. It's a truism, and one John Lennon informed us of a long time ago. But Saunders renders it fresh and heartbreaking. The tragedy of "The Semplica-Girl Diaries" is how a father's series of ruinous choices are driven by his love for his daughters. The irony of "Puppy" is that two mothers--one who by most standards would be said to spoil her children, the other who, by those standards, probably abuses them--each do so out of an overwhelming and rewarding love, the kind of love that makes a life worth living.
Perhaps the most haunting story is "Al Roosen," whose embittered protagonist is a like a negative image of the other characters in the book. Where the others' dire financial straits are leavened by the fact of their loved ones (though made more acute, often, by the need to provide for them), Roosen, who peevishly hides a man's keys and is too ashamed to confess, shows the meanness that can take us when we have no one. In Saunders' world, poverty is cruel; but it is aloneness that makes us cruel....more
I found this exercise in frustration weirdly soothing. I've spent years banging my head against brick walls, but I've never tried as hard and failed aI found this exercise in frustration weirdly soothing. I've spent years banging my head against brick walls, but I've never tried as hard and failed as hard as K. Each effort he makes to get to the castle just renders the road before him even more convoluted. The whole quest is like a Chinese finger trap. And (spoiler) he doesn't get to the castle. Nor does he achieve any of the smaller and smaller intermediate goals he grasps at; nor does do any of the narratives resolve. Compared to this book, life is great....more
SOMETIMES PEOPLE who are really good at what they do decide to make things more difficult for themselves. Evel Knievel added a fourteenth bus. David FSOMETIMES PEOPLE who are really good at what they do decide to make things more difficult for themselves. Evel Knievel added a fourteenth bus. David Foster Wallace endeavored to make tax accounting lively. And now, in his new young-adult novel Railsea, China Miéville, perhaps the most exciting speculative-fiction writer working today, has decided to set Moby Dick on land and (why not?) on trains.
By page 100 or so, Ness had me utterly convinced that war does indeed make monsters of men (and women). And that was about as much horrific violence aBy page 100 or so, Ness had me utterly convinced that war does indeed make monsters of men (and women). And that was about as much horrific violence as I could take. I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who's thinking about joining the military....more
Felix Gilman's bizarro Wild West sets the stage, unexpectedly, for the first clear-eyed and kind treatment of utopianism I have encountered in what seFelix Gilman's bizarro Wild West sets the stage, unexpectedly, for the first clear-eyed and kind treatment of utopianism I have encountered in what seems like forever. Reminiscent in that way of the Dispossessed....more