Show Up, Look Good is a novel about a jilted woman whose move to Manhattan and relationship with an elderly, mute former New York Yankee help her accept her innocence in her mother's death and admit her complicity in an outbreak of disturbing secret crimes.
Show Up, Look Good is narrated by Michelle, a 30something small town girl from Kankakee, IL. After she catches her fiance jerking it to a plastic vagina, she decides that their relationship isn't what she thought it was and leaves for New York City. Upon arriving, she encounters a series of off-beat roommates, sometimes horrible, until she finally settles on her own in Queens.
A lot of things bothered me about this book. It wasn't that Wisniewski tried to write a female lead and didn't accomplish it, which I assumed would be the case going into the novel, but more that over the course of 224 pages, I had to read the thoughts of an annoyingly selfish character. The above quote is from the publisher's website, outlining what the book is generally about. I want to break it down:
1. She was obviously in a bad relationship with her fiancee. She talked too much, he didn't listen, she was selfish, and, I'm assuming, so was he. They were both assholes. Their breakup garners all of a handful of pages throughout the book.
2. She was a baby when her mother dies and even the main character admits that she didn't think about her mother's death often and she certainly didn't have any emotional issues surrounding the circumstances to her mother's death up until the character mentions she realizes she didn't do anything to contribute to her mother's death. It isn't a major plot point.
3. If by "a series of disturbing secret crimes" they mean consensual sex between two parties in someone's apartment until someone is murdered, then yes, there is a series of disturbing secret crimes. Or not. The murder is mentioned on the first page but then isn't mentioned again until the last part of the book, as if the author was trying to tie up loose ends and realized he left out the murder bit. There might be a series of disturbing secret crimes, something that would require more time explaining and building than what Wisniewski has given us. There are plenty of opportunities for Wisniewski to redeem himself in the novel, but he doesn't quite make it. There's so much lacking from the story that any potential Show Up, Look Good had is almost non-existent. I had hope, which is why I finished, but there just wasn't enough in the end to make it worthwhile.
Michelle is one of the most unlikable protagonists that I've come across. She's hypocritical, annoying, selfish and shallow, and naive, all without any redeeming qualities. I find it very hard to feel sorry for a character, or even a person I know in real life, that puts themselves in undesirable situations and complains about them the whole time. Michelle chooses to leave her fiancee, she chooses her roommates with their annoying quirks, habits, and friends. She makes fun of her MFA roommate and her friends for their creativity and poseur attitudes, but then doesn't think that teaching herself to paint is any different.
Wisniewski writes so much crap from, and about, Michelle that he sacrifices parts of the story that could truly be interesting by focusing more on the bit characters like Etta, Ernest, and Sarah. Instead he leaves us with a very unlikable character and a book that is basically Michelle's internal monologue full of her selfish and hypocritical thoughts.(less)
The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch opens with a sad, heart-wrenching story of a stillborn baby.
The day my daughter was stillborn, after I hel
...moreThe Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch opens with a sad, heart-wrenching story of a stillborn baby.
The day my daughter was stillborn, after I held the future pink and rose-lipped in my shivering arms, lifeless and tender, covering her face in tears and kisses, after they handed my dead girl to my sister who kissed her, then to my first husband who kissed her, then to my mother who could not bear to hold her, then out of the hospital room door, tiny lifeless swaddled thing, the nurse gave me tranquilizers and a soap and sponge. She guided me to a special shower. The shower had a chair and the spray came down lightly, warm. She said, That feels good, doesn’t it. The Water. She said, you are still bleeding quite a bit. Just let it. Ripped from vagina to rectum, sewn closed. Falling water on a body. - pg. 25
I’ve read The Chronology of Water twice since I received it. I stopped reading all of the other books I had going in order to read this, once I read past that first page and realized this was going to be a book that would consume my time more than I had originally thought. I was prepared for something out of the ordinary. I read reviews of it before I started reading and I knew that this book was going to take me on an emotional ride, something I wasn’t exactly looking forward to.
A lot of people don’t like memoir and I think I could be included in that group of people. There’s a certain type of memoir that I love (Joan Didion, Joyce Carol Oates, Nick Flynn, Dave Eggers) that touches on something more than memoir. The language is what I’m mostly attracted to, the story. Memoir isn’t something that should be taken as fact; it’s the author’s truth and nothing more. Memory changes, fades, as time moves past the events in question, and our version of the truth is slightly different than what actually happened. Authors of memoir know this and any reader of worth should know this as well.
Deb Olin Unferth, in an interview posted at Book Slut, says this about memoir:
Another matter, however, is that the arc of a memoir is very different than, say, a novel or a story because the tensions are different, the ambitions are different. A novel, traditionally, follows an arc with rising conflict that reaches some sort of climax, and then falls into a resolution. Even if you’re trying to write a novel that is not following that track, you’re still in conversation with that model. But a memoir doesn’t do that. You can’t depend on certain tensions that are natural in a novel. For example the readers know a bit about what happened to the protagonist: the author lived, wasn’t severely brain-damaged or destroyed because there she is, writing this book, bio right on the back cover. So you have to find different ways to develop that tension.
A memoir is about time and the imperfectness of memory and the invention of the self. And it is from those considerations that you find your tensions.
Yuknavitch does something amazing with The Chronology of Water that most other memoirs don’t quite have. Yuknavitch’s language is beautiful - Roxane Gay called it “erotic” - and it borders on poetry in some instances.
All the events of my life swim in and out between each other. Without chronology. Like in dreams. So if I am thinking of a memory of a relationship, or one about riding a bike, or about my love for literature and art, or when I first touched my lips to alcohol, or how much I adored my sister, or the day my father first touched me - there is no linear sense. Language is a metaphor for experience. It’s as arbitrary as the mass of chaotic images we call memory - but we can put it into lines to narrativize over fear. pg. 28
Yuknavitch writes about her past from a distance, an onlooker. Maybe she’s too far past it to go fully into the memories and to showcase her emotional outlook on them. The writing is beautiful and in some passages you can get a sense of the emotional turmoil she writes about, but while her language is spot on, it doesn’t often carry over the emotions she certainly must have felt to the reader. This inconsistency bothered me slightly, not enough for The Chronology of Water to be anything less than amazing.
What resonated with me more than the language was Yuknavitch’s self-destructive habits and tendencies she so often experienced in her younger life.
You see it is important to understand how damaged people don’t always know how to say yes, or to choose the big thing, even when it is right in front of them. It’s a shame we carry. The shame of wanting something good. The shame of feeling something good. The shame of not believing we deserve to stand in the same room in the same way as all those we admire. Big red As on our chests. - pg. 198-99
The Chronology of Water has been one of the better books I’ve read this year, one of my favorite memoirs, and I’ll probably read it again for the third time as soon as I’m done reading everything else floating on top of my to-read list.(less)
You Think That's Bad is a collection of short stories from one of my favorite writers, Jim Shepard. There are eleven stories in the collection, ten of which were previously published in The Atlantic, McSweeney's, The New Yorker, and Electric Literature among other. It is an interesting collection of stories, taking on inadequacy, desperation, loss, heartbreak, love, and alienation.
Take "Minotaur," previously published in Playboy, which takes on the secret world of black operations research and development, but at the same time takes on life and love:
Everyone involved with it obsesses about it all the time. Even what the insiders know about it is incomplete. Whatever stories you do get arrive without context. What’s not inconclusive is enigmatic, what’s not enigmatic is unreliable, and what’s not unreliable is quixotic. pg. 10
or "The Track of the Assassins," which is about a woman that leaves her family and home behind in order to travel through the Middle East:
Everyone involved with it obsesses about it all the time. Even what the insiders know about it is incomplete. Whatever stories you do get arrive without context. What’s not inconclusive is enigmatic, what’s not enigmatic is unreliable, and what’s not unreliable is quixotic. pg. 13
The stories in the collection cover a lot of ground, taking place in various countries and settings around the world and also going as far back as the 1440s in Paris. "Classical Scenes of Farewell" takes place in 1440s Paris as a young man falls under the hand of a sadistic Lord and helps murder young children.But Etienne, while trying to understand the deeds he does in the name of his Master, also struggles with love:
All I desired, morning in and evening out, was a love with its arms thrown wide. But the contrary is the common lot, everyone’s family telling him furiously that everything hurts, always. The nest makes the bird. pg. 176
You Think That's Bad is a strong collection of stories and highlights Shepard's writing very well. All of the stories are connected through common themes, but are very different from one another: black operations research and development, high altitude mountain climbing in the winter, serial killing in the 1440s, and the Netherlands as it struggles with a growing water problem.
You Think That's Bad is a selection of The Rumpus Book Club and comes out March 22, 2011 so be sure to check it out.
Richard Yates by Tao Lin is about 22 year old Haley Joel Osment, a writer and graduate of New York University, and his 16 year old girlfriend Dakota F...moreRichard Yates by Tao Lin is about 22 year old Haley Joel Osment, a writer and graduate of New York University, and his 16 year old girlfriend Dakota Fanning. Haley Joel Osment lives in Manhattan and meets Dakota fanning on the internet. After hours of gmail chat conversations, emails, and phone conversations Haley travels to New Jersey. They keep their relationship a secret from Dakota’s mother for months. Richard Yates follows Haley and Dakota as they hide the relationship, travelling back and forth from New York City to New Jersey, to Florida and back. Haley eventually ends up moving to the rural New Jersey town that Dakota is from. The relationship between Haley and Dakota becomes more rocky and strained as the story progresses and as they experience things within the relationship that neither have dealt with before. With the increasing strain on their relationship, Dakota develops an eating disorder, becomes a pathological liar, and Haley becomes uninterested and confused about the relationship and what he wants.
Lin’s novel has already sparked intense conversation among critics and reviewers. Richard Yates brings up serious questions about a generation that lacks rules and structure, the noticeable difference between younger generations and older, the straight-forward, somewhat banal, writing of a young author, what happens with a culture obsessed with technology, and many more.
Lin’s writing style is flat — short sentences detailing what each character is thinking and doing as the story progresses. There are no metaphors, no figurative language, no long, drawn out descriptions. This style of writing isn’t for everyone and can hinder reader from getting involved in the story.
His writing brings up questions about language — how younger generations are using it and developing their own — and how this will effect the language writers use. It was pointed out in book club discussion that Lin’s writing is being copied by a lot of writers in the 24-and-under crowd. This so called “net-language” is no longer limited to appearing on your Facebook Newsfeed and your Instant Message chats. Is a generation that grew up with the internet, with cell phones, text messages, email, and instant message watering down language? Studies have concluded that students’ writing is either getting better or getting worse. I can only say that, from experience, one of those studies is bullshit (the former). Other studies point to an increase in creativity.
This brings up another point: is this the future of writing? Despite Lin’s writing style, and if you can look past it, Richard Yates is actually a deeply engaging story about how people interact and how our technology can either hinder our emotions or enable them.
Why the title Richard Yates? Why name a book after a somewhat famous author? Revolutionary Road and The Easter Parade are considered Yates’ best novels. Yates didn’t necessarily critique his generation but told it as it as — “we are what we are” — in a very realistic sense. Tao Lin said that he was influenced by The Easter Parade while writing “Richard Yates.” Both novels are dry but I think that, as boring as the writing is, it is why Yates was so popular when these were published. You can get a sense of the value of it only after the fact. This is how I feel about Richard Yates, not that it is boring but that you have to get to the end to fully appreciate the whole story.
Even if this sounds like something you wouldn’t be interested in, this is something that needs to be read for all the reasons I mentioned above and more. (less)