I first heard of this book because I read an interview with the author online. The interview was basically a scathing rant that I found hysterically fI first heard of this book because I read an interview with the author online. The interview was basically a scathing rant that I found hysterically funny, so I read this book to find more of the same. In that sense the book doesn't disappoint. It's basically a howl in the dark. Reading this for character or plot is not the best mindset with which to approach it. I read it because I enjoyed reading sentences like "Miley Cyrus' songs were about the same six subjects of all songs by all pop stars: love, celebrity, fucking, heartbreak, money, and buying ugly shit" (264) or "Arcade Fire was a Canadian band which experienced minor popularity in the early 2000s before transforming into a market commodity that aging parents used as a theoretical reference point with their Internet addicted children." (275) LOL.
This is the kind of book in which Twitter is described as "a mechanism by which teenagers tormented each other into suicide" (130), the Internet as "a wonderful resource for sexism, abusing the mentally ill, and libeling the dead" (196) and as a way "to create content based on inflamed emotion for the sake of selling advertisements," (212) and Instagram as "the first social media platform to which the only sane reaction was hate... Mostly, Instagram's users uploaded photographs of things on which they'd either spent money or wished to spend money." (76)
I dug it.
This book reconfirmed my belief that I do not want to live in the Bay Area.
Other brutal satire moments:
"On the Internet, you could be right. On the Internet, you could be wrong. You could love racism. You could hate racism. It didn't matter. In the end, everything was just money." (211)
"Expressing concern about racism was a new religion and focusing on language rather than political mechanics was an effortless, and meaningless, way of making sure one was seen in a front-row pew of the new church. They prayed not from any hard earned process of thought or genuine faith but because failing to bow and scrap before the shibboleths of the moneyed political Left might hurt their job prospects. And poor job prospects meant less money to buy consumer electronics built by slaves." (212)
"The illusion of the Internet was the idea that the opinions of powerless people, freely offered, had some impact on the world. This was, of course, total bullshit." (213)
"Global warming and climate change were the methods by which the human species, plagued by guilt and unacknowledged depression, committed suicide. The mechanisms of this suicide were eating too much beef, operating too many electronics and driving too many cars." (184)
"I am moving back to Los Angeles where gentrification barely works because everything is a hideous strip mall and there is nothing worth destroying!" (270-271)...more
An amazing, sure to be classic collection of short fiction. If you love Lydia Davis and Kafka, you'll love this book. The immigration themes are hauntAn amazing, sure to be classic collection of short fiction. If you love Lydia Davis and Kafka, you'll love this book. The immigration themes are hauntingly relevant. My favorite stories were "Numeral" and "Mirrorball."...more
I liked "So You've Been Publically Shamed" more, probably coz it felt more topical to me. Some of the dialogue + interactions in this book felt cartooI liked "So You've Been Publically Shamed" more, probably coz it felt more topical to me. Some of the dialogue + interactions in this book felt cartoony to me, but I guess it's because the people he was meeting were hyperbolically cartoony. My favourite scene was the last chapter in the Northern Californian woods, during the pagan owl-burning ceremony. This sure would make a zany HBO comedy....more
One of the most intense, violent books I've ever read. Maybe even a runner-up to "Blood Meridian." I like the set-up of this book, how it's a novel toOne of the most intense, violent books I've ever read. Maybe even a runner-up to "Blood Meridian." I like the set-up of this book, how it's a novel told in different voices, almost like an interlinked collection. My favorites were the ones narrated by the torture victim and the dead boy (yeah, that should give you an idea of what this book is like...). The epilogue narrated from the point of view of the author is also great. You better come to this one emotionally braced. Reading this book made me understand the meat vs. vegetarian imagery in "The Vegetarian" a lot more. There is SO much imagery in this book comparing the massacred corpses to "butchered lumps of meat," (181) or moments in which acts of eating are compared to either a hunger for life (89) or terrible sense of shame and disgust. (76) An essay comparing the two novels would be fascinating. This one sort of ends on a more optimistic note than "The Vegetarian" (a book I definitely feel like I need to reread), but I was so numb by the rape-shooting-torture scenes that it was hard for the tiny uplifting moment to to sink in and make me feel anything other than completely and utterly bummed by the relentless cruelty of humans against each other. The book itself constantly asks if there is such a thing as a human soul, or if "to be degraded, damaged, slaughtered--is this the essential fate of humankind, one which history has confirmed as inevitable?" (140) IDK. Ultimately, I think the strength of this book emerges not from the brutality of its images, but in the clarity and precision of its language.
Other sentences I liked: "The thread of life is as tough as an ox tendon, so even after I lost you, it had to go on. I had to make myself eat, make myself work, forcing each day down like a mouthful of cold rice." (195) "If life was the summer that had just gone by, if life was a body sullied with sweat and bloody pus, clotted seconds that refused to pass, if life was a mouthful of sour bean sprouts that only served to intensify the hunger pangs, then perhaps death would be like a clean brushstroke, erasing all such things in a single sweep." (129) "She had no faith in humanity. The look in someone's eyes, the beliefs they espoused, the eloquence with which they did so, were, she knew, no guarantee of anything. She knew that the only life left to her was one hemmed in by niggling doubts and cold questions." (101) ...more
Jolly enjoyable. Who doesn't like childhood memories? Appropriately enough this ends with a memory of 13-year-olds fondling each other, a true end toJolly enjoyable. Who doesn't like childhood memories? Appropriately enough this ends with a memory of 13-year-olds fondling each other, a true end to childhood. I was in so much tension when Karl was trying to find a spot in the woods to kiss to big breasted girl I nearly felt sick with nerves for him. What else happens? His older brother introduces to punk and other 70's/80's era bands, he plays football (I love the part where he finds the missing ball in the bushes but refuses to take credit for it), is teased for being girly, is constantly harassed under his father's reign of terror (which in this book is all the more poignant, especially the scenes with the father and grandmother, since after Book I we know what's coming for them). There's no sequence in here as memorable as the house cleaning in Book I, or the children's birthday party in Book II, but still an excellent read. Onto Book IV!!
"And that was how my childhood was: the distance between good and evil was so much shorter than it is now as an adult. All you had to do was stick your head out of the door and something absolutely fantastic happened. Just walking up to B-Max and waiting for the bus was an event, even though it had been repeated almost every day for many years. Why? I have no idea... Every day was a party, in the sense that everything that happened pulsated with excitement and nothing was predictable." (264)
"Time never goes as fast as in your childhood; an hour is never as short as it was then. Everything is open, you run here, you run there, do one thing, then another, and suddenly the sun has gone down and you find yourself standing in the twilight with time like a barrier that has suddenly gone down in front of you. Oh, no, is it already nine o'clock? But time never goes as slowly as in your childhood either." (140)
Beautiful, brutal endings. Sometimes I found the beginnings a bit slow and confusing, but the middles + endings always gripped me hard. Lots of huntinBeautiful, brutal endings. Sometimes I found the beginnings a bit slow and confusing, but the middles + endings always gripped me hard. Lots of hunting trips, depressed lovers, failed love, rural scenes in Belgium. Vásquez writes in the introduction that he was inspired by Tobias Wolff, that “a book of stories should be like a novel in which the characters don’t know each other,” which perhaps explains many of the eerie repetitions. Overall I don't know how many of these individuals stories will stand out for me but I'm impressed by Vásquez's understated writing style and his ability to show how violence and greed can split people's lives open irregardless of the promise of love....more