Hard to reconcile the many ugly facets of this story, but as richly woven as it is for a light hundred or so page read, it miraculously makes the bett...moreHard to reconcile the many ugly facets of this story, but as richly woven as it is for a light hundred or so page read, it miraculously makes the better of what I never thought could be redeemed.
The bully is fat (and judging by the what little is otherwise revealed, this is the absolute worst thing about her). The annoying older sister is "fat, fat, fat." The teacher is a cow (of course). The superficial caricature of it all is stunning.
As I balked at these characterizations I expected that by the end there would be some evolved perspective of the instigators. No such luck.
That said, there are many powerful themes that are gracefully explored: friendship, the potency of imagination and childlike curiosity, grief, want for signs of love and acceptance from our parents. While religion permeates the story (and literally so: "Lord" as an interjection litters the dialect to such an extent as to resemble a placeholder for "um"), it's set in poor, rural Virginia so it's a rather realistic aspect of such a life. My suspicions that the author was on an ideological mission were completely obliterated when a disagreement about the existence of a god and specifics of certain biblical teachings were challenged by a main character, with an ostensible acceptance of different points of view regarding articles of faith. For its treatment of religious difference and tolerance (and with the tolerance being for a lack of religion, to boot-- quite evolved!), I was quite impressed. Also, the tragic outcome and adolescent struggle with grief was so deftly and yet simply conveyed that I had no choice but to relish a good cry.
As for the fat jokes.....WHY? It's downright puzzling to me that this author could so masterfully and yet subtly communicate the hard facts of having a childhood stolen by tragedy and at the same time be so out of touch with the body image struggle that is so universally human --??-- cognitive dissonance. And not the greatest message to convey to the inherently vulnerable intended audience (not to mention offensive, shallow, myopic, etc-- regardless of audience). (less)
Quite similar thematically to Chopin's The Awakening and first published only three years prior. But this short story is certainly a more striking rep...moreQuite similar thematically to Chopin's The Awakening and first published only three years prior. But this short story is certainly a more striking representation of the ill effects of the one-track role defined for women who were a product of the late 19th/ early 20th century.
While Chopin does a better job capturing a transformation and ownership of self with her female protagonist, I don't believe that was Gilman's intent; rather her agenda seems instead to emphasize the detrimental effects on women in a more general sense from their being boxed in from birth. This is illustrated with a particular case manifesting as insanity coupled with an allusion to what may be considered the darkest of outcomes.
All that said, I wasn't able to fully experience the horror of that insanity from her description and that's where this piece falls short in my mind. There are so many fantastic representations of crazy in literature that truly draw you into the mind and heart of the afflicted. Having the privilege to read so many rich and enlightening descriptions over the years has effectively degraded my impression of this text. This shortcoming is unforgivable because insanity as acute anxiety is ostensibly the focus of her work, since all her other themes don't have a leg to stand on without it. Even still, a resounding 4 stars for all she conveys in so few words and for boldly addressing numerous subjects that were at her time illicit.
Both Chopin and Gilman were renowned feminist revolutionaries willing to sacrifice career to challenge the status quo, but my impression is that Gilman's approach took even more guts since it doubly challenges the notion of "female hysterics" of the time. Gilman has given metal illness the serious and unstigmatized attention it deserves and so often lacks even to this day.(less)
This was about as far from what I was expecting as it could possibly be. I heard Smart speak about her experience in an interview with Terry Gross and...moreThis was about as far from what I was expecting as it could possibly be. I heard Smart speak about her experience in an interview with Terry Gross and was enGROSSed. Not the case here.
I should have known what I was getting into, but there's just a childlike naivety about this text. And I'm not just talking about the littered paragraph breaks for dramatic effect or the unnecessary and overuse of both italics and exclamation points. It's entirely on the surface and takes a conversational tone where I was really expecting a learned and psychological adult reflection piece. Very surprising because, when she speaks, Elizabeth Smart definitely has a presence about her.
Perhaps my distaste really all stems from the feelings I just can't get over that the LDS and/or Evangelical beliefs are "so cute." Like, "Aw, you really think that, dear? You're so precious." Sure I'm an ass, but when she's talking about a literal interpretation of parting the sea alongside earnest expectation that her god might make a similarly impossible feat reality for paragraph upon paragraph, without so much as implied acknowledgement that this was only a desperate hope lacking any potential to be realized, my eyes start to hurt from all they rollin'.
Of course, the woman isn't a writer. I rarely expect dazzling prose when I pick up a run-of-the-mill memoir. But here I've got to blame the co-author Chris Stewart for this mash-up of choppy sentences and for letting all this crap fly:
(1) If you can't put something to words, explicitly saying that you can't capture the experience in words isn't conveying anything except a lack of talent. Case in point:
"I can't describe the terror!" (p. 26)
"He would torture and brutalize me in ways that are impossible to describe." (p. 46)
I'm sure there were others that I forgot to dog-ear.
And in the same vein: "It was no fun at all" - ???? (p. 122)
"weird" (p. 79)
You really think I'm wasting my time for that kind of non-detail?
"Then he proceeded to urinate" is about as heinous a detail you're going to find. And you're gonna get it on repeat. Ad nauseam. But please understand, I don't at all mean to imply that Brian David Mitchell isn't a heinous person or didn't do heinous things; I'm just saying that Smart is keeping us (and perhaps herself) at arm's length and I even wonder if that's unwittingly.
"He went on to describe what they were going to do" (p. 74). Uhm, ok?
What I was really craving to know and understand, picking this up, is how she managed to cope with this life for so long and how it impacts her even to this day. Because to say that the experience is no longer affecting her or that her existence is completely divorced from it (as she continually implies and even expressly states) is total denial. Her story is severely lacking in any emotional depth and she represents herself as only a shell of feeling at best, as her descriptions are completely devoid of internal reflection. I mean, for crying out loud, she's talking about how she hated the pattern on the sheets they slept on ("I didn't like the print one bit," p. 70). She even describes the print as "horrid" in the same passage-- REALLY? That, of all you have endured, is what resonates with you? This is unequivocally the epitome of superficial reflection.
(2) There's also overuse of blanket words like "crazy" or "evil" or "mean." Like, he wasn't crazy; just evil, which is not exactly illustrative of any point. Needs to be gone back over with a fine tipped brush to paint a bit more nuance. A little more 'show us, not tell us' would be much appreciated.
In repeatedly reminding us that he's "not crazy," perhaps what she really means is that he was not unfit to stand trial or is/was not suffering from psychosis and is fully cognizant. But there's certainly a DSM diagnosis for all his delusions of grandeur, at the very least. I'm not here to diagnose, but I'm also not here to say "just mean" and "not crazy."
And (3) a qualifier like this: "I don't know what the exact definition of despair is..." Presumably you've had 10+ years in reflecting on your experiences and many years in writing this text to look that up? Obviously that's just in there for dramatic effect. And to me it's just plain cheap.
It is utterly amazing to me that the text could be so sparse and at the same time completely littered with unnecessary verbiage (see remarks on bedsheets, above). An enigma.
On top of and severely more egregious than all the above flaws is her obvious privilege and the way it colors her description and seemingly even affects what she takes away from her experiences. Worse yet, she ostensibly holds a boastful pride for that privilege.
"I thought back on a girl I knew in junior high. She was a friend to the Polynesians, the Mexicans, the Caucasians. She was friends with everyone. She was just so nice. So I thought, ok I can be like her" (p. 73, emphasis added).
"My abduction was to become the most publicized case since..." (p.67).
And then: "I don't know what drove so many people to try to help me..." "light blue ribbons and buttons with my picture began to appear from California to Maine..." "hundreds of thousands [of posters] distributed nationwide..." "And to this day I remain the luckiest girl in the world!" (all p.67). In all seriousness, is this genuine naivety?--LUCK? Does she really not understand that this is the way sensationalized for-profit American media works (and the audience response it begets)? Yes, the search absolutely should have been omnipresent, as it should be for any missing child, regardless of how "pretty" (or white?) she is. Even after these years of reflection and even working with and advocating for victims, with countless many more abductions since, she really doesn't see that the inequity between her search and any other comes down to the "pretty" "blond hair and blue eyes" she continually revisits in her text? I have to wonder if she even comprehends the fact of that injustice? Use your privilege for good. It's time to make a change in the way the Smarts are treated versus the way the families of Amanda Berry, Georgina DeJesus, Michelle Knight, Avonte Oquendo, etc., are treated.
I'll qualify my rating and what I've said with a statement that I wholly respect anyone's effort to confront and/or come to terms with a victimizing experience. And I certainly admire the courage that doing so necessarily requires and I fully admit that writing about trauma can be freeing and cathartic. However, as I was reading this I was not convinced that Ms. Smart has actually come to terms with her past. The will power she was so emphatic about only takes one so far. I sensed throughout an adamant tone of denial, as if she were on the defensive about any further struggle that is typically part and parcel to an extended traumatic experience such as hers. Flashbacks, PTSD, nightmares.... it was as if she were trying to convey that she is immune to any after-effects and emotionally impermeable to the manipulation of her captors, which to me is actually frighteningly apathetic.
She was adamant, "there was no Stockholm Syndrome going on with me!" -- well, let that speak for itself. Again, a bit more 'show us, not tell us'. It seems as if she was obsessed with being rescued and refused to take matters into her own hands or responsibility for her own fate, even when surrounded by bystanders (in libraries, on buses, and eventually in various shelters) and even when confronted by police, no less. I'm no professional but that's utterly helpless behavior and her statements that she didn't want to be viewed "at fault" for her escape seem to imply some sensitivity to the emotions and concerns of her captors, which, as a vulnerable 13-year old who was wholly relying on them for basic necessities (in addition to being tortured and manipulated by them), would be completely understandable.
And then in the end there's that admission that she refused any professional help or counseling. Admirable if you can get through it at all, let alone on your own, but, again, I am not convinced that she truly is past the experience (or that it would ever even be possible to truly be "past" it-- coping is a lifelong journey, but her tone and manner vehemently deny this fact).
If you're really interested, listen to the Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross instead. But then don't get conned into reading it.
Admittedly I should try to have more respect for this tortured girl, but instead my response is clouded by disdain for how much slop is published merely on the basis that it will sell. Is this review going to be censored? Or am I flattering myself again?
Initially I was extremely impressed with how well Updike crafted at least two of the three female leads. He seemed to be very in touch with female con...moreInitially I was extremely impressed with how well Updike crafted at least two of the three female leads. He seemed to be very in touch with female concerns and sensibilities and the characters, even though at times annoying, were on the whole quite likable because they felt very real.
These characters could only carry the story so far, however. Aside from the fact that their sensibilities became increasingly reminiscent of those we might expect men to impose on them, the story itself was really slow going. The poor pacing and the slow deterioration of the quality of the characters couldn't be reconciled beyond a two-star rating, even though Updike certainly conveys some very insightful ideas throughout the novel.
I can't tell you how much of this story was expressed exclusively through phone chatter. Telephone conversation is inherently absent any specific place or scene so relying on it so heavily to carry a fictional story is an unforgivable and fatal flaw.
On the whole, the story indeed moved very slowly but somehow the end felt like it wasn't elaborated or explained well enough. Perhaps it was the author's intent to leave something to the imagination, which is even appreciated, but if that was his intent, it severely contrasts with the rest of the story in which the issues are beaten to death with excess prose and dialogue to inspire a yawn or two. And I must qualify my opinion with the fact that in general I RATHER LIKE A VERY DENSE NOVEL.
One other thing, the passage of time wasn't very well conveyed; the only sense I got was through the dropping of totally unsubtle statements that a year or so had passed. Until I read that, I would have believed it was taking place over mere weeks.
One thing I really enjoyed was how this story could seamlessly wedge itself into any era and very little of it would feel anachronistic. That gives it some universal appeal; however, the elected era, post Vietnam war, sadly felt like an unnecessary and irrelevant detail. I really wished that there were more to tie it to the specific era in which he chose to set it because it's always nice to get a bit of a history lesson from a book you're reading strictly for entertainment purposes. Obviously Updike's intent here is more to entertain than to educate, so I really can't fault him for that alone. But I can indeed fault him for the fact that I didn't find it particularly entertaining and for the fact that his deep-seated, well-established gender biases, while cleverly veiled in the beginning of the story, became glaringly obvious by the end of it. (less)
There's a fine line to straddle when crafting a precocious child. Gaiman quite successfully avoids the abyss of annoying with the perfectly flawed, de...moreThere's a fine line to straddle when crafting a precocious child. Gaiman quite successfully avoids the abyss of annoying with the perfectly flawed, delightfully human, and impeccably wise little Coraline Jones. A gal as unique as her name, she's an apt protagonist for a story of one-of-a-kind quality.
Everything about this tale is so darkly fantastic, yet so acutely real. There is no black and white. The good may only be appreciated in contrast with the bad; life may only be appreciated if we are also able to appreciate and honor death.
Intensely chilling so as to surely be relished on a blustery October evening but with the benefit of imparting small wisdom that will stay with you all year.
No character or word superfluous, satisfyingly complete while still leaving a bit to decipher according to individual tastes and interpretations. Strong and powerful language, strikingly so for a children's book. I'll be reading Gaiman again, sooner not later.(less)
A delightfully chilling premise that falls short of expectation in practice. The fatal flaws: slow going but failing to build or foreshadow any immine...moreA delightfully chilling premise that falls short of expectation in practice. The fatal flaws: slow going but failing to build or foreshadow any imminent events and (at least) these really sad, contributing-literally-zero-substance quotes:
"He was the admiration of all the negroes, who, having gathered, of all ages and sizes, from the farm and the neighborhood, stood forming a pyramid of shining black faces at every door and window, gazing with delight at the scene, *rolling their white eyeballs, and showing grinning rows of ivory from ear to ear* [smile so I can see you much? anyone?]… How could the *flogger of urchins* be otherwise than animated and joyous!"
And THIS artfully crafted simile: "It stands on a knoll surrounded by locust trees and lofty elms, from among which its decent whitewashed walls shine modestly forth, *like Christian purity through the shades of retirement*" ???
These isolated quotes fail to do justice any argument for superficiality, but I'm gonna go ahead and just ask you to trust me on this one.
This might be the first time I'll ever say this but skip the book and watch the stupid Tim Burton movie instead. It'll make for much better entertainment for all you Halloweenies out there.
The redeeming thing about this slop may just be that Burton's team was able to take it and fashion a moderately enjoyable movie.
Note: Not sure if this kind of honesty is allowed in this climate of censorship. Perhaps so since I think this title is public domain? Here's to hoping I'm not flagged (pardon me while I flatter myself).(less)
Props to any horror story with a spine-chilling hiding-in-old-library scene. Very creative and wholly unique tale. Sometimes a bit dialogue-heavy and...moreProps to any horror story with a spine-chilling hiding-in-old-library scene. Very creative and wholly unique tale. Sometimes a bit dialogue-heavy and thus hard to follow/ hard to conjure a clear picture of all the gruesome goings-on. Also hard for me to relate to all the boys, but such it is with me in general.
The story was often cryptic in terms of both scene and character motivations. Some characters and subtexts just kind of fell off without explanation. Not entirely satisfying.
The Awesome: "He heard, or thought he heard, Jim out in the starlight leaping way up and coming flat down like a spring tomcat on the vast xylophone. And the tune! Was or wasn't it like the funeral dirge played backward by the old carousel calliope?!!"
Only Bradbury I've read as yet. I'll give him another go after this one someday.(less)
An immaculate though hard to swallow vignette of the power of one's guilt to gradually degrade character as a natural means for assuaging that guilt....moreAn immaculate though hard to swallow vignette of the power of one's guilt to gradually degrade character as a natural means for assuaging that guilt. By this process the good in a person is replaced by evil, the guilt is therefore less acutely felt, and living free from suffering seems within reach. The desire to live without the torment of guilt colludes with each increasingly perverse act that is committed and creates a vicious cycle.
At his most heinous, the protagonist finds he is content: "I soundly and tranquilly slept; aye, slept even with the burden of murder upon my soul!"
This human power to numb the psyche comes at a high cost, but Poe makes it seem an effortless capacity of man, if not implicit in that we are indisputably poised to self-preservation--- that is, both keeping ourselves alive and living free from pain. This tale starkly illustrates the evil that is essential --if often well concealed-- to being.
Here we have alcohol as the catalyst making a latent horror a reality. But Poe makes clear that the horror is not the fault of the alcohol. Rather the alcohol is merely an instrument bringing to life what he seems to suggest is an innate potential for evil.
Hilarious (if in title alone)! Apparently it's some weird flavor of 'choose your own adventure' though self-proclaims NOT A...moreAnonymous is truly gifted.
Hilarious (if in title alone)! Apparently it's some weird flavor of 'choose your own adventure' though self-proclaims NOT A CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE in the conclusion of the back-cover blurb. My now sister-in-law had the gumption to stuff this hodge podge of oddities into her HAPPY WEDDING CARD to us. Pure genius. It's nothing less than a masterpiece, and the gesture is up there with only the most memorable.
There's an unyielding impression throughout of a supposed subtext related to an alien "Ant-Warrior" species and you are urged to choose your next time travel in response to whatever the Ant-Warriors are doing at the moment. Funny thing is there is no description of the means of time travel whatsoever and the Ant-Warriors actually only positively make an appearance (and in one that is totally befuddling) on the second-to-last page of the story, aside from the goofy illustrations littered throughout. Hello, non-sequitur. Here's a quoted example of how they keep attempting to permeate the story (or at least your psyche):
"If you help the cavemen fight against the ants, turn to October 4, 2003."
"If you don't want to get involved and choose to flee back through the time vortex, turn to August 2, 2004."
I feel it imperative to iterate that there were neither cavemen nor ants nor time vortexes in this story.
"If you tell the other captives to follow you into the cave of Ant-Warrior nutrient pools, turn to August 18, 2006."
"If you would rather have them follow you into the hall of discarded carapaces, turn to December 8, 2005."
Again, the text neither otherwise addresses captives, Ant-Warriors, nutrient pools or discarded carapaces. Though props for getting me to look up and memorize what a carapace is.
Contrary to these impressions, basically all the story is about is the tumult of a relationship between an alcoholic musician and her non-alcoholic and incessantly supportive -- to the brink of insanity -- boyfriend, all in a delightfully jumbled out-of-sequential-order mess.
Hence, Love Is: Not Constantly Wondering If You Are Making The Biggest Mistake Of Your Life.
A mantra I greatly prefer to "Never Having To Say You're Sorry."
And I have a confession to make: I did not skip around according to the Ant-Warriors propositions. Sorry, Anonymous. Though your book was still thoroughly enjoyed.
A deeply personal account from a clearly reliable but intensely disturbed and isolated narrator, Istina Mavet, as she is bounced around among a slew o...moreA deeply personal account from a clearly reliable but intensely disturbed and isolated narrator, Istina Mavet, as she is bounced around among a slew of anonymous psychological holding tanks. The title comes from a quiet remark about being out of body and looking down on your own face underwater, and feeling that it could be any face, as a metaphor for no longer recognizing your own self or even your own humanness. This theme seems to resonate from the distinction of the 'mental patients' from the rest of us 'people', with Istina slowly being convinced that she is no longer human as her psyche is effectively whittled away by the abrasive environs of the typical psychological ward.
The story arc aligns with the increasingly invasive treatments Istina is receiving. It is vague as to just how many and the exact nature of each, but the story seems to take place over several years, as Istina is constantly reminded that hers is a hopeless case and she will be in for the rest of her life. The names, faces, severity of patient emotional disturbance, and even her accounts of the decor differ as she is moved from ward to ward, but her experiences are always the same. The treatments go from bad (electroshock therapy always accompanied by the grave admonition "you're in for treatment") to worse (insulin and glucose pumping) to prepare her for the ugly (lobotomy, always embellished by her ward matrons as "when your personality is changed and the tension you experience is reduced").
Even if not for the heinous and dehumanizing treatments, this tale reveals that the environment of a mental ward and the attitude toward those plagued by mental illness will invariably result in a slow stripping away of all that is essential humanness.
All throughout, we have sentence upon sentence of profoundly evocative and often beautiful figurative language that is all incredibly heart wrenching at the same time. I didn't cry but I was very intensely moved.
To me, this hands-down tops all of your classic mental ward stories because it is so much more personal and exposes all the psychological harm directly resulting from the nature of the 'help' that patients have historically (and still sometimes to this day) receive: it beats The Bell Jar, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Girl Interrupted... you name it.... and then read this one instead.